Between you and me

by -
0 266

Dear Leah,

My wife and I enjoy your weekly opinion pieces, and we especially enjoyed your column about a police encounter (“Techniques for avoiding traffic tickets,” Aug. 9). It rekindled the memory of our encounter, 55 years ago, with the California Highway Patrol.

By Chuck Darling

In January 1963, while employed by the Gyrodyne helicopter company in St. James, I was “volunteered“ by the owner, Peter Papadakos, to lead a team of engineers and electronic technicians to assist the U.S. Navy fleet in Coronado, California, installing our drone helicopters on Navy ships. This assignment was to last six months, so Nancy and I packed up the four kids, (ages 5, 4, 3 and 1), and the dog, locked up the house and flew to San Diego. After we had settled in for a month, Nancy’s folks decided that they could use some time away from the brutal winter weather in Illinois, so they drove to San Diego to warm up and to see their grandbabies. Whilst there they volunteered to stay with the rug rats for a long weekend, so we could have a respite from parenting. This was a godsend for Nance, for, other than the occasional movie, she hadn’t had a break from the kids for more than five years. She immediately contacted some friends that we knew from the University of Illinois who had settled in Southern California, and set up a long weekend in Las Vegas. Nancy’s folks had driven their 1958, fin-tailed Cadillac from Illinois, and since it had air conditioning, they thought it would be more comfortable for us to drive in it through the desert to Vegas than in the used Volkswagen Beetle which I had bought in San Diego. We gratefully accepted their offer.

On a Friday morning in February, we kissed the kids goodbye, and headed east for Las Vegas. Driving the Caddy was like flying a plane — it was quiet, comfortable and fast. It was very easy to let the speed creep up, as the road was flat and very few cars were evident, especially when compared with traffic on Long Island. As I noticed the speedometer at 80, I also noticed in the rear-view mirror, a California Highway Patrol car approaching with his bubble light flashing. Oh, no! I pulled over and the smartly dressed officer approached and said, “You were going a little fast there.”

I told him that we were headed for Vegas for a long weekend, the first time for the two of us to be away from kids together, and we were giddy to get to the palaces of pleasure in Vegas. He asked to see my driver’s license, and I handed over my New York license. He said, “Why a New York license?” I told him I was on a temporary work assignment in San Diego, and hadn’t bothered to change it for a California permit. He said, “But you are driving a car with Illinois plates.” I said it was my father-in-law’s car. He was visiting us from Illinois and the old folks were sitting with the kids back in Chula Vista while we were in Vegas. He asked to see the car’s registration, and I told him that I had forgotten to get it from Nancy’s dad before we left. He had this incredulous, bewildered look on his face and just stared at me for the longest time — it seemed like an hour. Finally, he said, “I’m going to have to let you go with a warning.” I almost wet my pants with joy. But, since the CHP wasn’t known for its benevolence, I asked him, “Why?”

He said, “Because a judge would lock you up forever if I wrote you up. You’re driving 80 miles an hour on a California highway; you have a New York driver’s license; you’re driving a car with Illinois plates on it — and you don’t possess the car’s registration. You would never get out of jail. Somehow, someway, I believe everything you’ve told me, but I’m not sure a judge would. Just get out of here, just leave.”

As I watched him walking back to his patrol car, he was quietly shaking his head as though he had seen everything now.

Originally published in Ferry Tales, a Jefferson’s Ferry publication.

If your car is pulled over by a police officer, there is a good chance that you will be treated mercifully by the officer if you have the same first name as his or hers. How do I know this? There has been research that corroborates that statement.

Now in a possible scenario, it would be a little difficult for me to pass myself off as “James,” the name on the officer’s name tag, when my driver’s license clearly says differently, although I suppose I could try telling him that he can call me by my nickname, “James,” for short. Somehow, on reflection, I don’t think that strategy would work.

As I was considering the possibility, I remembered strategies that did work, deliberate or not, that at least got me out of a ticket. I’ll bet you have some such memories of roadside encounters with the law, too.

