Today is Valentine’s Day. Dad and I are standing at the end of Mom’s hospital bed, where she’s been coughing for her life with pneumonia. … page 37
I met my husband from an online dating site. I was 61 and he was 60. Our first date was actually at a dog park. We both had dogs, and this way we could see if the dogs got along. I paid special attention to how he treated his mixed breed rescue.
Our lives together have been full of love, friendship, and growing closer together. BUT, before I met my husband, I had tried about 15 dating sites (I lost count, really), had about 50 first dates (conservative underestimate). Along the way, I made some terrific male friends who I never “dated.” Even found a fabulous accountant. And some of those friendships persist today. So, you can find different things along the way before you find that special someone. Here are things I learned which I would encourage anyone to heed.
- Know what you are looking for. Do you seek friends? A life partner? A marriage? One phrase you come across in the online dating world is “open to possibilities.” I like the flexibility of that idea, as long as you are sincere.
- Be clear about what you don’t want. If your partner must be a non-smoker, of a certain age range, must love pets, etc., say that up front in your profile. Constructing your profile is important. For example, one mature friend decided she would no longer date anyone still raising children. After all, she’d done that already and was in a different phase of her life. Here are some things I listed: Must love pets; must be mentally and emotionally healthy; non-smoker, at least a Master’s degree in educational level; over 5’10’ (men generally exaggerate their height); have a valid passport. (my reason for the latter is, if anyone gets to be 60 and never had a passport, then they probably don’t have much sense of adventure, trying new things, etc.)
- Explore a variety of sites. Google dating sites. You will get plenty of hits. Some cost money, so decide if that’s okay with you. There are good ones that do not cost anything. I met my husband on “okcupid.com.” It’s free. It asks lots and lots of questions of each person joining. Therefore, you can get to know lots about someone before deciding they are a potential partner for you. I also appreciated plentyoffish.com, also free, as they hold local real events and you can go to a dance where you know everyone there is single. There are sites specific to the younger, to the older, to the very religious, to people of particular interests, etc. Nearly all sites I explored account for same sex dating as well as heterosexual dating. Some sites allow salacious and nude photos. Decide if that’s for you, or not (caution – in these sites, men often send pictures of their equipment and not their face).
- Some sites have different “communities” within the site depending on what you are looking for, such as “dating only,” “relationships only,” or “seeking sex partners only.” CAUTION: DON’T SIGN ON TO A SITE WITH AUTOMATIC BILLING UNLESS YOU KNOW HOW YOU CAN QUIT. WHEN YOU WANT TO QUIT, PRINT AND SAVE THE EMAIL WHERE YOU STATED YOU WERE QUITTING. BE VIGILANT CHECKING THE CREDIT CARD YOU USED. YOU MAY NEED IT LATER TO DISPUTE CHARGES ON YOUR CREDIT CARD. ONE SITE A FRIEND USED REQUIRED ONE TO QUIT ONLY VIA A CERTIFIED SNAIL MAIL LETTER SENT TO A FOREIGN ADDRESS!
- Construct a good profile. Use your best writing skills. Say who you are, and what matters to you. Often you can read profiles before you join and get ideas. A profile should state things about you, and things you want and do not want. BEWARE of the profile that is all about what someone is looking for, and nothing about who THEY are. Here is an example of a good profile: SUCCESSFUL PROFESSIONAL SEEKS A PARTNER POSSIBLY FOR A LONG TERM RELATIONSHIP. I AM A (BLANK-YEAR OLD) FEMALE LOOKING FOR A MALE OF SIMILAR AGE. I AM WELL-EDUCATED, PHYSICALLY FIT, WITH A LOVE OF NATURE, GARDENING, SPORTS AND TRAVEL. I OWN MY OWN HOME, HAVE ONE DOG AND ONE CAT, AND TAKE CARE OF AN AGING PARENT IN MY TOWN. I AM LOOKING FOR SOMEONE WHO IS ADVENTUROUS, FUN-LOVING, MENTALLY HEALTHY, AND WITH A GOOD SENSE OF HUMOR. MY POTENTIAL PARTNER MUST LOVE CHILDREN AND PETS, BE ONLY A MODERATE DRINKER, NON-SMOKER, BE OVER 5’9″ TALL, HAVE A KIND HEART AND A GOOD JOB. In short, consider what you value, what you love, what you can’t live without, cannot live with, etc. Also, be careful about asking the impossible. A female colleague wrote her profile and her list of requirements in a partner and her list had about 25 things on it, AND the match could not live more than 25 miles away. The site actually asked her, politely, to remove her profile as they would be unlikely to help her. One more thing about profiles -lots of guys say “I know how to really please a woman.” If you come across that one, just remember it’s likely the most common thing men say. Besides, what pleases me, like a clean house, breakfast cooked on weekends by someone else – I am guessing that is not what the guys mean,
- Spend time searching profiles. Many sites do some matching and send you people they think you might want to consider. Others, you do the leg work yourself (so to speak). In some sites, you can let someone know you have been reading their profile without contacting them directly to see if interest is returned before proceeding. That might be a good way to get started with fewer risks. In those cases, you would also be notified of people searching you.
