Gentlemen

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I recall the days of old when most young men followed rules for being what we then called gentlemen. They opened doors for ladies, walked on the right side of women near the curb, pulled out chairs at tables, helped women into cars. While all of these things were nice they are not the most important aspect of being a gentleman in my mind. For me, a true gentleman is someone who demonstrates respect for all people. A gentleman encourages women to reach for their desired goals without limits. 

I happen to be married to a man whom I think of as a gentleman. He is willing to openly cry and show his emotions. He supports gay marriage because he believes that we should always be happy to see more love in our often uncaring world. He is proud to be the father of two strong women and he always supported me in my efforts to become educated and successful in my work. He listens with interest to what I have to say even when he does not totally agree with my ideas. He believes in treasuring every human and sincerely likes people. He has a generous and inclusive heart. 

While I eschewed all the little niceties of old style chivalry years ago my gentleman husband still considers it his duty to be certain that I am safe and secure. We are a team that works together in a spirit of kindness and love. We compliment each other in the ways we do things but also give each other the freedom to soar. He has celebrated all of my accomplishments without any sign of envy. 

I shudder when I see a man sucking the oxygen out of a room, demanding to be the center of attention. I abhor boastful men, bullies who make a joke of the appearances of women. I prefer my very gentle husband who sees people for what is in their hearts. He is loyal and trustworthy to the nth degree. 

Women have told me that they are afraid to become more educated than their husbands or to earn more money. Some have meekly adopted the political views of their husbands rather than studying issues and thinking for themselves. Others tell me that they simply give in whenever arguments ensue because the men in their lives insist on being right. Luckily I have never had to endure such limitations.

I only have one granddaughter and I am happy to see that she has no trouble asserting herself. She is a leader by nature and inclined to speak her mind. I cheer her because I think that too often in the history of the world women have had to accept an inferior role to men. Some people see that as a godly traditional role that is to be desired. I see it as a belief that women are somehow inferior to men, a myth that has stalked us for far too long. 

Both of my grandmothers were tiny women but their hearts were bold and strong. Grandma Mary sailed across the Atlantic alone to find a new life in America. She left behind everyone and everything that she had ever known. I can’t think of anyone I know who is more adventurous than that. My Grandma Minnie was a young widow who had to make her way with her daughter by hiring out as a cook in a boarding house. She eventually met my grandfather and remarried but her spunkiness never waned. She could hunt and fish with the best men and she was fearless when it came to fording a swollen river during a flood. I come naturally by my independent ways and I handed them down to my daughters who in turn have taught their sons and the one daughter to respect the intellect and dignity of women. 

My father-n-law is somewhat quaint. He still insists on holding doors for me and making sure that I enter a room before he does. He treasured his two wives and diligently cared for them through illnesses and surgeries. His every thought was for their comfort. I suppose that my husband learned from him but when all is said and done it was his mother who made him so great. She insisted that he show the utmost respect for all women. His encouragement and support followed him to work where the women hailed him as one of the best bosses they ever had. 

I hope that my grandsons will follow the example of their grandfather, my husband. If they treat the people they meet with the same level of respectful behavior they will find true and healthy partnerships whether at work or in matters of love. When speaking of gentlemanly behavior key words are trust, honesty, encouragement, respect, appreciation and gentleness. Men with those qualities are treasures. Men like that are strong.

A Blank Sheet of Paper

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When I was a very young child my family lived next to neighbors who seemed to be almost as avant-garde as Auntie Mame. While my parents purchased classic furniture much like that of their parents the Wright family was very much into mid-century modern chic. Instead of purchasing mahogany, oak or cherry wood they chose what was then called “blonde” accessories. Their chairs were low slung and built with strange curves and dark canvas seats. Their tables used wrought iron and glass to create a sense of visionary fluidity. Their artwork was more akin to Picasso than the old masters. Their color palette  mostly consisted of blacks and greys and reds. 