The first one to come to mind happened the day after I got married. My new husband was a medical student in Chicago, and he had flown into New York City for the Sunday wedding. We then flew back to his apartment that night, he returned to school the next day, and I got into his car and began to drive to an employment agency in the neighborhood. As I passed along the unfamiliar streets, I came up behind a large truck that was stopped just short of an underpass. When it didn’t immediately move, I assumed it was either stuck or parked there, and I drove around it to continue on my way. Immediately a police car appeared in my rear-view mirror, lights flashing. I should mention here that I had not been stopped before in my short driving career. I pulled over, rolled down the window and waited as the middle-aged policeman got out and walked toward me frowning.

“What’s the matter with you?” he inquired. “You just ran a stop sign.” I looked into my side mirror and realized that was why the truck was stopped. It had, however, blocked my view of the sign. I started to explain.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?”

“I’m going for a job interview with an employment counselor. I just got married yesterday in New York and I need a job.” Although I do not cry easily, I could feel myself beginning to tear up.

“What! You just got married? Where is your lazy bum of a husband? Why isn’t he out working?” (This was February 1963, years before women’s liberation was even an expression.)

“He’s a medical student here, and I’m the one who has to support us for now.” I was beginning to sob. My story must have had the ring of truth, because he stared at me for a moment, then took out his handkerchief — these were the days before tissues — and handed it to me. He looked stricken.

“Now don’t cry. Everything will be all right. You just go on to your appointment.” He started to turn away, then turned back for a moment. “You just make sure that husband of yours takes care of you properly as soon as he finishes school.” He turned on his heel, climbed into his car and pulled away. It was only then, as I was wiping my cheeks, that I realized he had left me with only his handkerchief — and not a ticket.

I have been stopped by police officers on the highways in the course of the ensuing years. But I have never again been able to cry on cue. If you have any surefire ticket beaters, please share them with the rest of us.

It’s no secret that newspapers, large and small, are financially hurting. We know the reasons as well. The internet makes shopping possible from our bedrooms and sometimes at a cheaper price than a downtown store. We can send birthday gifts to our grandchildren and friends while we are still in our pajamas and slippers, and the items will arrive nicely wrapped and on time. This in turn makes retailing difficult, from box stores and malls to neighborhood shops. So many of the large (like Toys “R” Us, Genovese Drug Stores) and the smaller (like Swezey’s) and mom-and-pop stores have given up. While the larger stores advertised in the dailies, these smaller businesses reached their customers in the immediate vicinity through the local papers, and they were the backbone of the hometown newspapers’ financial model. Fewer such businesses are left, and some of those place their ads only on the internet. The nature of shopping and of advertising has been profoundly disrupted.

So we have a publication like the New York Daily News, once the paper with the highest circulation in America, cutting half their editorial department in order to survive. And we have any number of community newspapers closing their doors and leaving their hometowns without an effective voice to protect them. Failure to adequately monetize their own investments in the internet by struggling papers has been part of the problem.

The difference between larger dailies and smaller weeklies is more than size. When a daily cuts back or gives up, there are other news sources that can fill the gap for national and international news. But when the community papers and websites disappear, the local issues that arise at school board or town board or civic or chamber of commerce meetings, or on a particular block with high crime or tainted water or garbage dumping or illegal development, those are not necessarily picked up by the remaining bigger news outlets. The stop signs and potholes are local matters, and for the most part they need local coverage.

That recognition is the reason that the State of New Jersey has now put up millions of dollars in its budget to help pay for community journalism. Say what? How can that be? After all, news media are supposed to be the watchdogs of the people against those who would take advantage, especially those corrupt officials in government. So how can government subsidize media and the residents still expect the media to independently investigate government?

Since the earliest days and the first leaders of our republic, people have known that a democracy cannot exist without independent news sources. That is why the First Amendment — the first before all others — protects freedom of the press. It is the only industry enshrined in our Constitution. And for those local legislators and executives and judges, the local newspapers are the ones who disseminate the news of what our officials are doing to help us.