- Meeting up. Here are some MUSTS in my opinion prior to deciding to meet up.
- Ask the potential partner for a real name and real address. Google the person. While it’s possible they do not have an online presence for legitimate reasons, more often they do, even if it’s only through work. Use Google Earth to find out if the address exists. Check the website of the county in which the potential match resides. Search for the “clerk of court” and search pending cases and convictions for persons of their name. This is all public information. A girlfriend was considering meeting a guy and put his address into Google Earth. The entire road in the address was an industrial park.
- Notice any odd errors in English. While its possible someone is just a lousy speller, it is more likely someone in Nigeria or Jamaica is running a scam thinking their English is fine and you won’t notice.
- Exchange pictures if they were not already included in the online profile. Sometimes people request a full picture rather than just a headshot. Decide if that matters to you or not. It’s a good idea if the picture is fairly current. I saw lots of pictures with a guy in a tux, probably at a daughter’s wedding, and cut funny, using a scissors to remove others from a group shot. It’s so easy these days to snap a decent photo with your smart phone!
- Telephone call . I believe it is essential to have a real telephone call or two or three before you decide to meet (not a chat online, not a text message exchange, a real phone call). First of all, scammers are less likely to agree to a call. If you do not enjoy talking on the phone, what is the likelihood you would enjoy a conversation in person? You can further consider skyping or such before deciding to meet. BEWARE OF SOMEONE WHO WILL ONLY CALL YOU FROM WORK. THERE COULD BE A SPOUSE AT HOME THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT. USE A CELLPHONE, BECAUSE YOU CAN BLOCK THE NUMBER IN THE FUTURE IF YOU NEED TO. DO NOT GIVE YOUR ACTUAL ADDRESS. I was talking with one guy, an attorney, who only wanted to get together on a weekday, When I suggested a weekend meet-up, he was too busy. I finally asked him if he was married. He got quiet and said yes. “How did you know?” DUH! “Because you only want to get together on weekdays!” Guys do that! “Oh, he said. “I thought I was the first one to think of that.” One of those times I was rolling on the floor laughing for an hour.
- The Coffee Date. Tell someone you trust where you are going and when and ask them to call you DURING THE DATE. Have a code word you say if you want out of the situation, and your caller feigns an emergency or a need for you to leave. ALWAYS arrive in your own car, pay for your own snack or drink. You don’t want, at this point, to owe anyone anything. DINNER? Dinner can be excruciatingly long if the person turns out to be boring or offensive. Once I arrived for a coffee type date at an ice cream parlor. Apparently the photo I had been provided was 20 years and 50 pounds out of date. I saw him standing around in the parlor with that “I am looking for someone” stance. His shirt had slobber down the front and he smelled bad. So I just got an ice cream and left. I made no eye contact, just got my chocolate cone and left.
- Beware of the dates who spend the entire time talking about themselves and not getting to know you. If they are sincere about a meaningful relationship, they would want to get to know you.
- What Next? Wait until you get home to decide if you want to see the person again. Make no promises during the coffee date. If they ask if you want to go on a date, say, politely, “I think that is a conversation left until after we have both had time to consider if we are good match.” I have found that if you had a genuinely nice time, that good feeling stays with you later that day or evening. If the other person feels the same way, plan a second simple, non-committal get together. ALWAYS in a public place. My second date with one guy was, at my suggestion, in a bookstore which included a cafe. You can tell much about a person by what books they look at, which ones generate conversation about books, writers, interests, etc. Apparently this guy’s only interest was in getting behind a stack of books where he could put his hands on me instead of the books. Gee whiz, how adolescent is that?? That’s when you say you need to go and pay for a new book and get home to let the dog out.
