The Passage of Time

Tree circles

I suppose the surest sign of advancing age is in full view whenever someone speaks of the good old days with a kind of reverence. I have to admit to being guilty of that more and more often even though I purport to be a forward thinker. Sometimes it just feels as though everything is changing way too fast. Time is fleeting and for some reason it seems that the older I get the more it accelerates. In just a few short years I’ve gone from being part of a younger generation to serving as one of the heads of the family as all but less than a handful of my elders have left this earth. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to watch traditions slowly change or even die because the world is so demanding of everyone’s time.

I haven’t known whether to laugh or just sigh when I hear my children and some of my former students speak of the times when life felt so much better as though they were speaking of some ancient age of glory that no longer exists. Somehow in our rush toward innovation we’ve managed to make so many things more complicated and more expensive than they have ever before been. The idea of decreasing our workloads and having more time for ourselves and family has seemingly become a broken promise as the hours that we gained through our inventiveness have been filled with new demands at higher and higher costs. Ours has become a kind of pressure cooker lifestyle particularly for our young who worry incessantly about what their futures may be.

There really was a simpler time but it was never trouble free. We humans have grappled with universal problems since the beginning of history. Our need for the basics of survival, security, relationships and self development are part of our makeup. They transcend time, place, ethnicity and politics. When all is said and done we are all searching for the same things and when we witness the death of a superstar like Kobe Bryant we are reminded that even he was after all just like us in his love of family. With all of the adoration that was shown to him, it was inside the small circle of those who knew him best that the ultimate purpose of his life was defined,

I vividly recall my days as a young adult just beginning the process of becoming responsible. I was in many ways playing a role that I was yet to fully understand but I had huge dreams and felt unstoppable. I truly did think that I somehow had a better grasp on life than the adults who had been instrumental in raising me from a child and I felt that it would be my generation that would somehow set the whole world aright in a way that no other had managed to do.

Back then an apartment cost only a bit of change over a hundred dollars and the rent included all utilities. I could purchase gasoline for nineteen cents on occasion. A loaf of bread was a quarter and a gallon of milk was under a dollar. I bought groceries with a twenty dollar bill and dreamed of a glorious time when I might be rich enough to have an income of a thousand dollars a month. My first semester of college cost me less than five hundred dollars but I remember worrying that I might not have the finances to pay for the next semester and the next.

I indeed struggled to maintain a budget even with the seemingly low prices of everything because the cost of living was proportional to the average wages that people made. The first lesson that I learned as a fledgling adult was how much brighter my elders were than I had given them credit for being. I also began to appreciate the sacrifices they had made to care for me and my peers, almost always without complaint. I saw how difficult it is just to provide the basics of life. I was tired most of the time and became more and more in awe of the men and women that I had seen faithfully attending to their jobs day after day when I was still a child. I realized how much I had taken their efforts for granted.

Through each new decade my confidence rose along with my income. So often my progress was offset by rising costs. By the time my own daughters were attending college the cost of a semester ran into the thousands of dollars. Groceries and gasoline and housing prices required far more than they had thirty years before. A thousand dollars a month was a pittance and would not even cover the most basic lifestyle. Worse still was the realization that with all of the dreams I had shared with my generation we had yet to find the nirvana for the world that we had been so certain we would be able to create. Like generations before us we had fallen into the cycles of survival that have ruled mankind for centuries.

Now I’m watching my grandchildren set out toward adult life with the same swagger that I had when I first began to live on my own. Their world is a much different place with pressures and problems and costs that are staggering and yet I have great faith in them. They may not be able to conquer all of the problems, for surely new ones that we have yet to even realize will arise. I have faith that like my peers and my parents’ peers and those of countless generations before us they will learn what they need to do and eventually take the reins to tackle whatever challenges may come.

We live and learn, advance and falter, create wonders and make messes. It is who we are as people. Ideas and things come and go just like we humans do. Costs rise and so do incomes. We chip away at our problems and actually begin to eliminate some. We figure out how to defeat polio and how to build machines that travel into space. We are innovators at heart, essentially kind people who overcome hatred and violence again and again. The costs of improving ourselves and our world may rise but we always seem to find ways to make things happen. Life goes on.

