Ponder this:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Marie Louise Schroeder

About once a year, when Saratoga's in season, I get taken up by a fascination with Mary Lou Whitney (née Marie Louise Schroeder, Kansas City, MO). She's rich, her wardrobe and jewelry are gorgeous, and, you know, even now at eighty-something, she has an interesting face. Her decades-younger husband is, from all accounts, just crazy about her. Hers is a pretty classic Cinderella story, although I gather she was no blushing maid shyly offering her foot to a glass slipper held by a supplicating prince. Marie Louise' mama diddent raise no fool.
Marylou graduated from Southwest High School and went to the University of Iowa, but had to come home and get a job after her father died. She got the perfect one: flirtatious wartime disc jockey at station KCKN. "I created a show for servicemen called 'Private Smiles,' " she says. "We played Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra, and it was very popular and made me kind of a star."
 "Marylou wooed Sonny with her cookbook," claims one longtime friend. "She played the role of the simple girl from the Midwest who loved to cook. He wanted to be fussed over."~Driving Mrs. Whitney
The handsome prince in 1949, nine years before he married Marylou:
US Undersecretary of Congress Cornelius Vanderbilt (Sonny) Whitney

Marylou and C.V. Whitney.jpg

“When I first came here, I made a statement that made the town furious. I said to (late husband C.V. Whitney) Sonny, ‘Goodness, this is a dead town.’ You could roll a basketball down the center of town and not hit anyone. There was a bank and a drug store and there were a few places open … Skidmore was the only thing going. It was very hard to buy anything and most people went to Glens Falls or someplace else. I said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this town, get the shops open and get it busy.’ Sonny said, ‘You can do it.’ I said, ‘How?’ We knew it was the top place to go in the summer. I decided I would make it better. We started to have parties and brought people up here. In one of my first interviews here, I said ‘Saratoga is the summer place to be.’ Now, everyone uses it. No one gives me credit, and I don’t want it. I am glad they use that line. I just love it here.”   ~Marylou Whitney
"A coterie of fine artists and society leaders create an atmosphere of elegance ..." according to the caption below this Palm Beach Daily News photo at Wally Findlay Galleries, perhaps more than 35 years ago. L. to r., Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Simone Karoff, Wally Findlay, artist Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt "Marylou" Whitney, whose artwork was being showcased, and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney.~12/16/2009 New York Social Diary

~from The Saratogian newspaper, 7/11/2010, 
but that picture of Marylou looks a lot earlier than 2010.

From 1960 until 2006 she hosted annual summer galas . . . celebrities galore . . . 
her entrances were always the stuff of fantasy...File:Marylou Whitney's arrival to the Whitney Gala 001.jpg

Marylou Whitney arrives to the Wizard of Oz. (Courtesy Marylou Whitney) / AL
In 1992 Sonny passed away. 
Five years later 1997 Marylou, 72, married John Hendrickson, 32. 
It was quite the news story, but God bless her, I feel as if she's like our own homegrown queen.  
"Pink roses especially remind me of Marylou and this one is classic and beautiful, like my beautiful wife." ~John Hendrickson
11/18/2009 Albany Times Union

I was going to joke about how her voice and speech changed from what I imagine they were in her midwest girlhood to the old money drawl, but she's so brave in this video of her January 2011 Eclipse Award acceptance speech, despite the apparent remaining effects of her 2006 stroke, that
I simply cahn't do it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cheerful: An addendum to "August 16, 1980"

Years ago, I saw Beverly Sills interviewed on television. I think the question was, "Are you happy?"
Ms. Sills looked into the interviewer's eyes for several seconds, and answered, "I'm cheerful."
Cheerful is the whistling in the dark equal of happy.
Cheerful is making the best of things, not admitting to wishing you could do some things over, not ever [out loud] feeling sorry for yourself.
Most of the time, out loud, I'm cheerful.
Most of the time I don't give voice to the bleak depths of my horrors and the dreary sludges of my moods.

A friend told me that she wants me to remove "underachiever" from my "About Me."
I have a cousin who chairs a big philanthropic organization, another who weaves baskets of all types. I have a friend who is an architect at her office three days a week and spends the other four days raising her daughter, leading the Girl Scout troop, stenciling her walls, making floor cloths. I work with a woman who walks three miles every morning before work, bakes and needlepoints every evening. 
I wait on the pets and, in between pet tasks, stare around me at the hills and the butterflies, and read and blog.
Thanks be to God, I also have a friend who feels that being and appreciating is enough.