I think that both Mr. and Mrs. Wright were artists of some kind and before they finally had a child of their own they often invited me to their home for lessons in drawing and using color. I adored Mrs. Wright who very patiently worked with me to develop my first artistic skills. She constantly boasted that I was quite advanced in drawing and creating works of art given my age. I’m not so certain that I actually had any talent, but I did enjoy being with her and letting my eye wander through the rooms of her home. It was so very different from anything that I had ever before seen and somehow I understood that it was a lovely expression of the creativity that she and her husband so delightfully shared with me.

We eventually moved when I was six years old. My memories of the Wrights themselves are fuzzy, but I can still see their furnishings with great clarity. I am also able to hear Mrs. Wright’s voice encouraging me to follow my own creative instincts using words that a child would understand. While I never again saw either of the Wrights I have somehow never forgotten what I learned from them or the impressions they made on my pre-school mind. 

My own home is rather old fashioned due to the quirk of inheriting antiques from the older members of my family. I am a firm believer in taking care of fine pieces of furniture that still have life in them. I am a recycler of the highest order. Thus my house is as eclectic they come. I somehow pull together a hodgepodge of hand me downs into a cohesive mix that makes it seem as though I prefer the old over the new when in fact I simply don’t believe in letting anything that is still useful go to waste. I have very few items of furniture that I have actually purchased aside from sofas and upholstered chairs. I use most of those things until they are hopelessly outdated and their cushions are sagging, so I often miss the fashions of some decades. 

There really is no theme in my decorating other than voicing my independence. I color outside of the lines of trends either old or new. I use what I have and accent it with whimsy or whatever makes me happy. I mix the old with the new and care not whether I am up to date or behind the times. I just delight in being me just as Mrs. Wright once counseled me to be.

I like to think that I took the advice of Mrs. Wright to heart in all aspects of my life. I may appear to be old fashioned and conservative but my essence is forward thinking. I often identify more with young adults in their twenties thirties and forties than my older peers. I see so many possibilities in the future and have no desire to fall back on a time that was somewhat flawed. I’m a believer in progress and exploration of new ideas. At the same time I know that it is possible to combine the best of the past with the innovation of the future. I’ve been successful in melding these elements in my home and in my beliefs. Maybe it’s because Mrs. Wright taught me to really look at the world around me without filters or restrictions on my thinking. 

Even as a child I was able to see both the beauty and the ugliness in differing ways of viewing the world. I was aware of loving kindness from the adults that I knew while also overhearing some of their prejudices and flawed thinking that bothered me. I have moved with the inevitable tide of modernity while also treasuring the best aspects of what I experienced in the past. I am not one who looks at the younger generation as being irresponsible, To the contrary I am certain that they are ready to take on the reins of guiding us into brighter days. I really do believe that the best is yet to come. 

Most people don’t seem to realize that so many of the things we have today are far superior to the things from the past. I remember televisions that constantly needed repair whereas the ones I now own seem to keep going forever without any need for changing parts. Our cars are safer and more efficient than ever, especially the ones that are electric. We have windows that actually insulate our homes, appliances that use less electricity that the behemoths of the past. We have mostly embraced the delightful diversity that makes the human race as brilliant as it is. We have eradicated diseases that made me very sick as a child. Our school curriculums are more advanced than ever. 

I suppose that when all is said and done I may be looking more and more like an old fuddy daddy along with my home, but appearances can be deceiving. I’m may be as thoroughly modern as Mr. and Mrs. Wright once were. Thanks to their enduring influence I am an independent thinker who sees problems as possibilities, the past as a lesson, a blank sheet of paper as a space of wonder.   

Doing It My Way

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I have to stay organized or I completely fall apart. My students almost always discovered that if they moved my pen or shuffled my class notes I would become a mess until I sorted things out. This was often their way of get a slight reprieve from instructions in mathematics every once in awhile. I usually just laughed it off and recovered my composure as quickly as possible.