Opening Hearts and Minds

peacemaker

I am what is sometimes known as a people pleaser, not so much because I want to impress anyone with my goodness but because I have an uncanny ability to sense people’s feelings. I have spent most of my life striving to help others to be their best selves and making great effort to see differing points of view. My work has included titles like mother, teacher, peer facilitator, dean of faculty. In those roles I focused on walking hand in hand with my charges rather than being an authoritarian. I prefer being a diplomat to executing orders. To my utter dismay I more and more often find myself in a kind of new world order in which I am constantly challenged to choose a side or be considered outmoded and ineffective. The middle ground where I have long stood so that I might extend a hand to each side is now considered the choice of wimps, those unwilling to take a stand. I find it more and more difficult to please anyone and I am often accused of being the kind of person who has actually caused most of the problems of the world.

We appear to be in a phase during which manners and decency toward all is considered passé. Tough guys, bullies, those willing to hurl insults are thought to be the new saviors of the world. Being polite and soft spoken is out. Being brash is in. Passive resistance and peaceful assembly has lost its lure. Instead shouting and insistence that all agree to a kind of tandem manner of thinking is the way of the new heroes. Sound bites have replaced thoughtful discourse.

As a teenager I read John Kennedy’s Profiles In Courage with an almost reverential mindset. I saw the heroes that he described as role models for my own life. I liked the stories of fortitude in the lives of the saints that had so fascinated me as a child. I wanted more than anything to be a fair and just individual who held tightly to the belief that each of us has an important purpose in this world. I read and reread tales of men and women who changed the world without harming others. I came to believe that the most glorious aspect of living where I do is the unalienable right of individuals to have the liberty of their own thoughts. I enjoyed the idea of bridging gaps between diverse groups. It is who I am and what I do.

It seems as though a perverse stubbornness has invaded the world. We are at an impasse with one another. Society has become judgmental without taking the time to analyze situations devoid of prejudice. Our favored leaders often hurl insults at one another. We blame entire generations for our problems with sweeping pronouncements. Some taunt the “snowflakes” while others dismiss the “boomers” as the lot that has destroyed the earth. Anger is even invading families and rending friendships in two. There is a kind of worldwide psychosis that is making all of us sick.

It has become almost impossible for me to use my diplomatic skills. Of late I seem to anger everyone whenever I attempt to consider all sides of a discussion. My efforts are derided as useless and perhaps even counterproductive. I am reminded of how souls like Mitt Romney are not the heroes I think them to be, but spineless cowards who are of little use to the world. People are demanding action and those who attempt to broker compromise and peace are thought to be a large part of the world’s problems.

As a student of history I know how dangerous such thinking can be. While mankind divides itself into winners and losers suffering prevails. The power brokers unwilling to give an inch one way or another wreak havoc on innocents. Problems fester and grow in an atmosphere unwilling to consider compromise. When people no longer listen to one another grave mistakes are made. Divisions like north and south, left and right, red and blue, Christian and atheist, Sunni and Shia, Israeli and Palestinian, educated and uneducated, rich and poor are the sources of conflict and war. It is only when we truly attempt to work together that solutions begin to arise.

I was quite taken by an image that one of my friends posted on Christmas Day. In the photo were two women, sisters from a loving family. One of them stood in front a blue car with a “Warren” sticker and the other posed by a red car with a “Trump” sticker. Both women were laughing and obviously quite happy with one another, unwilling to allow their political differences to change their feelings of warmth and affection. It was a hopeful sign for me, a reminder that when all is said and done we humans may have differing opinions of how to solve problems but we are united by love.

I’d like to believe that our current state of rage is only a temporary phase and that the peacemakers will come into fashion again. In the meantime I pray that relationships that have been broken by differences in points of view may be mended. We need each other now more than ever. Life is far too short to spend time quibbling when we might be better off finding ways to get along. All it takes is a willingness to open our hearts and minds. Perhaps that is the best resolution that anyone might make for the new year and new decade of 2020.

Bridging the Gaps

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I’m a sucker for those little quizzes that so often appear on Facebook. I know that they are about as silly as seeking the advice of a fortune teller but I take them nonetheless, mostly when waiting to see my dentist or or just before I begin a new chore. The other day I fell for the clickbait when it announced that just by answering a few questions I might be identified as a Boomer, a GenXer, or a Millennial. Being unable to resist such a tempting bit of fun I answered all of the queries as honestly as possible and learned which generation was mine, while also no doubt hitting hundreds of lists of potential advertisers. Amazingly I was told that I was indeed a GenXer, a group born about three decades after I actually was.