- Bring home the person? It has been my experience that people usually start initiating intimacy on the third date. So consider carefully if that’s where you want to go. Otherwise, keep the dates in public places. Beware of a guy who never lets you see where he lives. Could be lots of reasons for that, and none of them are good.
- Cautionary Tales. I have lots of these.
- The partner who starts talking LOVE before it seems logical to do so.
- The partner who only is available on weekdays, never weekends. They are hiding something. Like a wife.
- The partner who talks to you lots, but always has excuses not to meet. He’s hiding something.
- The partner who asks for money!!!!!! This is not a developing relationship, it’s a SCAM. Got that? A SCAM. NO EXCEPTIONS. No “Yes, but he says he loves me….” That’s CRAP. It’s called catfishing. It is common. Don’t fall for it. Not even for a New York minute. You ALMOST got sucked in. Whew, dodged a bullet there. Get over it, move on. Someone tried that with me. We talked several times on the phone, even skyped. He said he was too busy to meet, maybe next month. Then he claimed to have run out of money and needed $1200. right way. I replied, “That’s what credit cards are for.” “Oh,” he said, ” my credit card is maxed out, I cannot use it.” I brought up that there is travelers aid in most places in the world, or there are close friends or family, not NOT someone you just met. More excuses started. I signed off, deleted all messages.
- A partner you catch in a lie. Lies are like cockroaches and rats. Where there is one, there are many you cannot yet see. Stop all communication. I was having some nice conversations with a guy named Chaz. In fact, lots of them. I suggested we meet up during the weekend. He said he could not drive, he’d hurt his ankle. I accepted that. He called Monday. I asked “How was your weekend?” He said it was nice, he had visited his mother. “How did you get there?” I asked. “I drove of course.” he replied. Here is a guy who does not even keep track of his own lies!
- Someone looking to be taken care of. This happens to both men and women in online dating. The person who cannot tell you exactly what there job is, or claims to have family money, but their lifestyle doesn’t add up. There are women who mooch off men, and men who mooch off women. Is that what you want? A good friend’s ex-husband is on his third or fourth family, each time finding a woman with a good job to support him, having a baby together,and when she starts asking for things, like a contribution to the mortgage, he moves on. He supports none of these children from former relationships, and keeps off the radar from Child Support Enforcement by not working and finding another woman to care for him.
- Anything that does not add up. I dated a nice guy who other than paying for dinner now and then, never had any money to do anything. He had a good job. He had no house with a mortgage, no kids to support, and I knew for a fact he made more money than I did. He lived in an apartment and leased a car. He had no money saved. He owned nothing. I could only conclude either he was hiding something, or he’s a dismal money manager. In either case, not a partner for me.
- Don’t act needy. Don’t talk about all your lost loves. If you are divorced or widowed, mention it, don’t get into it. Don’t dwell on any past relationship.
- Look for patterns. When you are getting to know someone, notice patterns. How did earlier marriages or relationships end? Did more than one end the same way? Patterns by middle age are—sort of set in stone. You are seeing what you are likely to continue to see. Very few exceptions.
- Long Distance Relationships? Dating someone far away can be an adventure and a learning experience. I dated two very nice men in two different countries far away. But of course, it is fraught with challenges. You cannot see each other very often. Dates can costs lots of money. Cultural differences can get in the way. So, I would say know what you are getting into, whether or not you are willing to mount some challenges, and are you and the partner willing to consider that a relationship might mean relocating? Of course, what people define as long distance varies greatly. After I decided against pursuing a possible relationship with a wonderful man in Ireland, I was chatting with someone local. In this case “local” was 30 miles away. “I am not interested in a long distance relationship” the match wrote back. I was on the floor laughing about that one, that 30 miles was considered long distance when my last date had been 4000 miles away.