I’m somewhat old fashioned in the way I keep track of things that I must do. I still make pencil and paper lists to carry to the grocery store. I scratch off items after I have place them in my shopping cart. My husband rolls his eyes at my way of doing things as though I am carrying a slate tablet along with a hammer and chisel. His whole world is on his phone and computer. He uses all kinds of apps to get things done. He can’t imagine why I need actual paper anymore. 

I do type up “to do” lists and save them on my desktop. I delete tasks once I have completed them. I also keep an electronic calendar that reminds me where and when I am supposed to be somewhere. It works well as long as I think to actually check it once each morning. Mostly I follow a routine, so there is very little that I have to be reminded to do. 

My husband almost always uses an app for directions, even to places he has been to hundreds of times. When I ask him why he would do that he claims that he is getting traffic updates and learning when to change his route to avoid delays. That sort of thing drives me crazy so I often end up sitting in standstill traffic cooling my heels. I’m just not that into up to the minute technology for navigating around town. Such things remind me too much of stringent lesson planning rules or those ideas for taking good notes in a college class that teachers sometimes made me follow. I have my own ways that seem to have worked well for me and my temperament even if I do drop the ball once in a blue moon. 

My husband was a banker and I suppose his management tasks required him to be more on the money if you will, than my job of creatively inspiring students to enjoy learning about mathematics. I was more inclined to punt when I saw their eyes glaze over. Being tied down to an ironclad plan rarely worked for me. 

The same was true when I mentored and supported teachers. Each of them was an individual with differing skills. I quickly learned that some of them were as devoted to organization as my husband and I treated their need for step by step guidelines with deep respect. Others had everything under control in their heads. I understood that I could always count on them to get their jobs done magnificently without the minutiae of complex planning. I learned to adapt to a panoply of needs rather than any one way of doing things. 

My house is a kind of mirage. Everything in view appears to be very carefully placed because it is. Rarely is their a feeling of chaos in my rooms, but behind the closed doors of some of my cabinets and closets is a hidden world of utter disorder. My junk drawer might win first prize for the most disarrayed accumulation of worthless items on the planet, but my countertops are spotlessly clean and uncluttered. In fact I drive my husband a bit batty because he seems to think that I should have more items sitting ready to be used rather than stuffed away behind closed doors. 

The funny thing is that I know people who are just the opposite. I might open any enclosed space in their homes and find an organized system worthy of the container store. At the same time they feature an array of items seemingly thrown randomly into corners of rooms and on the surfaces of tables and counters. While I would go crazy with all of the visible mess, they would faint at the thought of some of my closets.

I had a friend who kept everything in perfect order save for one room in her home that nobody ever entered. She once revealed it to me and it was a jumble unlike anything I have ever seen. She laughed at my shocked expression and gave me a tour to demonstrate how she knew exactly where to find whatever she wanted. In the meantime. it was a better storage space that a hot attic and nobody ever needed to see it unless she chose to let them in on her secret. 

I have often found that a person’s organizational bent corresponds with their talents and skills. Accountants are generally quite systematic and linear while highly creative souls often seem not to follow any strict guidelines in their lives. I suppose we need all kinds of skills in this world and it would be really boring if we were all automatons who robotically behaved alike. 

I get things done on time and in good order so I don’t think it matters whether I do so with old school paper and pencil or technology. My home is clean even if it has some junky spaces. I consider myself to be organized in my own way so it really should not matter that much to anyone else how I get there. I’ve gotten pretty far doing it my way. I don’t see much point in changing things now but I might take time to clean out that junk draw because I’m having a difficult time finding anything in there.. 

Her Serpentine Life

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I’ve always envied the brilliant souls who seem to be decisive in their life choices. These are the people who announce their plans in high school and never waver in pursuit of their philosophies and goals. Their paths seem to be straight and even when they approach a fork in the road they know exactly which way to go without a moment’s hesitation. We all know someone like that and if they are especially lucky we see that their hard work and laser sharp focus pays off for them again and again. The rest of us find ourselves in a confusing maze in which we often simply react to whatever trials and tribulations come our way. We sense that blind luck is playing a bigger role in our lives than we would actually like it to do, but somehow we can’t find a way to be more linear.