I’ve always been young at heart, or maybe just immature, but this month I’ll celebrate my seventy first birthday which means that in reality I am a bonafide Baby Boomer. The parents of Boomers like me got together after a long and treacherous war and decided to get down to the business of living with a vengeance. Since reliable birth control was still just a promise of the future their families filled up the earth in record numbers, and boy what a crew Boomer children were and continue to be. Just in numbers we pretty much represent virtually every personality type, political persuasion and philosophical way of thinking that ever walked on the face of this earth. Defining us is a very tricky business because just when someone thinks they have figured us out, they find those among us who don’t fit any kind of mold.

Like most efforts to generalize about a group of people, describing Boomers can be a zero sum game. We’re often stereotyped as hippies who never quite grew up. We heard all the criticisms from our elders about our long hair and rebellious ways long before we were being criticized by our children and grandchildren with taunts like, “Okay, Boomer.” Our elders called us lazy and taunted us with rhetoric that challenged our protests with phrases like “Love it or leave it.” so we don’t tend too get too bent out of shape when we hear snide comments aimed our way. We simply laugh in the knowledge that it is statistically impossible to wedge so many folks into a simple behavioral description.

We’re all what some might call old folk these days with our group slowly inching into the sixties, seventies and eighties. We’re bound to have a few old codgers among us who have forgotten what is like to be young. I’ve heard the muttered comments from my peers about the “snowflakes” among our youth. I tend to write such grouches as off to individuals who have become a bit too stuck in the past much like some of our parents were back when we were also young. It’s the way things have gone since the beginning of time. I seem to recall reading about ancient Greeks who complained about the horrible kids of that long ago time.

The truth is that all generations come in all varieties with influences from their own parents, their teachers, their churches, their coworkers, their neighbors and the media. On any given day we are all exposed to a barrage of competing ideas that we filter according to our personal needs and current states in life. The generational gaps or competitions result because one group is just beginning the adult journey and another is looking at the endgame. It makes for totally different points of view.

As I watch my elders die I can’t remember any of their criticisms or flaws. I only see people that I love dearly and know I will miss when they are gone. Watching the world change is somewhat difficult but watching a loved one grow old and die is unbearable. We Boomers understand ourselves and those who guided us more and more as the years go by. What is important to us is not not as sweeping and adventurous as the dreams of the very young. Sometimes just getting through the day without pain in our joints is enough to keep us from coming across as a platoon of curmudgeons.

I suppose that my lifetime of work with young people has given me a great deal more insight into their mindsets than many of my age may have. I have heard the earnest hopes of the young and watched their struggles to earn a meaningful place in society. They have good hearts and truly want to fix the problems that they believe are keeping us from becoming our best selves. They do work hard but life itself can be quite punishing and sometimes they get discouraged. We should not be so quick to dismiss their concerns and complaints. After all we were often ignored and insulted when we rallied for justice and equality. Our parents forgot that they too idealistically battled against evil in a war that demanded their energy and commitment as much as our causes required our dedication. Now new generations are offering their solutions for the ills that plague society and in good faith we should listen.

I suppose that we have always had the kind of misunderstandings between the generations that continue to exit today. Fortunately there have also always been those who somehow know how to bridge the gaps that form between us. The future truly belongs to the young. It would behoove us to listen to what they have to say. 

Legends of Rock

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I was a sophomore in high school when I first heard the Rolling Stones on the radio. I must have been about fifteen years old, the same age that my granddaughter is now. I went to Gulfgate Mall to purchase their single recording, Satisfaction, which I played over and over again. I nearly wore the thing out, and luckily my mom was cool enough that she never complained about the volume nor the repetition of the same song for hours. In fact she danced around the house proclaiming that she too enjoyed the music, which grossed me out just a bit. It seemed incongruous that an older woman would share my adoration of the Rolling Stones.

It would be years before I did the math and realized that my mother was still in her thirties at the time that I thought she was being a wee bit immature. She was a young woman by any standards but I was part of the Baby Boomer movement that was proclaiming that we would never trust anyone over thirty. I only gave my mom the benefit of the doubt because she really did seem more hip than most parents, and besides she was the rock of our family.