- EXPECTATIONS. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Finding a “match” takes time. Don’t assume after a few disappointments that there is no one out there for you. Remember most worthwhile things in life take time. The word “MATCH” is important (other than the fact it is used in names of dating sites). Someone can be great, but not be a MATCH for you. If you are saying no to an offer of a next date, you can say, “You are nice, but we are not a match for each other.” That’s kind, honest, and effective. If you are reading this, then probably this is not your first rodeo. Mature people, for the most part, are what they are. They are a package deal in a way. You need to decide if the way they are is acceptable. When we were all younger, probably we thought we could change our special person into who we wanted that person to be. And we found out that changing someone does not work. True, people often change. But not in ways we may dictate. A male colleague in the midst of a divorce shared that his soon-to-be ex-wife lamented bitterly that after 8 years of marriage, she was still unable to get him to change. He was astonished. He was unaware that his changing was her goal and personal project. And of course, he wondered why she could not like him the way he was.
- WANT TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE? This is one of those things that sounds better on paper than in real life. If you choose a partner where the economic differences are great (they have way more money than you), then you are also giving up economic control. Does the other person always get the say in how money is spent? Is money used for control? How did they get their money? Are they from a rich and spoiled family? Were they ruthless to workers in the business they built? Did they do something illegal? Unethical? There are certain personality types among self-made men and women. Let’s just say they are not Mr. Rogers. If you choose to date someone with lots of money, proceed really really carefully. If things go wrong, remember they can afford a better lawyer.
- Avoid like the plague anyone who yells at you, who is physically rough, or gives hints of domestic abuse. Time to implement that exit strategy. “Excuse me, I have to check on the babysitter, (let the dog out to pee, whatever).” I was on date with a guy who said he had slapped his wife a few times, but she deserved it!
- Men and women date differently. It’s my theory that women date like they shop for a dress. Browse the racks, the sales, favorite colors and styles and brands. Then you decide what to take to the dressing room. And you try somethings on. Some are an immediate NO. It makes you look fat, it’s tight, it’s cut funny, etc. Some are maybes – you walk outside to the bigger mirror, ask someone else what they think, they point out the pros and cons of the item. You make your purchase, and even then, you get it home and maybe you decide to return it. You get the picture! MEN date more like they are buying a car. They have decided in advance on a make and model, whether they need four wheel drive, heated seats, a roof rack, a racing stripe, leather seats – you get the picture. When they get to the lot, they tell the salesperson their requirements, they are shown the relevant inventory, take a short test drive, and done! They got what they wanted. I am not saying this is good or bad. I think it’s just the way it is. Be aware.
Good luck! I hope your journey, albeit long, may be successful, full of love and adventure. Stay safe above all (yourself and your money). Wendy C. Kasten, all rights reserved.
During my academic career, I did lots of editorial work. This magazine, Reading and Writing Quarterly, was the one where I was Associate Editor for more than a decade, working on selected issues, working with the writers of those issues to get manuscripts into acceptable writing. I also was a reviewer for the two most prestigious journals in my area of speciality: The Reading Teacher, and Language Arts.
Below I have posted pictures of some other things I edited.
This goes out to all the women who have had to suffer through bra shopping in a department store – my condolences.
Here’s the problem. People in lingerie departments arrange bras generally by style. The top tier is the tiny bras for people who may or may not even really need them. Then the second tier is the next size up, so on and so forth until you get to the bottom row, where all the larger cup sizes are obscured because they are literally brushing the floor – the dirty floor. So shoppers get to look at this sort of bra Christmas tree display. BUT,
It’s a fact that women who wear larger cup sizes are also generally of a body type which is….less flexible. So we of larger sizes have to crouch, bend, kneel, or sit on the floor to browse the one or two bras in our size, and that’s if we are lucky.
DOES THIS MAKE SENSE??? Do I really want to sit on a department store floor to do my bra shopping? Did I mention I am a senior citizen with bad knees? And no, I am not going to bring my gardening knee pads just to shop for a bra.
Is this even a reasonable expectation? And I guess a store might respond that a sales person will help you. Yeah, right. That will happen in Nordstrom’s, but not Macy’s or any other department store I have shopped in.
SOOOO, to all the department stores with lingerie departments – PLEASE consider organizing your bras by size. Let us just go to the place where most everything will fit us, and please make it more than 6 inches off the floor! We will be happier. We will come more often. We will buy your bras, instead of retreating to online sales.
