aging, cats, friendship, Uncategorized

Zoe and Sweetie Beattie: Friendship

 

Zoe, Sweetie Beattie’s BFF. Photo by Norine Dresser. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweetie Beattie chilling in a flower pot. Photo by Norine Dresser. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2020.

Last Summer, an adorable young black cat showed up in my backyard. From her ID we learned her name was Zoe, and we alerted her nearby family who quickly rescued her.

For six months, Zoe visited our yard daily, to drink fresh water and to play with my house-bound cat, Sweetie Beattie. Zoe’s visits became the highlight of Sweetie Beattie’s day. They’d paw at each other, one on each side of the sliding glass door, and were adorable to watch. Sometimes, Zoe even brought gifts for Beattie.

This half-mouse is one of many treasures Zoe brought Sweetie Beattie. Photo by Norine Dresser. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2020.

I found their relationship endearing. And I loved that Beattie had a friend. Then one day Zoe disappeared. Sweetie Beattie anxiously waited for her and every day after that. She acted depressed. I feared Zoe was a goner because we have many cat predators around here: hawks, owls, coyotes, cars.

After an absence of months, Zoe returned the other day. Sweetie Beattie was all excited once again, but this time Zoe ignored her. She was on to more satisfying activities like looking for prey. Then she left again. Will she ever come back?

The friendship between Zoe and Sweetie Beattie resembles  human friendships. Sometimes we spend a lot of time with a certain person, and then the friendship cools and we go our separate ways.

In November, 2019, I visited Los Angeles where I reunited with a group of friends for lunch.  Some were colleagues from CSULA; others were women I knew from an arthritis swimming class called, “Twinges in the Hinges.” The others were individuals I encountered in a wide variety of circumstances: a co-author; a former folklore student; a former guitar student, and a writer with whom our friendship evolved over, of all things, an L.A. Times obituary.

 

My wonderful friends from over the decades at Shiraz Persian Restaurant in Glendale, California, November 2019. Photo by Ann Bradley. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2020.

Unfortunately, one of my oldest and closest friends, couldn’t make it because  she was in a hospital psychiatric lock-up. Recently, she had escaped from an Assisted Living facility where she was being treated for dementia. While wandering down a busy street, police officers tried to rescue her and she fought them off. Consequently, she was placed in a lock up. What a sad situation for this gifted woman who had such played a significant role in my life.

We met as neighbors when she was 14 and I was 12. She introduced me to horses and Asian art and music, and we had many fun-filled hours shared at school vacation times. As adults we remained lifelong friends and socialized with one another up until I left Los Angeles in 2012.

When I arrived in her small sterile-looking hospital room, she was asleep, so I awakened her.  Her voice was low-pitched and difficult to understand. Desperate to connect with her, I brought up old memories of good times we had shared. Then I remembered a song parody we had written together to serenade a friend who had been injured in an auto accident. About fifty years ago, she and I and our husbands, stood outside our wounded friend’s window singing as cars with curious drivers whizzed by.

I began singing this same song in her hospital room, and to my amazement, she joined in.

(To the tune of Simple Gifts)

Here’s to Jerry Hundal and here’s to his wife.

Here’s to Jerry Hundal and God who saved his life.

And if we find ourselves in a similar plight

Will you sing to us in the middle of the night?

When true mobility is gained.

To bow and to bend we will not be in pain.

To turn, to turn will be our delight.

Till by turning, turning we come out right.

Despite the dreariness of the setting, when her voice joined mine, I felt uplifted. We  re-lived a joyful moment and laughed together. Given our ages and that we are geographically apart, I may never see her again. And if I never do, I will carry this poignant memory of my cherished friend with me forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

able/disabled, aging, disabilities, health, pets

Pain, Poop, and Patience/Patients

I never dreamed while contemplating my reverse right shoulder replacement that I would actually have a good time during the process. That never happened after previous surgeries. I’ve had my gall bladder removed; back surgery; both hips and my left shoulder replaced, yet nary one laugh escaped me during those ordeals.

 

I tried to focus on the outcome of the procedure rather than the process. Does Dr. Sawbones refer to the method of removing the old shoulder parts? OUCH!

Several days after this surgery they transferred me to a brand new rehab center. I should have suspected an unusual environment when the head nurse introduced herself as, “Nurse Anthrax,” (not her real name but one equally toxic). I was incredulous at the naiveté of her parents for giving her such a moniker. That set me off on a scavenger hunt of other ironies, such as entering the physical therapy room and noticing that they were playing “Masonic Funeral Music.”