So it is not so odd that local officials want to come to our aid. They need us just as we need to watch over them. Can this relationship exist in an independent, nonpartisan fashion?

I think it can if there is a neutral party between us. Public television, like my favorite PBS “NewsHour,” and radio stations get funding (not a lot) from the government. “It’s not about saving journalism in New Jersey,” Mike Rispoli, director of an advocacy group on behalf of local media, said in The New York Times. “It’s about making sure our communities are engaged and informed.”

So if funds are awarded to media by boards made up of representatives from the communities, like state universities, community organizations and technology groups as well as government officials, the goal of independent journalism can be met. There is a fine line here not to be crossed.

See editorial for another view on this topic.

My earliest memory of my sister is of a very young child, sitting in a stroller, reaching out her arms to hug me. She wasn’t able to talk yet, but I was two years older and interpreted her coos and cries for the rest of the world. Most often what she wanted was to be loved, and I would run over and wrap my arms around her.

We were a loving family. The world was a happy, secure place; this despite the fact that the time was World War II.

We lived in an apartment house in Manhattan. When my mother went shopping, she would push the stroller along the sidewalk, and I would hold on to the metal sidepiece and skip alongside. It was at those times that I sensed something was wrong. People would smile down at me but then stare at my sister.

Then I heard the word and asked my mother about it. It was the first time I ever saw my mother flinch. I was immediately hushed and told not to use that word again. I didn’t until I was in my teens.

The word my mother, a courageous woman of tremendous fortitude and intelligence, recoiled from was RETARDED. My sister Maxine was, and is, retarded.

My sister was not accepted among “normal” people and never would be. She was a social disgrace. And all the while, she laughed and played. She was able to talk now and would often say, “I love you.”

Reality forced itself on my mother when she went to register my sister for public school in first grade. The principal, a blunt, middle‐aged woman, took my mother aside and stated simply, “Maxine cannot go to a normal school. She’s retarded. Just keep her home. Retarded children don’t live very long, anyway.”

My sister was lucky. She had a family that would always look after her. But what is to happen to those others? Retarded children become retarded adults. And then what? What happens to them when their parents die and there is no one to pick up the burden? What happens to those who have the advantage of the latest programs and training but now need a place to live?

Only those very few retarded at the lowest end of the intelligence spectrum cannot function, at least to some minimal degree, within a home. The state has attempted to set up hostels for these retarded adults within a home like setting, assigning five or six to each house under the care of a supervisory couple. Communities, by and large, have reacted to these hostels with hostility, fearing for their property values and uncomfortable with the ever‐present social stigma.

I find that few know anything about retardation, and I suspect that this lack of contact is responsible for the hostility the retarded face. Many think retarded people are deranged or emotionally unstable. Those are fears, not facts. Retarded people are inherently gentle and unaggressive, which makes them defenseless. The retarded are simple human beings with the same basic needs of all of us: food, clothing, shelter — and especially love.

It might seem, from my account, that it took great sacrifice to live with my sister, and in some ways, it did, particularly from my mother. But in other ways, it taught us so much. Maxine taught us compassion for the disadvantaged. She also served, curiously, to test the mettle of all we met. Those who were reluctant to accept her proved not to be worth our company. Her life showed us, by example, what the most important values should be. Maxine did not understand affect, materialism or hypocrisy. She did not understand social embarrassment. She has the same basic concern for the dog that lives in the next apartment as she does for its owners. It is a respect for all life, and for her, life is music, and laughter and love.

Many residents know about the Culper spies that operated along the North Shore of Long Island and gave invaluable intelligence about British troop movements and plans to Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War. But perhaps not so many know that two of Washington’s letters to his chief spymaster Major Benjamin Tallmadge, of Setauket, are on display locally and are available for viewing by the public. They are part of the Special Collections & University Archives of Stony Brook University Libraries, and how we got them is itself a story, as was told by Kristen Nyitray, SBU’s Special Collections director, at the Three Village Historical Society meeting Monday night.