My mother used to joke that if she did not have bad luck she would have no luck at all. In spite of her surrender to the fates that befell her she still managed to remain eternally optimistic. I never quite understood how she kept it together so well. Her first fiancee died in the Pacific during World War II. She often spoke of how brutally that tragedy had impacted her ,including describing what might have been her first bout with bipolar disorder. Somehow she pulled herself out of the depression that overcame her by adapting to the reality of her situation. She went to Massey Business College and was soon working as a secretary to judges, engineers and professors. Along the way she met my father and found love once again. 

Mama loved being a wife and mother. It was as though she had been born for that role. She applied both her knowledge of home economics and her business acumen to running a household. She was in her element and loving every minute of it when my father died, leaving her bereft once again with the additional responsibility of raising three children under the age of eight. After an initial frightening episode of depression she pushed herself to be a model of ingenuity as she carried the weight of being mother, father and provider for her family. She did so with an ever present smile and a determination to keep me and my brothers feeling loved and safe and happy. To say she accomplished that would be an understatement. 

There were financial and medical ups and downs and stalls and starts but Mama never complained. We traveled down a long and winding road with her, unaware as children of how difficult the navigation must have been. We hardly even noticed how frugal our lifestyle was because she made even a meal of pinto beans and cornbread seem like a feast fit for kings. Still she was like a giddy child when she was offered a job as a teacher at our Catholic school. The only proviso was that she complete coursework in education after school and in the summers. 

Mama felt certain that she had finally found her niche and she eagerly threw herself wholeheartedly into teaching, studying and continuing to take care of the family. For the first time she had enough income to purchase small luxuries like a new sofa or a weekend vacation trip to San Antonio and Austin. She was the happiest that I ever remember her being and she spoke excitedly about both her students and her classes at Dominican College. 

Eventually my mother realized that juggling and spinning plates at the same time was a bit more than she was capable of doing, so she resigned from her teaching job in order to accelerate her progress in earning a degree in education. She would attend school during the day and spend her evenings studying, writing papers and poring over reading assignments. She got less and less sleep and she exhibited signs of great stress and exhaustion, but she kept on pursuing her goal. With only a few hours to complete, she even landed another job as a fifth grade teacher. 

What should have been the culmination of all of her efforts turned into a disaster. While she had a very successful first semester at the school, the introduction of a very difficult student to her classroom stressed her well-being and her reputation as a strong teacher. By the end of the school year the principal told her that her contract would not be renewed and that it was her opinion that Mama should find another profession. That triggered a decades long battle with mental illness for my mother. For the first time she seemed lost and unable to pull herself back into fighter mode. She was very very sick.

The next few years were torturous for my mom. She was like an animal caught in a complex maze. She finally had her college degree, but she had been blackballed in the teaching profession that she so loved and had a difficult time even finding a job as a clerk in a department store. After months of searching for work she stumbled upon employment at the University of Texas Health Science Center analyzing data for a long-term study of blood pressure. Ironically it would become a place of comfort and security for her, with perhaps the kindest co-workers that she had ever in her life encountered. She made far less than she would have as a teacher, but she had continuing work and the understanding of people who would support her whenever her symptoms of bipolar disorder made it difficult for her to be present. It was the final match made in heaven for her. 

I think that we all imagine and desire a life devoid of the kind of horrific roadblocks and injuries that plagued my mother. We most admire those whose trajectory leads them exactly where they wanted to go. We equate success with such people and yet it would be difficult to deny that my mother’s journey was a model for persistence and courage. She may not have appeared to be on the right track with all of the twists and turns that appeared to be ruling her decisions and her life, but indeed she persevered remarkably. The shortest distance between her beginning and her end might have been a straight line, but she managed to make a beautiful life out of a dangerously serpentine path. 

Before she died, she got to where she had hoped to be. She was admired by her co-workers at the University of Texas. She was loved by her family and friends. She left the world with no debts and no regrets. How many of us will be able to do as well? 