When I reread my anniversary post, I thought, "It sounds as if it's all been uphill!"
It hasn't.
Around our ten-year mark, we found The Land. This land, where I sit now, with the hills and the sunsets, the crickets and katydids, the orioles and deer and fishers and the occasional black bear. Where I found, while the house was being constructed, a Luna Moth on one of the wooden studs of the exterior wall, where I had the thrill of having a grasshopper chew off a few cells of fingertip skin as I held him.
Husband gave me this dream life. He says I did it too, but he's the one who made it possible.
Being married to each other is what made it possible for both of us.
We are each other's cheerleaders. We've been, for each other, the parents that we might have had: we've brought each other up. I taught Husband the pleasure of reading. He taught me to be cheerful. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Moderation and the lack thereof

Remember the revelation, several years ago, that a daily glass or two of red wine was good for one's heart? I took that as great news, although at the time I was not a great lover of red wine. Hell, if it was good for me, I'd drink it! My problem arose from my belief that if a little of the stuff was good for me, a lot must be better! And down that road I went, skipping like a drunk munchkin toward Oz. I drank red wine when available, and I drank other alcoholic beverages at [frequent and lengthy] other times. Hence my membership in the club to which no one aspires to belong. I don't drink alcohol anymore.
But still I don't know moderation.
I don't have the moderation gene. I don't know how people eat one slice of pizza, or one cookie, or smoke one cigarette after dinner. If I like something, I want it, I want a lot of it, and I want it until it is no more. 

On Thursday someone gave me two chocolate truffles, brand name Moser Roth. I had never heard of the brand, but I knew they would be good. Each truffle was wrapped in cafe au lait-colored heavy tissue paper with a sophisticatedly discreet quarter-inch-square foil sticker. Packaging has so much to do with one's enjoyment of some things. As a courtesy to my donor, I unwrapped one and popped it into my mouth. It . . . bloomed gradually, spreading over my tongue in cocoa-y flavor and light yet rich texture.

I put aside the second little package to enjoy later, knowing that its life would be measured in minutes. And it was. And it was just as delectable as the first. If I had had two pounds of the things, they would have been gone, and I would have been ill in, oh, say . . . a half hour. 

I have smoked cigarettes off and [mostly] on for the better part of forty years. No one but a complete fool [or an addict] would think that would be anything but a Very Bad Idea. I stopped for ten years. One day, I thought, "It's a beautiful day. I'd love to have a cigarette." And I bought a pack and smoked for four more years. Stopped again for four years, chewed nicotine gum the entire four years. The dental hygienist loved me. All that gum chewing kept my teeth nice and clean. One balmy early summer evening four or five years ago, I decided that smoking a single cigarette would be a nice way to spend a few minutes with Husband on the patio. And I was off again. I liked it, and if one of an evening was . . . nice . . . then two or three would just prolong the pleasure. Thus spake the addict. 
Now I am taking Chantix and it is working. I smoked, and did not enjoy, the last cigarette on the twelfth of August. Chantix, you see, takes away all the pleasure part of smoking and leaves a person with the bad taste, the stink, the awareness of the toxic gases' immediate effects on one's digestive and other systems. Not only did I not want to smoke, but other previously irresistible items lost their gleamy, glistening, glowing attraction. Ice cream, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, salty things . . . their reedy, wheedling little voices no longer called to me. 
"I want to take this stuff for the rest of my life!" I thought.
If it's good, I want it all and I want it forever.
The idea is that one takes this medication for a few months while one builds other habits to replace the after-dinner cigarette, the morning-coffee-and-cigarette cigarette, etc. And then one stops taking the medication.
I can only wonder, idly at the moment, what substance will click, like a coin dropping in a vending machine, into the empty space left by the absent Chantix.
The phrase, "Moderation in all things," is common extrapolation of Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean (as presented in his Nicomachean Ethics). His ethic works around finding the mean, or middle ground, between excess and deficiency. 
It should be noted that Aristotle's ethic is often misundertood by its summary: moderation in all things. It is frequently reasoned by those unfamiliar with context that the common phrase means that a person should approach all things (whether healthy or unhealthy) with moderation; therefore, reasoning that a moderate amount of a bad thing can be indulged is not uncommon to find. This is an inaccurate representation of the perspective summarized in the popular phrase.    ~Blue Letter Bible


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 16, 1980

Thirty-one years ago, I got me a husband.
I paid for the wedding bands because he didn't have any money, although he worked like a dog. 
My mother wore black, my sister wore the dress I had asked her not to wear, the minister had my brother-in-law in his office and his hand out for money almost before we'd finished walking back down the aisle.
A friend of a friend took photographs and most of them were not great.
It took a year before we realized that being married meant something different than we'd thought it had.
It took five years to accept that difference.
After ten years, we had been through some fire together, and had escaped with some scars but no lasting damage.
At twenty-five years, we came to a bridge that appeared to be out. Only one of us could cross the river, it seemed. But we both ended up on the other side. Together.
The thirty-year anniversary was overshadowed by health issues, but we're still here.
Still together.
OLD FRIENDS by Roberta Wesley shows two hands joined in marriage till death they do part.