The letters, written by Washington in 1779 and 1780, were part of the estate of Malcolm Forbes, the publishing magnate, and were put up for auction by Christie’s at two separate times. Forbes was proud of the fact that he had collected artifacts from each American president. Where those letters were for some 200 years before he got them is a deep mystery, but they are here now, thanks to the alacrity of local history-minded leaders, like state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), members of the historical society and philanthropist Henry Laufer.

On May 24, 2006, Frank Turano, then president of the historical society, Nyitray and Englebright took the train to New York City for the auction. Armed with a modest amount of money, given how much historical memorabilia sold for, they hoped to purchase the first letter and return it to the place where history happened. Nyitray was the paddle wielder, indicating a willing purchaser at the auctioneer’s bidding, and the three nervously awaited the sale of Lot 31, the first coveted letter. As parts of the estate sold ahead of the desired letter for much more than the resources of the triumvirate, they became increasingly nervous. Paddles were waving and telephones ringing with high bids all around them. Finally the letter, in Washington’s elegant hand, written from West Point on Sept. 24, 1779, and arriving in Setauket Sept. 26, was offered and miraculously the phones fell silent and the paddles went down. Only Nyitray’s was visible and, unchallenged, she won the bid.

The winning price was $80,000. Add in the commission for the auction house and other incidentals, and the final cost for the precious letter was almost $100,000. They had enough money.

The three were ecstatic. They were going to bring that letter back to Setauket where “The Father of our Country” had originally sent it. Within the month, after paperwork was completed, they were able to carry their treasure back to SBU in a brown shopping bag.

Once safely ensconced, the letter had to be cleaned and preserved by experts, and framed and mounted for suitable viewing. That proved to be an arduous and lengthy series of tasks. The group returned to Christie’s for the second letter written Sept. 16, 1780, on Feb. 12, 2009, which coincidentally is the same day as Lincoln’s birthdate. The quality of paper on which the letters were written was good rag paper, but the ink was made from oak gall, which was high in tannic acid, and was corrosive. The ink had to be treated to preserve the letters.

The initial viewing for the first letter was in October 2006, and the letters have done some traveling since, having been seen in Southampton and by people in Florida, California and Minnesota. They are accessible to all.

The 1779 letter deals with advice on how “Culper Junr.” — who was Robert Townsend — could go about his business as a freelance writer and merchant and also function as a spy. Washington gives specific instructions on how Townsend should write secret information among the leaves of a pamphlet or even between the lines of a newsy letter to a friend with special invisible ink. We know that ink was fabricated by Founding Father John Jay’s elder brother, James, who was a physician, and was referred to by the spies as “medicine.”

The letter is signed, “I am Sir Your most obedient and humble servt. Go. Washington.” What a thrill.

His life makes for a fascinating story even if the current spy movie is mediocre. “The Catcher Was a Spy,” tells of Morris “Moe” Berg, baseball player, and his remarkable intelligence and exploits, especially during World War II. Born in Harlem, not far from the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants, Berg began playing baseball at age 7. He was to be called “the brainiest guy in baseball,” and Casey Stengel, a baseball player and manager who was something of an eccentric himself, referred to him as “the strangest man ever to play baseball.”

Berg’s story, captured in Nicholas Dawidoff’s 1994 book of similar title, is also the story of the times in America in which he lived. Born in 1902, he begged to go to school at age 3 1/2. The third and youngest child of a pharmacist and a homemaker, Berg graduated from high school at 16, then Princeton magna cum laude in 1923, as an outstanding scholar-athlete playing baseball all along the way. He also grew up as an outsider, marginalized there because of modest finances and as a Jew at a time of deep bigotry. He majored in modern languages and spoke some half-a-dozen fluently, including eventually Japanese.