My love for the music of the Rolling Stones has never waned. I am now a bit more than fifty years older and I still want to get up and dance around the room whenever I hear the strains of their many hits. I often joke that one day there will be events in nursing homes that feature Satisfaction blaring through the speakers and residents moving in sync in their wheelchairs. The Rolling Stones are now a legendary band, icons in the world of rock that I had the pleasure of seeing perform in their No Filter Tour that came through Houston in July.

The affair was supposed to happen in April but was postponed because Mick Jagger required open heart surgery. It didn’t sound too good for the future of the band, but those of us who held tickets were assured that we would soon hear of the new date for the affair. I was both disappointed and concerned. I worried that age had finally caught up with Mick and that we might not get the same performance level given the seriousness of his health scare. I saw the concert as a kind of last hurrah for the band and a sure sign that I wasn’t fifteen anymore.

Mike and I were like two teenagers fraught with expectation as we arrived at Reliant Stadium on the night of the event. I laughed at all of the white and grey haired spectators in the audience. In my head I felt sure that neither of us looked as old as the other folks who like us had been around when the Mick was still strutting around like a crazed rooster. It unnerved me a bit when younger fans asked us what it was like to hear the Stones back in the day as though we were oddities from a long ago time. They were reverential and respectful to point of making me realize that we probably did indeed look as old as our peers whose youthful bloom had faded into wrinkles, baldness and fifty shades of grey.

We played a game of “where were you when” with several folks as we waited somewhat impatiently for the music to begin. We sat through the front band, Bishop Gunn, with a kind of painful realization of how ordinary they were compared to the great Stones who were to follow. Lots of older women chose this time to take one final bathroom break knowing that their bladders probably would not hold out if they didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.

In what seemed like forever, the lights finally dimmed and the first strains of a familiar song drifted up to the rafters of the stadium while a cheer of anticipation filled the air. The Rolling Stones were on the stage performing as though they were young twenty somethings, perhaps with a bit more polish and self assurance than ever. Mick Jagger was slim and trim and as energetic and captivating as ever. Keith Richards had eschewed a bandana to allow us to see that he was indeed going bald which didn’t matter to us in the least as he ran his fingers so nimbly over his guitar. Ronnie Wood still looked the image of a rocker with his sixties style hair and jewel colored shirt and coat. Charlie Watts was the picture of calm and sweetness as he banged out the tunes on his drum. The guys looked absolutely fabulous and played even better.

The band was in fine tune with an even better performance than the last one I had seen a few years back. They played with the confidence that only comes from natural talent, charisma, and experience. They used their tried and true formula to enchant the crowd and for the next two hours they gave us a show that we would never forget.

I felt as though the members of the band had personally contacted me to find out what I wanted on the playlist because they performed every one of the tunes that are my favorites, Start Me Up, Brown Sugar, Jumping Jack Flash, Paint It Black, Sympathy With the Devil, Gimme Shelter, Satisfaction. As the evening progressed everyone on the stage and in the audience became ageless. White hair, no hair, seventy or seventeen didn’t matter in the least because we were as one in the knowledge that we had witnessed rock history, a moment of greatness that we would never forget.

I remember being in a speech class when I was a senior. We were divided into two sides each of which was asked to prepare persuasive arguments designed to convince the class that either the Beatles or the Rolling Stones was the better band that would be remembered for the longest time. I was assigned the Beatles and my team lost to a group advocating that is was in fact the Stones who would become timeless. Ironically while it might be argued that both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones have become the undisputed icons of the sixties and perhaps all of rock history, it has been the Rolling Stones who have evolved from decade to decade and still mesmerize a crowd. Luckily I got to see them just one more time, and if they decide to come back again one day I will most surely be there again.

It’s Nice to Remember

El PatioLike many big cities much has changed in Houston since I left my childhood home fifty years ago. My family moved a time or two until my father died and then we stayed in one place until my brothers and I were grown and finally gone.

The first place I remember was on Kingsbury Street just a few houses from South Park Blvd. which is now known as Martin Luther King Boulevard. Ours was a quiet and modern neighborhood that echoed the growth of Houston and other American cities after World War II. Our neighbors were young like my parents save for a couple of older folks here and there. There were a slew of kids with whom I played, and we were free to roam around all by ourselves even though some of us were not yet old enough to attend school.