Together. Still.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mourning Cloak butterfly

Last weekend Husband was giving the tour of his woodshop to a friend. I was there too because she's my friend. His too, but more and originally, mine. MiMau had trailed along after us and she and I heard the light tap-tap-tapping at about the same moment. I followed her alert gaze and saw a butterfly flittering against the closed window, trying to get out. MiMau was measuring for her jump to the workbench, preparing to inspect the situation a little more closely, but I beat her to it. I cupped the butterfly (a big one!) in my hands, and walked back out through the barn to a grassy place and set it on the leaves of a bush. 

MiMau had followed and had stopped twenty feet away to watch.
The butterfly flew down to the grass, stopped to taste some leftover raindrops, then fluttered closer to the cat (have butterflies no sense of self-preservation?) and perched on the stone wall. I was about to perform a second rescue when it took off, went over the wall and stopped on the gravel of the driveway. MiMau was on it like a shot. One pounce. I shooed her away but the butterfly was still, flat against the gravel where her two front feet had caught it.
I felt awful.

But I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a closer look at this beauty, so I picked it up and tried to spread its wings. I was surprised that they weren't floppy; there was some resistance. 
It was alive! Its little feet clung to my fingertip.
What a beautiful thing. 
MiMau had gone away, but not too far away. 
I carried my Mourning Cloak butterfly to the woodpile and while MiMau looked the other way, perched it/her/him on top of the highest log.

Then I came inside and found this picture that shows, so well, its richly colored mahogany brown wings with the glowing blue dots and the lacy-looking creamy yellow edges. I've never seen one before. 
Later, I checked MiMau for butterfly breath. 
I do have some hope that I made some contribution to seeing some of these beauties next year.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

I was in the local drugstore, chatting with the clerk while I waited for a prescription. Absently, I registered the chime that accompanied the door opening, and on a wisp of wind a small older woman appeared to my left. Tidy and clean, gingham shirt tucked into belted pants, light auburn perm-curly hair held back from her face by a bandanna headband. Think perky Claudette Colbert in The Egg and I. Except older of course, with eyeglasses, and lipstick that had bled and dried only the tiniest bit into the creases around her lips, which were already in motion. 
In this scene from the movie "The Egg and I," Claudette Colbert stands alongside Percy Kilbride, playing Pa Kettle, as he shakes hands with Fred MacMurray. While the movie characters were based on MacDonald's book, they were turned from fond portrayals into caricatures. Nonetheless, the movie spawned a series of popular films based on the Kettle family and caused MacDonald's reputation as a serious writer to slip.

"Girls! Girls! Help me."
She bristled with commanding presence. Her blue eyes looked hard into both of our faces. She reached out and laid one hand on each of us. So great was her fervor that the clerk and I were transfixed. I thought she'd just had her purse snatched. I had a momentary vision of my running out the door and down the village sidewalk in pursuit of the evildoer.
"Do you know of a small . . . decent, you know what I mean . . . apartment for rent? Or even a house! A small house, because . . . you know what I mean.
"Here's why: I'm a recent widow... I'm not going to cry!"
She closed her eyes and tightened her lips for a moment.
"Do you believe in God? I do. Do you believe in God? I'm a Christian.
"What's your name, Darling?"
I told her and she repeated it. "It sounds so . . . show biz! And I was in the business!"
A soupçon of Brooklynese, or perhaps just the kind of larger-than-life confidence that I associate with downstaters, in her delivery . . . I did not doubt for a moment that she had been in Show Biz. She had mastered the art of the Dramatic Pause.
She said my name again, looking at me with her head tipped back slightly and smiling.
"Do you know what my name is? I'll tell you! Millie Teri! Get it? Military!" 
She saluted, a little toy soldier.
"I'm a recent widow... I'm not going to cry... But I am, if you know what I mean."
Her head thrust forward toward the clerk, a Brave Smile armoring her face.
"Do you have any advice for me? Do you?"
Her hands were still on our arms, keeping our attention, clutching more tightly at emotional moments.
"I'm staying with . . . a friend. A very compassionate friend, who offered me a home. But I feel . . . limited. If you know what I mean. Not by anything she does or says. You know what I mean. I want my own space. And I love animals."
Each of us had offered possibilities (mine had been rejected for being on Main Street), and the clerk said, wincing, fearful of disappointing: "I don't know if animals are allowed in the apartment..."
"I said I loved them! I didn't say I had any! Tell me! Tell me! Where is it, Darling!
"What's your name? Oh, that's a nice name. Did I tell you my name? Millie Teri!"
She did the little toy soldier salute.
I stood in thrall long enough that my prescription arrived, the clerk swiped my prescription card for me and packed my small bundle while I stood riveted by Millie Teri (salute!). Millie insisted on giving me her name and telephone number. Her signature was flourished and large: an autograph.
"Don't forget me! Please!
"I couldn't if I tried," I said, rolling my eyes with a laugh. "I have your phone number right here in my wallet where I'll see it all the time."
The transaction gave my rabbity instincts the opportunity to kick in and I was out the door. I could hear, behind me, Millie still imploring and demanding.