Upon graduation, Berg was signed to a contract by the Brooklyn Robins, soon to become the Brooklyn Dodgers and he seemed to be just so-so at bat but a good clutch hitter with a strong and accurate arm in the infield.

After that first season, Berg traveled to Paris, where he enrolled at the Sorbonne and read several newspapers each day. By January 1924, Berg was not thinking of going back to spring training to develop himself as a hitter but rather found the idea of travel irresistible and went on to tour Switzerland and Italy. When he finally did return to the United States, he was optioned off to the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association minor league. He was to play for four American League teams throughout his baseball career, primarily as a catcher, ending with the Boston Red Sox as player and then coach in 1941. “Good field, no hit,” was how Dodgers scout Mike González, characterized him. Berg distinguished himself for his putouts stealing percentage, double plays by a catcher and assists by a catcher.

However, throughout his baseball life, which he so clearly loved, he was a true Renaissance man. In between seasons, and sometimes missing the first couple of months of the new season, he studied law at Columbia University, passing the bar in 1929 and finally earning his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1930. Interestingly, he was sent with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and a handful of other all-stars to play exhibition games with the Japanese in 1934 — Berg’s second trip there. Although certainly not of their star caliber, he spoke the language and was probably included on the squad for that reason.

While in Tokyo, he donned a kimono and pretended to bring flowers to the American ambassador’s daughter, who was a patient in the Tokyo hospital. He went up to the roof instead, and from the top of one of the tallest buildings he used his 16-mm Bell & Howell camera that he had concealed in the folds of his garb to film the city and harbor. He never did visit the daughter but he did provide American intelligence with rare and invaluable footage later on. He supposedly did this in anticipation of the war that he was sure, from his various readings and Far East travel, was coming. He went on to join the Office of Strategic Services, later the CIA; was parachuted into occupied Yugoslavia evaluating which resistance groups should get U.S. support — he chose Tito’s group; and became involved in the frenzied effort to determine if the German scientist Werner Heisenberg was close to developing the atomic bomb with orders to assassinate him if so — Berg decided not. Otherwise, he was of immense value to the U.S. as he moved throughout Europe in his dangerous and exciting life.

The former ballplayer turned down the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor to the war effort, during his lifetime but the medal was awarded posthumously. In American history he is a mysterious footnote.

July is truly upon us, and that means half the year is gone. Those who deal with numbers are busily tallying up all sorts of statistics for the first two quarters. Business people with large and small companies alike are checking to see how the numbers compare with last year, and what they can do to improve the depressed
bottom line — or maintain the improved bottom line for the next six months. And for those of us in the stock market with pension plans or investments, there will be half-year statements coming to let us know how we stand.

As we are taking stock of our stocks, there is this interesting bit of news to consider. According to a recent article by Matt Phillips in The New York Times, we are getting an important signal from the bond market. Now there are all sorts of predictors about which way stocks will move, from who wins ballgames to the length of hemlines, and they are often as wrong as the Farmers’ Almanac about the coming winter weather. But there is one telltale that is surprisingly accurate: the bond-yield curve. And that yield curve is “flashing yellow.”

Here is what the yield curve means. The yield curve is the difference between interest rates on short-term government bonds like those maturing in two years compared with those maturing further out, like 10 years. Remember that a bond is a promissory note to repay a debt that the government has incurred, along with interest on the debt, for a set period of time.

So, if the government borrows $10,000 from you and pays it back in two years, you will also get interest on that sum in return for lending the government the money. Normally the longer you agree to lend the money, the higher the interest rate you get in return for taking additional risk concerning the health of the economy. A healthy economy usually encourages inflation, which is countered by higher interest rates — hence an increased long-term rate, including the built-in risk compensation.

Lately, long-term interest rates on government bonds have been slow to rise, predicting a less healthy economy on the horizon. The short-term interest rates on government notes, as these instruments are called, have been rising, however, because inflation seems to have started. So the difference between the interest rates, short-term and long-term — the yield curve — has been decreasing or “flattening.” The difference between the two-year and 10-year interest rates is now about 0.34 percentage points, and the last time it was so little was just before the 2008 recession.