Really, bra shopping should be neither an athletic challenge or an unpleasant one. Really.
Wendy C. Kasten
My grandmother never wasted anything. Having lived through two World Wars, she had developed skills most of us never will. For example, when she was done using a tea bag, she’d hang it up to dry on a rack above the kitchen sink, then try to eke out another cup of tea. When the tea was done for teamaking, she opened the tea bag, dampened a wad of tea, and used if to clean our oriental carpet in the living room. She moved the tea leaves across every inch of the brown and black carpet, on her aching knees, with a scrub brush. She said it got the dust out. She found uses for stockings with runs, leftover string and rubber bands, and bits of yarn from her many projects knitting and crocheting.
I was the recipient of many of those projects. If I wanted a new sweater, I simply asked for one. Mom and I would go and buy the yarn, and Grandma would make it. I might have to wait until my birthday or Christmas to get the new sweater, but it always arrived.
Grandma made afghans in her spare time. It was a secret income source for her. Since my grandfather would not allow her any money of her own, she would begin two identical afghans, but always hide one, so he thought she was only making one. She would finish them at about the same time. The $40. she sold one for, my grandfather made her hand over to him. But the $40. for the second afghan he never knew about and so she kept the money for herself – hidden, of course. She hid her money in between her shoes and their rubbers, and in her box of stockings, in-between the layers of nylons.
On a special occasion was I was about 22 and nearing graduation, Grandma presented me with an Afghan – the one in the picture. A zigzag pattern of reds, dark greens, off-whites, yellows, blue, and a color like maize. I hugged her and thanked her, thinking that these colors really did not go with my new apartment at all.
Once I got it home, I examined it more carefully. The yellow yarn was from the cable knit cardigan she made me in fifth grade. The green was from the sweater she made me when I went off to Girl Scout camp after 5th grade, to match the dark green Bermuda shorts that were the standard uniform. The red was the loose knit red sweater with the glass buttons she made for me in 7th grade, when all the girls were wearing mohair sweaters and I didn’t have one.
In high school, Mom made me a kilt, and I wanted a pullover sweater to go with it. I saw the leftover yarn from that. And finally, when I took up downhill skiing as a teen, I needed a ski sweater. So she made me an off-white Scandinavian style cable knit. My grandmother, throughout my early years, was always keeping me warm, and those sweaters kept me warm for much of my life.
For years, I did not know what to do with all the sweaters, none of which fit anymore. They filled an entire trunk. I was sharing this with an elderly friend one day, about how I was keeping them, conflicted about what to do with them.
“That’s just stupid,” my friend pronounced, known for being candid and forthright. “They could be keeping someone warm.” She was right, of course. So I only kept one sweater, and the rest moved on to warm other young women in this very cold place we live in.
The afghan lives in my home office on my reading chair. If I am chilly, it wraps me in my grandmother’s love. With it, I feel close to her. And in times I have felt wounded or alone, I have sought the afghan for comfort. And, sometimes, I still do.
Christmas, the day I used to wait for, counting down the days and hours, took place in the tall red house in New Jersey. Like many houses built around the turn of the last century, it was squeezed between neighbors, a driveway on one side, just barely wide enough for a car, and an alley on the other side. On that alley side, houses were so close, you could talk to someone from the side windows easily, and when there were times another girl lived in the bedroom opposite mine, we talked window to window.
All the houses on our street had porches across the front. Ours was closed in with 12 identical windows and overflow space for that extra chair no one knew where to put. A door with a long glass window led into a foyer, where my upright piano took up most of the space. The stairs with a nice chestnut railing emptied into the foyer, a railing which was fun to decorate for Christmas with a winding fake green garland, our stockings, and the sleigh and reindeer Dad had made that was just the right size covering the bannister.
The kitchen was straight ahead from the foyer, the living room to the right, and the dining room was behind the living room. Stairs in the kitchen went down to a side door in the alley, then continued into an unfinished cellar, where laundry got washed, hung to dry and ironed. A paritioned area hid an extra toilet, and outside the partition an extra sink. The old gas range was also down there, smaller than the new copper colored Jenn-air one in our kitchen. A corner was partitioned with an old coal chute, and this little unfinished room, really the coal bin, had many identities over the years.