One day, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Fritz standing in the doorway. His neatly trimmed grey beard and hair reminded me of my late husband. Imagine my excitement when he sat down on the bed, his body touching mine. I wished that he would kiss me. Instead, he turned away and eagerly kissed my red-headed woman visitor. This aroused my jealousy, but then suddenly he disappeared. Could I hold a grudge against him?  No! I knew that next Tuesday, Fritz the Schnauzer therapy dog would visit me again.

 

Stand-in for Fritz the Therapy Dog.

When you look around the dining area, superficially all you see are old bodies in wheelchairs, some with oxygen cannulas in their noses, others with drains coming from their kidneys, or those with broken limbs in splints. It’s so easy to discount these wounded folks. But that would be  a big mistake. Many of them had led adventurous lives and had had marvelous careers.

Once I opened myself up to their stories, I was constantly stimulated and amazed. I learned the gory details about a husband who dumped his wife for a much younger woman he met on a Greek Island; Wynona entertained me with descriptions of being in Tehran just before the Shah left and the Iranian Revolution began. Nursing attendants told tales of being abused by ex-mates; or about the suspicions single dads encounter when they accompany their teenage daughters to buy underwear. And do you know the difference in the way male attendants give showers compared to female attendants? Mine washed me like he was washing his car, spraying first down one side of me. Then I turned and he washed down the other side. I took care of my own headlights.

One dinner hour I said to my tablemates, “Aren’t the nights long here?” To my  amazement, one ordinarily quiet woman began reciting lines from “Macbeth.” Then she told me about attending Yale and her life’s work as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and nursing instructor.

I met the son of a patient who’s a retired probation officer.  Guess what he does in his retirement? He collects and repairs fountain pens. He has written articles about his collection and even had an exhibit of them in nearby Alamogordo. This was a folklorist’s delight.

Sometimes snippets of conversation captured me:

I miss my dog more than my husband;

I married a Roman Catholic priest;

If you leave off your brassiere, your wrinkles disappear;

My dog knows how to spell D-O-G-P-A-R-K.

Food services were excellent and unique for such an institutional setting. For example, one time they served eggs benedict for breakfast; chicken Alfredo over fettuccini for lunch; stir-fry steak and veggies and rice for dinner. And there was an alternative menu available for all three meals.

I met Angelica Wagner, also a patient at the rehab center. She teaches cooking and does catering when not recovering from surgery. As a special occupational therapy exercise, she taught us how to make cherry-filled empanadas. The following week we made mini-cinnamon rolls. This was a very enlightened healing environment.

 

Angelica Wagner teaching Occupational Therapy patients how to make empanadas. Step one, cutting out the dough. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.
Finished product. Notice fork for using tines to seal the empanada.© Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2019.
Putting cherry filling inside dough circles. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2019

 

 

 

 

Still patients complained:

“Can you believe they call this bean soup. The beans aren’t even white?” (I had a cynical hunch that her attitude applied to people, as well.)

“You know, I have to hit the TV remote button FIVE times before it will change channels.”

Overcoming pain and getting the digestive system back to normal after anesthesia and medications are the two most difficult post-op tasks.  It takes patience to be a good patient, something that I lack. Nonetheless, social interactions go a long way in helping rehabilitation. From the many colorful get-well cards to my many visitors, two laden with Stroopwaffel McFlurries, and to my almost-daily visits from Damien, a Papillion, and his driver Carol Witham, fellow patients and staff with their intriguing stories contributed toward my recovery. After almost a full month at the rehab center, I eagerly returned home and with thanks to all of you.

 

Damien, a frequent visitor who always brought me cheer. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

Oops! I forgot to mention something. While I was away I had Liza Chase take care of my cat’s meals in the morning and Roxana Gillette gave Sweetie Beattie the night feeding. Liza left the TV on for the cat 24/7 so she wouldn’t feel alone in the empty house. Often Liza turned on the History Channel. However, one day as she was leaving, the History Channel was airing a show about Hitler. Liza thought that was inappropriate for a Jewish household, so she changed the channel to one about Aliens.

 

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is relieved that the surgery is now in the past, and she is home at last with Sweetie Beattie.

Visit the Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture: flpcgallery.org

 

 

able/disabled, aging, disabilities, health, independence, mobility

IT COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE

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Recently, a friend with an unexpected life threatening physical condition complained that she might have to be on blood thinners for the rest of her life. Reflexively, I commented, “It could always be worse,” thinking insulin injections, chemo, radiation.