Does that mean a recession is coming?

If the trend continues, and the long-term interest rate dips below the short-term rate, this is called an “inversion.” An inversion is, according to the way John Williams — the new president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — told it earlier this year, “a powerful signal of recessions.” The Times article indicated that every recession in the last 60 years has been preceded by an inverted yield curve, when short-term interest is higher than that for the longer term. Only once was there a false positive, in the mid-1960s, when there was only a slowdown in the economy. That is why economists and those on Wall Street are watching the yield curve so closely these days.

This concern does seem to fly in the face of the present economic conditions. Unemployment is at a low, consumers seem to be happily spending and corporations are reinvesting in their companies. However accurate the yield-curve predictor may be, it cannot precisely tell us when a recession will occur. In the past, the falloff of the economy could happen in six months or two years after the inversion.

There is always another side to every story. Because central banks own massive amounts of government bonds, which they bought not so long ago to try and stimulate the economy by providing liquidity, that may be keeping long-term rates low. And the Federal Reserve has been tightening monetary policy lately to keep
inflation in check, hence higher short-term rates. So, who knows?

by -
0 248

Sunday was a magical night. After a full year of work, we offered you, our readers and viewers, the initial screening of “One Life to Give.” Our first full-length film, the story is set at the beginning of the Revolutionary War more than 200 years ago, and is about Nathan Hale, Benjamin Tallmadge, George Washington and the events leading up to the founding of the Culper Spy Ring. The location for this screening was the 1,000-seat Staller Center off Nicholls Road within Stony Brook University, and to my amazement and delight, we filled the auditorium to the point where our general manager had trouble finding a seat just before curtain time. This full house by itself is a most gratifying testimony to your regard and to the pulling power of our newspapers and digital media, especially competing as we were with graduation day at the local high school.

It’s also a lot more. In these chaotic and divided times, I believe we yearn to understand our common origin as a nation and the history that we share. History after all is glue that holds us together and, to the surprise of many students who hate social studies in school, is also the series of fascinating stories about people, personalities and events that help define who we are today. And since our film is focused on local people and events, we share a pride of place. Our area has been dubbed the “cradle of history” because of its brutal occupation by the British, the activities of the spy ring and the military skirmishes during the war. Long Island, in fact, endured the longest occupation of any part of the colonies because its farms and forests, livestock and fish made up the unwilling breadbasket for the major British garrison in New York City.

So viewers came to see the history and the authentic local scenes and events, and the familiar faces of many residents as they served as extras on screen. Also some were simply curious. And by the time the movie was over, I believe there was an enriched sense of community among those in the room. As much as we want to know where we came from, we also enjoy a sense of belonging to a community. One viewer from farther away came up to me at the end and said he wished for that pride in his city. That particularly pleased me because we as publishers of the hometown paper have always sought to strengthen those ties. Strong communities can be a powerful force for good. They also want to get the latest local news by reading the local papers, which is not so bad for us.

Making a film was a new experience. My eldest grandson, Benji, the director of “One Life to Give,” aspires to be a professional filmmaker as his career progresses, and as we saw he has already acquired many filmmaking skills in college, where he is now a senior. He also brought to us for this venture a remarkable hardworking and talented crew of young professionals in front of and behind the camera. Thanks to our local connections, which included local historical societies and carefully preserved sites, we were able to put together an authentic venue for the shoot. The weather was wondrously cooperative, and actors and historic re-enactors of considerable skill joined the team. Local restaurants, costume outfitters, dry cleaners, scenery designers, makeup and special effects people and SBU, among others, made in-kind contributions. Muskets and cannons were procured and brought to the filming site, often among hilarious circumstances. One rule became obvious: No day would go exactly as planned.

A number of generous local businesses helped us meet costs by agreeing to be sponsors, and for their help they received credits before and after the film. Their names will be seen near and far as a number of groups have asked to show the film.