The long narrow kitchen went out to al hall, then another windowed porch looking out on a small yard, an old stable, and something that looked like a garage but was too small for the automobiles of the decade, as it was built before cars were, and actually housed a woagon. The table had been home to a single horse. Together, the house’s original owner had delivered ice to area homes for their iceboxes.
A pantry connected the kitchen to the dining room, and that extra space was a blessing because the refridgerator fit there, and I never knew where we’d have put it if it had to be inside the kitchen. Dad had equipped the pantry with lots of extra cupboards for both groceries and seldom used kitchen items.
I think the dining room was my favorite. Compared to the other rooms, it felt generous in size, with room for a hutch, a small buffet, and a rock maple oval drop-leafed table that could, in a pinch, accomodate 17 people. Dad had removed old varnish from the chestnut plate railing around the room, the entry door from the kitchen and a splendid pair of sliding chestnut doors that could separate the dining room from the living room.
The living room had a three window bay that stuck out into the porch a bit, and where one the exterior ended. So, this was where the Christmas tree would be placed. But first, I decorated all the windows.
Mom bought me a set of poster paints each fall. Using old Christmas cards as models, I designed a picture for each of those three windows, the entry door to the foyer, the dining room windows, and one side window in the living room. I painted edges of holly with red berries. Some windows might have winter birds on snowy branches, Christmas ornamants, or, even one, part of a nativity scene.
The wide opening between the foyer and the living room was furnished with red string, on which I could place arriving cards, and there were many. Others went atop my piano, or on radiator covers.
Dad would unearth the outside lights from the attic a few weeks before Christmas. He’d made a frame he attached to the front door, and large outdoor lights went on that frame, the wires hidden by fake balsam boughs. He’d made a arched stand for the window to the right of the door, and in this stand, we slipped a strand of bubble lights one by one. Some gaudy lighted Santa face took up the window on the other side of the door.
The tree, tucked into the bay windows, stood in a metal stand. The family red star went at the top, after which lights wound around the tree. Tom and I had favorite ornaments of our own we enjoyed placing, and there were specialized non breakable ones for lower branches, because there were always cats in our house, and they were attracted to dangling ornaments. Our trees were well secured to the wall as well, because some cat, some year took a flying leap into the middle of the tree, toppling it over, and braeking some of the pretty ornaments. Boxes of tinsel, some recycled from the prior year, were like the icing on the cake. Sometimes I think a small fraction of Tom’s Lionel trainset was installed around the tree, and maybe a few fake houses and trees from the train table in the attic.
Our house was full on Christmas Eve. Grandma and Grandpa, at least one Aunt, maybe an uncle, and then te four of us. Lots of people for a little living room. Christmas Eve was magical, the lights from the tree giving the room a dim glow, the dinner on the dining room table on a red table cloth, every seat full.
I loved decorating for Christmas. But, now I do not. And I wonder why something so spendid then feels burdensome now. This year, I put up just a few decorations. No tree. No fuss. Maybe part of it because there are no children now to see it. Decorating seems silly when no one sees it but the two of us.
But, more than that, I think it just reminds me that all the people in the story are gone now, except Tom (who is sedentary and overweight and less likely to make it to a ripe old age). And with these thoughts, I just cry. Because I miss them all so much. And Christmas brings back the grief. So, I’m okay with just getting through Christmas, and moving on to normal life again.
These are books from my academic career. Two are translations into Chinese. Two are published only in Turkish. I co-author often because collaboration is exciting. Two heads are better than one (or three heads, at times).
A novel for Middle Grade. Chapter 1
Chapter 1 (excerpt)
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
April 6, 1923
I run as fast as I can, my rucksack bouncing on my shoulder, cousin Hero just ahead of me. I jump over wandering pigeons, cross the road, leap over horse poo, and head up the walkway along the canal. Hero turns first onto the ancient stone bridge and stops at the crest. I come in second. We are huffing.
“We made it just in time,” Hero begins.
“There,” I say, pointing to the barge. Our favorite barge. The one with the friendly man, and the beautiful, fluffy dog. The man at the back works the long pole. The man at the front works the net, scooping up garbage in the water. They come closer, and we both wave like crazy.