Wasting Away My Way

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I haven’t approached retirement in the typical sense. I don’t think I sufficiently prepared myself for having hours of free time. I had worked twelve to sixteen hour days for decades and stopping suddenly felt terribly strange to me. Because I had measured my worth by how much I accomplished, I felt a yawning hole when I was free to decide whether I would sleep in or rise early, labor at something meaningful or just wile the day away enjoying the view. It rather quickly became apparent to me that I was one of the people who needed a purpose to feel happy and somehow in those early weeks of retirement there was little that I did that gave me a sense of meaning. 

I found great joy in writing each day, but that only took a few hours and then a whole stretch of time lay before me. Thanks to a good friend I landed a part time tutoring gig that made my blood rush again and brought a smile to my face. I was doing the kind of things that had always brought me peace of mind. 

Eventually I had written an entire book which I have yet to publish. Someone in my family seems to have an emergency that takes most of my attention and the funds that I have saved to get a cover designed each time that I get very close to offering my memoir for public view. I sometimes wonder if my mother is sending me a message that I need to take another look at what I have written since it is mostly about her. 

My tutoring led to becoming a home school mathematics teacher, a job that I had never imagined doing. I’m a cheerleader for public education but I soon learned that there is a very big world of kids who quite earnestly learn in small groups without all of the complications of larger schools. It became my new obsession to work with them. 

I’m proud to say that two of my first home school students have earned Associates’ degrees and are planning for further training as an electrician and a pilot. It made my heart sing to see how well they did in their college level mathematics classes and now I am working to send another group on to higher education. I suppose that teaching is in my bones and I will do it until I no longer have the energy to plan the lessons, present concepts, grade papers and evaluate progress. For now continuing to teach in like a lifeline for me. I would rather be doing it than almost anything else.

I found that traveling was a panacea for my boredom as well. Not even the pandemic interrupted my wanderlust that I believe game from my father, a man who had set a goal to visit all of the states. He was almost there when he died and I suspect that his next journeys would have taken him across the globe. I saw him get a faraway look in his eyes whenever he listened to a cousin speaking of his work in Libya. Surely conquering the world was next on his list.

Things are slow right now. My students are off for the summer and our focus is on my father-in-law whose health and life has been upended since March. Most of my time these days revolves around getting him well and preparing for a future that may include moving him into our home to live. Leisure time and traveling are on the back burner for the moment. 

I know I need to exercise more and get that book published once and for all. I have tasks that need to be done around the house. The only ones that I enjoy doing are those revolving around my plants that I nurture as though they were my children. I remember a teacher from long ago insisting that we can only love people, not animals or things. I disagree with her soundly because I have sincerely loved my pets and my plants as well. I would amend her admonition to instruct that we should only love living things but then I would have to leave out mountains and landscapes that warm my heart.

I suppose that I have learned that it is mostly a waste of time to attempt to change someone’s political views. If they want guidance they will ask and then they will generally listen, ask questions, want to know more. Debating their points of view is little more than a good way to lose friends, but not influence them. Nonetheless I love writing opinion pieces more than anything even as I see such essays turning off my readers. I suppose it is because I really wanted to be in charge of the editorial page of my high school newspaper and instead I was relegated to editing the news. That is when I became a lover of facts even though a little voice kept telling me that I really wanted to influence the way people think. 

I like my life and I’m not ashamed to admit that I do my best to fill every hour of everyday with tasks that seem meaningful. That is my definition of fun so I will no doubt carry on just the way I have barring any accident or life changing incident. I’m a firm believer in celebrating the diverse ways in which we each decide to live. I enjoy watching the passing parade of humans and marveling out how different we all are while still have the commonality of wanting to have the freedom to live in our own personal ways. Some spend their days on the beach, others watch birds. I’m all for whatever floats your boat as long as you don’t try to sink mine. I’ve found a rhythm that suits me well. I hope I can keep it humming along while I waste away my way.