That same week another acquaintance mentioned that she had been just diagnosed with A-Fib and was now on blood thinners which she ruefully confessed might have to be taken for the rest of her life. Again, I responded, “It could always be worse,” thinking about those same alternatives given to my first friend.

Later, I wondered why I had made such automatic assertions. It could always be worse was something I even told myself when I had to perform unpleasant procedures, e.g., struggle while strapping on a back brace; wrap my left leg daily; pop in my hearing aids; deal with chronic and increasing back pain. Yet the “It could always be worse,” phrase helps me put my own physical state into perspective. And I recognized that the phrase was tied to Judaism.

Although I am Jewish, my parents were non-synagogue attendees and always spoke only English.  Because I was a sickly child, I missed a lot of public school days so I never even attempted religious school. Despite this, I obviously had absorbed Jewish attitudes and culture.

When I Googled the expression, sure enough I found a children’s book by Margot Zemach called, It Could Always Be Worse, based on an old Yiddish folktale.

As retold by Zemach, accompanied by her lively illustrations, a poor man lived with his wife, mother, and six children crammed into a small hut. With the husband and wife constantly quarrelling and the noisy children fighting and screaming, chaos reigned.

Overcome with frustration, the husband sought advice from a rabbi who counseled that he should bring his chickens, rooster, and goose to live inside with them. Obligingly, the man did, but it only made the household more frenzied. He returned to the rabbi, who then instructed to now bring his goat and later his cow inside the shack.

Their abode became even more unbearable, so the desperate man returned to the rabbi who told him to let all the animals back outside. That night, the family had a wonderful night’s sleep and, the message was clear: At least you don’t have to sleep with your livestock, and that is always worse.

To my regular blog readers: Several months have elapsed since my last posting, and I apologize. I have been sidetracked with chronic pain and reduced mobility that also decreased my ability to write. Although, I am trying a wide variety of treatments, so far I have been unsuccessful. Despite feeling sorry for myself, I must take my own advice and remind myself, “It Could Always Be Worse.”

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Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who, like most people, unconsciously absorbed ethnic attitudes from her family.

 

 

aging, compulsions, Los Angeles Times

Pardon My Lack of Modesty

 

Award for my blogs, “Norine’s New Life@80.”
Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2018.

 

I took delight in entering a contest at age 86. Why? If I won, a celebrity host was not going to show up at my door with fanfare and a check. There would be no coverage in the Las Cruces Sun-News. I only received a paper award (that I promptly framed).

So why did I do it? Because I could. The idea amused me.

Shortly after arriving in New Mexico in 2012, I joined the Las Cruces Women’s Press Club. The other members were friendly and fascinating in what they had accomplished. Writing an eight-year column in the Los Angeles Times gave me the credentials for membership.

Someone once asked when I first realized that I was a writer. It was between the ages of ten and twelve when  I had two uncles serving in the military during WWII. I felt compelled to let them know what was happening at home. The bigger thrill was receiving their letters in return. My uncle Max, who was stationed in India, promised that when he returned to Los Angeles, he would bring me a monkey.

With high expectations at the end of the war, I watched as hundreds of soldiers poured out of Union Station. I figured Uncle Max would be easy to spot with that monkey on his shoulder. Alas! There was no monkey, and I was so disappointed. It took many years before I forgave him — and maybe I never did?

I loved reporting and in high school took journalism, where I won a Reporter of the Year trophy then advanced to becoming Associate Editor of the school newspaper, The Blue Tide. As much as I was enamored with journalism, I never considered pursuing that as a career. In retrospect, it’s probably because college girls’ ambitions in 1949 were mostly limited to becoming teachers or nurses, the latter simply out of the question for me.

To this day, I love writing. As we used to preach in the Cal State University Los Angeles English Department, “Writing is a dialogue with one’s self.” Sometimes I write something and when it appears on my screen, I think, Wow! That’s so true. It was buried inside of me all this time.

Despite being the author of many books and scholarly articles, the award from the New Mexico Press Women stoked my desire to write more. And even on days, when this 86 year-old aching body finally drags itself to the computer, pain lifts as I explore the day’s topic. Best of all, if need be, I can write from my bed and still find pleasure.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who still gets excited about a new blog theme.

Visit her Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture: https://flpcgallery.org

aging, creativity, music

What Am I Going to Be When I Grow Up?