The man with the net stops and tips his cap to us. The dog smiles and barks to us.
“Look how beautiful that dog is,” I say to my cousin.
“You and your dogs,” Hero shakes his head.
We are still catching our breath, leaning on the old bricks when this boy we know from school named Jorge gets to the top of the bridge. He’s with an older boy we don’t know.
“Hendrik, what’s your family going to do if the carpenters strike?” Jorge seems upset.
I look at Hero who shrugs his shoulders, because we don’t know what he’s talking about. Just then the older boy pulls Jorge along, and we go back to enjoying the barge, which is passing under the bridge and out of sight.
Hero and I part ways when we get close to our houses. I scale up the worn wooden stairs, stopping at the first landing. Nothing in the world can take away my good feelings today. Not even Pappa in one of his bad moods. The door to my Oma’s flat stands open.
“My little Henkie, come in.” My grandmother breaks into a big smile just for me. She is stirring potatoes on the burner as I step inside the door.
“How is my Henkie?” Oma wipes her hands on her apron, opening her arms wide.
“Very good, Oma.” All of me sinks into her arms, her softness surrounds me.
“How was school today?” She backs up enough to look at me, pushes my hair off my forehead.
“Great. Oma, I wrote a poem! It mentions you! Mr. Swart really liked it. He read it in front of the whole class! Everyone in the class said it was really good.”
“My clever boy.” Oma plants a kiss on my forehead. “Maybe we are going to have a poet in the family, yah?” With my coat sleeve, I wipe away the wetness, still smiling. “Ach, are you getting too old for kisses from your Oma? Is this because you are almost ten?” Oma laughs. “Tell me more about this poem, Henkie!”
Quickly, I take my school rucksack from my shoulder and dig it out. “Here it is,” uncurling the slightly bent piece of white paper.
I carefully put back the book my teacher loaned me –his very own copy of Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates. I stand up tall and ready.
“Spring, by Hendrik Van Veen.” I take a deep breath, looking over at my Oma, who waits patiently.
“Spring is coming, yes it will,
Tulips bud on Oma’s sill.
Sun is warming, days get long,
Soon birds will sing their welcome song.”
“Wonderful, my Henkie.” Oma claps. “You are a clever boy.” She looks at me, her hand on her chest. “Now, you best be getting upstairs. Your mamma is waiting for you. Your sisters are already home.”
“Yes, Oma. They passed me when Hero and I stopped on the bridge.”
Oma holds out a plate. She knows these butter and almond cookies are my favorite.
“Take one,” she warns holding up one finger. Snatching it, I shove it all it in my mouth, pick up my rucksack, and begin to take the stairs up to our attic flat two at a time, hoping Oma is not looking.
“Be careful on those stairs!” she yells after me. “Someone could get killed on those stairs!”
Stepping into our attic flat, I stand on tip toes to hang up my woolen coat and cap on the second peg by the door. Not the first peg. Pappa’s coat goes there. He gets mad if anyone else uses it.
“Ah, Henkie, you are finally home,” Mamma says while one hand holds our big pot steady on the alcohol burner. The pot has been filled with water. Kale, potatoes, and even metwurst are next to the pot. My favorite dinner! It’s been weeks since we had my favorite dinner!
“Mamma, I wrote a poem today!”
“Wonderful, Henkie. Maybe you can read it to us after dinner.”
“I already read it to Oma.” I pause. “She said that maybe I am going to be a poet someday.” Mamma turns away from the pot and looks at me, putting down the towel.
“You are good with the words, Henkie.” She turns and adds potatoes to the pot. Then the leaves of kale, a few at a time. “But remember Pappa expects you to be a carpenter, just like him. Boys always do the same trade as their fathers. You know this. You can still write poems for enjoyment, though.” Mamma adds the ring of metwurst on top of the kale, pushes it all down with a wooden spoon, and puts the lid on the pot.
My bubble bursts a little, because I want to write.
Still, the wonderful feeling of reading my poem in class today stays with me. I walk over and put my rucksack on my cot in the alcove. My sisters’ beds are here, too.
But, this will change when we get our new place. We are all so excited about getting our new flat.