When I got home I contacted a Realtor friend, described Millie and her wish, gave her Millie's phone number. I hope Millie finds her apartment or small house. If I hear of something I certainly will call her. I hope, though, that she misses my call and I have to leave the information on an answering machine. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

True [and other] crime

A news story:
A 13-year-old local boy admitted in Family Court on Tuesday that he accidentally shot his friend to death last winter. The boy also said, when questioned by the county judge, that he understood why a loaded handgun is dangerous. The prosecutor said that he, the boy and his attorney, and the boy's parents had reached a plea bargain and the boy would be sentenced to nothing more restrictive than probation. The victim was visiting his friend’s home at the time of the shooting. The boys were alone in the house and found a handgun and ammunition owned by the defendant’s father. They started playing with the gun, loading it and unloading it several times, until it went off, police said. The dead boy's mother said not only is her son dead as a result of the incident, but her father as well. In January he visited his grandson's grave and, disoriented by grief, wandered into a highway and was hit and killed. The father of the defendant faces a charge of endangering the welfare of a child.

I read stories like this and usually stop and think for a few minutes about the sadness of it all. Maybe I mutter to myself a little bit about the parents' lack of foresight and how so many lives are ruined now. But I don't think about how the ripples from the act of a single moment spread to change circumstances so far beyond the original event. 
Think about the defendant's parents as they move through the local store on a regular grocery shopping trip. 
The boy will get probation, so he's lucky. But he'll be in school. He'll be the kid who killed his friend. For the rest of his life, no matter if he moves away, no matter if people around him know it or not.
Think about the truck driver who killed the grandfather. Is that guy having nightmares? Did the accident impact his employment? ...his marriage?
I recently read two novels, in the space of two or three days, that gripped and froze me in the experience of being close to tragic crimes. I recommend both of these, but include this caveat: have a happy book in reserve to follow!

Cage of Stars

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Stopping by cow pasture on a sunny morning

I have told you before about the obstacle course that my daily commute has become this summer. Considering the great change the state is making in the road, it's gone very quickly, really. 
So it's almost over. 

One day, when I had chosen the squiggly road option in lieu of the long-wait-in-the-dust state route, my heart fell (Here too???) as I rounded a curve and came on a ROAD WORK AHEAD sign, the feet of its spindly-looking metal standard held in place by dead woodchucks. They're sandbags, but they look like the corpses of expired large rodents. I drove a third of a mile and saw no ROAD WORK. Maybe it was a sign left up from the previous day?
But no . . . another curve and there was the young man standing in the road with his handheld pole with the sign at the top that says STOP on one side and SLOW on the other, and he was holding the STOP side in my direction, with a couple of cars already halted and obediently waiting. 
On such a curvy road you can't see the reason for your wait and it seems pointless and neverending, but it was a pretty morning and I didn't want to ruin it by allowing myself to get frustrated. I looked around to notice things I might not have seen had I been traveling at the breathtaking speed of thirty miles per hour. Green fields that stretched up over the hill, a home that used to be a farm . . . I could still see where the cows had been pastured. There is a certain look that cow pastures have: bumpy, and growing not-quite-grass, with the odd mostly-buried rock poking up through the green, impressions of the cows' paths still meandering across and up over, however many years since no cow's hoof has touched them. I watched the man with the sign, too, and thought about what a drag it must be to stand all day, holding a sign, knowing that people are mad at you just because you are there, impeding their progress. He was a stocky young man, and tall, with a chubby face. The guy who holds the sign, I suspect, ranks near the bottom of the road crew hierarchy. Poor slob. He must have people being surly with him all day long.  
While I mused, several more drivers accumulated behind me.

The young man held his big boxy radio close to his head for a moment, and then began to walk toward the first car in line, stopped and said a few words to the driver, nodded his head, moved on the second, said a few words, came to me. As he came close, I said, "How y'doin'?" 
"Good," he said, "How're you?" and gave me some words of explanation that I don't recall. Before he passed on to the vehicle behind me, I said, "Lemme ask you somethin'."
"What's that?"
"How long did it take you to put all that duct tape on your shirt?"

ILDOTTS Hi-Viz T-Shirt

I was pleased to see that he was nonplussed for a moment. He looked down and chuckled heartily, stepping away to the driver behind me. 
Made me happy to have given the guy an amusing moment in a long day of standing in the sun, holding a sign, looking at people who wished he weren't there.