The area began with little more than our subdivision and a U Totem convenience store where a man named Shorty regaled all of us with his humor and friendliness. Eventually one of the first ever shopping centers, Palm Center, was built just within walking distance of our house. It was like a wonder of the world to us and we spent many an hour wandering through the stores or just walking around gazing into the shop windows.

My father was doing well with his engineering career and he grew weary of driving a rather long distance to his job near the refineries along the Houston Ship Channel. His coworkers told him about a brand new area just a bit farther into the suburbs that was booming with progress and attracting great schools and a quieter form of life. Best of all it was only about ten minutes away from the plant where he worked.

Before long we were moving into Overbrook and an all brick home that my father and a builder had custom designed. Our place on Northdale sat close to a wooded area along Sims Bayou clustered among homes so new that they still smelled of fresh paint and just sawed wood. I was sad to leave behind my friends on Kingsbury Street but in no time I was riding my bicycle through the streets and playing with other children who would literally become friends for life. Ours was a kind of kid heaven that seemingly had no restrictions as we explored the Bayou and trudged through the woods.

The neighborhood was filled with young families just like mine and every house was teeming with life and possibilities. A bridge linked Overbrook with Garden Villas, an older area with huge lots and pecan trees around homes many of which had been built in the 1930s. Together the children from each subdivision filled the schools and sent up the joyful sounds of playtime that echoed happily into the open windows of homes not yet fitted with air conditioning.

My father was as changing as the city of Houston itself and before long we were following him to California and even bigger dreams. For reasons that I will never know things didn’t work out for him and within months we were back in Houston again looking at even newer and bigger properties. His untimely death changed all of our family plans, and my mother decided to move us back to Overbrook for the sake of continuity. There we would be able to reunite with friends and make new ones on Belmark Street.

Ours was a very happy place to be back in the nineteen fifties and sixties. We had little need to venture far from the confines of our neighborhood. All of the conveniences we needed were close. Eating out was still a kind of luxury, and even when we splurged now and again we had local favorites that we visited. Our mother took us to the Piccadilly Cafeteria at the city’s newest shopping mall, Gulfgate, where we were admonished to only order one meat and two vegetables or one meat, one vegetable and dessert. We usually chose the later.

I suppose our favorite place was El Patio Mexican Restaurant on Telephone Road. As kids we thought that their dishes were gourmet delights, especially the cheesy enchiladas. Since our mom was devoted to cooking healthy food for us, getting to deviate from vegetables was a treat.

I suppose that if I had to pick one food that I would be willing to eat over and over again it would be a hamburger, and back then I thought that the very best came from Chuc Wagun. There was no indoor dining there. Instead a clerk and a cook worked inside a tiny building designed to look like a covered wagon. The beefy guy who made the delightful sandwiches was gruff and married to his work. He grilled beef patties by the hundreds and chopped his onions and tomatoes like a Ninja warrior. The resulting burgers were pure heaven.

We bought all of our cakes at the Kolache Shoppe on Telephone Road. My mom loved the lemon ones and even years after we had all moved I would sometimes return to that spot to get her one for her birthday. The kolaches were rather good as well.

My brothers and I spent many a Saturday morning at the Fun Club inside the Santa Rosa movie theater. Our mom would drop us off with a quarter each which was enough to purchase a ticket and a candy sucker that lasted for the duration of the double features. The event included games with great prizes and films suitable for kids. It was a wonderland for us and a great break for our parents.

Most of the places that were so delightful back then are either gone or very different from what they once were. The neighborhood itself has a worn look and nobody would dare allow their children to roam freely anymore. It would be considered too dangerous. The Disney like atmosphere that defined my youth is now just another memory from my past. When I take my grandchildren to see the places where I played and grew, they have little understanding of the lifestyle that I describe. Theirs has been a more structured way of doing things, a routine of play dates and adult monitored activities. I suppose that my stories of southeast Houston don’t ring true to them as they see fifty years of change that have transformed the places where I lived.

My friends and I all agree that ours was a glorious time to be young. We were innocent and unafraid as we roamed together finding adventure. By the time we were young adults we learned about hardships and injustices that were unfamiliar to us. We revolted as a group against the signs of racism and unfairness that we finally saw. Our city grew i and grew and grew in the name of progress consuming much of what we had experienced in our youth. Now and again we like to look back to a time when we didn’t have a care in the world. Its nice to remember.