Here I am in my new incarnation. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Here I am in my new incarnation. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

When I first arrived in Las Cruces at the age of 80, I considered it a major transformation and probably the last big change I would make. Up to then, my life had been full. Professionally, I taught at California State University Los Angeles for 20 years; I wrote books, articles, and an award-winning column for the Los Angeles Times. On the personal side I had been a wife, mom, grandmother, widow, great-grandmother. I thought I had completed both cycles, but life had some surprises for me.

Instead of settling into the New Mexico lifestyle and relaxing, I felt restless and began exploring new avenues. Today, at 85, I am more community-involved than I ever was in Los Angeles.

I joined the Las Cruces Women’s Press Club; I volunteer weekly at the Institute of Historical Research Foundation; I am producing a program for the brand new Las Cruces Community Radio Station (KTAL), that I will write about in a future blog. I perform with the Las Cruces Ukes.

Best of all, I have found a new dear friend and playmate, Roxana Gillett. Together, we have been writing song parodies and presenting them to our ukulele group and elsewhere. We are having so much fun with this new venture, plotting and combining mutual interests and talents.

Roxana Gillett and I in cognito (sort-of) as reindeer. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I in cognito (sort-of) as reindeer. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Here’s a partial sample of one of our parodies, sung to the tune of “All I Want For Christmas.”

All I want for Christmas is my young body back,

Memory intact, my belly flat.

And if I could only find my new false teeth,

Then I could wish you Merry Christmas.

It seems so long since I could walk

Without a pain in my tuchas

Gosh, oh gee, how happy I would be

If I didn’t have toe fungus.

 

Roxana Gillett and I in our beards to perform a parody of "Hallelujah." Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I as the Bearded Ladies.” Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Another one of our hit songs was set to the melody of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Our version is the irreverent topic of what to do about having cooties.

Did-ja know our beards are filled with dirt

Within these hairs cooties lurk?

But hygiene sucks, it doesn’t work, so sue us.

They sink their teeth into our scalps

Eat our flesh until we yelp

Give us some relief, some shampoo-yah.

Some shampoo-yah, Some shampoo-yah

Some shampoo-yah, Some shampoo-yah.

Roxana Gillett and I in our Halloween hats to sing a seasonal parody to the tune of the Addams Family theme song. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I in our Halloween regalia for an appropriate song parody.  Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

We couldn’t overlook Halloween, so we wrote a parody to the tune of the Addams Family theme song.

La Cruces Ukes are kooky. On Halloween, we’re spooky

We’re altogether ooky, ukulele family.

We play at business lunches, and walrus fishy brunches

Bring smiles to gloomy Gus-es, ukulele family.

Roxana Gillett and I are ready for St. Patrick's Day. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I are ready for St. Patrick’s Day. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

This is a parody of  “Whiskey You’re the Devil,” as part of a St. Patrick’s Day medley.

Ukulele you’re the divil, you’re leading me astray, taking up my social life and even my        birthday.

The music from our strumming is spunkier than the tay, ukulele you’re the divil drunk or sober.

Roxana Gillett and I took a cynical stab at Valentine's Day. Photo by Mariah Chase, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I took a cynical stab at Valentine’s Day. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

For Valentine’s Day, we parodied Dean Martin’s song “That’s Amore” changing it to “That’s Divorcé.

When the love leaves your heart and you’re a-falling apart

That’s divorcé.

When you’ve run out of Prozac switched over to cognac

That’s divorcé.

Cell phone rings, ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a ling

It’s your ex’s fiancée.

Heart skips a beat tippi-tippi-tay, tippy-tippy-tay

She’s sending a selfie.

She is flashing a ring that has way too much bling

He’s replaced you.

She’s a gold-digging ghoul, you have been such a fool

You hate her.

You throw down the phone, you feel so alone,

You start crying.

‘Scusa-me, but you see back in our home town,

That’s divorcé.

Roxana Gillett and I preparing for the Las Cruces Ukulele Festival. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017
Roxana Gillett and I preparing for the upcoming Third Annual Las Cruces Ukulele Festival. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017

Now we’re aiming for the Third Annual Las Cruces Ukulele Festival in May. This parody is sung to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun.” Here is the first verse:

There is a coop in Las Cruces, they call the Rockin’ Roost,

It’s been a place where chickens can hide, to keep from being fried.

Our mother was a frying hen, in sizzling oil she died.

Our father was a uke-strumming cock, it saved him from the pot.

 

So what am I going to be when I grow up?

WEIRD AL YANKOVICH… MOVE OVER!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is astonished that even at 85, more exciting times are possible (If only her body cooperates).