Looking out our only windows, I see Pappa walking up the street. It’s way too early for Pappa to be getting home. He and another man stand there with his heavy toolbox, each one holding a handle on the side. They wait to cross the street until a horse and cart pass by.
“Why is Pappa coming home early?” I say to anyone who might be listening. I think back to what happened while Hero and I were watching the barge. What was Jorge talking about? Something about a strike. Maybe I should have asked his what he meant. Something doesn’t feel right.
“Why is Pappa getting home so early?” No one answers.
The clock strikes one ding dong for 5:30. Betsie goes to the tea table in the corner. She pulls down one of the glass doors and gets out five teacups.
“Mamma, are we getting our new flat soon?” Betsie asks while she is arranging cups at each person’s place. She is now as tall as Mamma.
“Yah, I think so,” Mamma looks over and smiles. “Pappa says we are high on the waiting list. Not much longer now.” Steam rises in Mamma’s face while picks up the lid, stirring our dinner.
“ I am tired of living in an attic,” Betsie chimes in.
Any flat will be bigger than this place!” Mamma chuckles. The plodding lumber of Pappa’s footsteps move slowly up the last set of stairs, one at a time. I hear the thud of the heavy toolbox on each step as he makes progress.
Pappa inches in, straining to manage the end handles on the wide and tall wooden box. When he plunks it on the floor, dishes on the table rattle. He’s breathing hard. He hangs up his jacket and cap, and pushes his hair away from his face. Pappa is only a little taller than Mamma. His work clothes are not dirty as usual.
On keeping a journal (or diary)
I always liked this photo my brother took of me at 15.
When I was 15 years old, and a teenager, I felt strongly that grown-ups did not understand me. I resolved to make sure I understood teenagers, and some of the aches of growing up, so that I would be a good teacher and mother someday. So I decided to keep a journal – to remember.
Journaling wasn’t so popular in 1967. It was difficult to find something other than a school notebook to write in. But, in a stationery store, there were blank black books called “records.” The paper was lined, they came in sizes, and so I used my allowance or babysitting money to buy one. We were vacationing in Vermont at the time at a home my parents and grandparents jointly owned. Here is exactly what I wrote back then.
August 24, 1967 (age 15) Stannard, Vermont
This book is my teenage journal. Let the purpose of this book be remembered as a memory of that “precious period of frustration” which we call adolescence. Here I shall record that which I learn as well as that which I treasure. This way, I hope, all that I learn may be permanent.
Today I realized it was important to record this period of my life so that I may never display ignorance to someone I love. Teenagers are a distinct breed. They are all occupied in finding themselves and their way of life. However peculiar this process may seem, it must never be disturbed without marring their future, breeding some resentment.
Too many parents try to live their children’s lives. If I can’t live my own life, and believe me I will, then it is hardly worthwhile. I don’t want to just survive or vegetate. I want to live. I want to fulfill my life with exciting things worth remembering. Parents often blindly deprive their children of learning by doing rather than teaching.
Odd. I wrote this in 1967. Now I am 67 years old. I hardly know the girl who was me. But, I can find her in the pages of the many journals I kept then, and throughout my life (so far).
More About Journaling!
These are 50 years of my journals!
One summer project was cleaning out my desk. This one long drawer holds nearly all my journals, starting with the one in 1967. They are in many shapes and sizes. Some were gifts, others I bought myself. Smaller ones were well suited to traveling. And something about a pretty book with nice paper makes me want to write in it!
Journals come in handy. If the family is having an argument about what place they went on vacation in some year, or in what park we saw an eagle for the first time, then …..I can look it up in my journal and give a definitive answer!
I should explain that I don’t write everyday. Some people do. Me, I have never been good at anything that required that degree of regularity except brushing my teeth. Repetition isn’t my thing. If I had to do a job where you do the same thing over and over, I would be so miserable. Other people love repetition. Not me.
But the coolest thing now, is looking back on all the journals and visiting my earlier self. Who I was, what I was doing, what bothered me, what made me happy. When I was a kid, I read about Ralph Waldo Emerson. He lived long ago, and spent time in Maine where I live. I saw where he wrote, “Whatever you write, preserve.” I took his advice seriously. So the journals have been one way. I also have file folders of other things I have written.
So, I hauled out all those journals, and read sections of each. Now, it’s time to put them away for a while.