My major contribution was offering my house for the 15 young people and their equipment throughout the shoot. I can tell you there was not a clear view of floor or rug during those 16 days. It was great fun with high excitement but on their next film, the shooting of which starts in two weeks’ time for release next year, they will definitely stay in a hotel.

When I think of my dad, I am reminded almost immediately of his loving nature and his playfulness. Now many dads I have met behave lovingly toward their families, so that is not what set mine apart. It was the other half of my description: His instant readiness to play and his aptitude for making up games on the spot.

My dad was an ambitious businessman, and he worked long hours every week. But Sundays were his day to relax and his unconstrained self would emerge. No wonder Sundays were my favorite day. He would begin the morning by getting up somewhere before 6 a.m., and start rustling around in the kitchen. The son of a farmer, he got up early all his childhood, and just because he moved to the city in his teens he wasn’t about to change the diurnal cycle that had been hardwired into him.

He was one of nine children and referred to himself when he was growing up as “Middle Child.” To hear his siblings tell of him, he was the one who routinely organized the pack into daily games in between their farm and school chores. Isolated on a large farm from other children and certainly without any municipal playgrounds in their lives, they created their own fun. That skill served him well not only for us, his children, but for the entire neighborhood. He was the undisputed Pied Piper wherever we were on any given Sunday.

Sundays belonged to my mother. My dad made sure of that. He would concoct a huge breakfast that was never the same from one week to the next. Into a dozen eggs, he would toss whatever leftovers he could find from the fridge, cook the mixture slowly with generous amounts of onions and other veggies and “mystery spices” and present the masterpiece to the salivating family gathered around the kitchen table. I always tried to sleep in on Sundays, but the marvelous smells that filled the apartment unfailingly coaxed me out of bed. Only my mother was impervious and slept through the ruckus of our trying to identify the ingredients as we ate.

My dad would then take us out to the park — Central Park that is — and we would roam over hills and dells, always yodeling in the many tunnels along the pathways. The echoes were hugely satisfying. He would set a rock on top of a boulder, give us each five small stones, and ask us to knock the rock off the boulder from 10 paces.

We’d have a vague destination within the park each Sunday, anywhere from the carousel to the rowboat lake, to Shakespeare Garden to Sheep Meadow with its multitude of baseball games in progress. He was good at pitching horseshoes, and as we strolled by the quoits section the men would offer him a turn. If we had thought to bring a basketball, we might shoot some baskets on the courts.

When the weather was bad, we would wander through the Metropolitan Museum.

Wherever we went, regulars in the park usually recognized us because my younger sister had Down syndrome, a condition that was almost never seen in public places. We stood out, I guess, and my sister, who loved to watch the baseball games and came to know some of the adult players by name, would cheer loudly with each solid hit.

As the day wore on, my dad would buy a box of Cracker Jacks from a park vendor and we would share the contents. By the end of the afternoon, we would head to a predetermined grove of trees where my mother would be waiting on a blanket with supper. I remember how happy my parents were to see each other — you would have thought they had been separated for weeks. Maybe it was just the prospect of some homemade dinner that sealed the day with joy for all of us.

So much for well made plans. It was to be a milestone high school reunion this past weekend, a classmate was coming from Denver to stay with me, and we would attend the reunion together. I have known her since seventh grade, and for whatever reasons apparent only to middle school kids, we had nicknamed each other then “Salmon” and “Clambroth.” We giggled about that over our cellphones, temporarily traveling back in time 60 years, as we arranged the logistics for the coming event.

She had been one of the shortest girls in the class and I was one of the taller, so our classmates inevitably referred to us as “Mutt & Jeff” as we walked the halls. Would anyone besides us remember that? More than 50 women out of the original 225 in our all-girls school were coming into New York City or already there, and it promised to be a grand gathering.

My friend was already flying east Thursday morning when I climbed out of the shower and fell on my back in the bathroom. The pain was sharp and immediate. In an instant the much-anticipated weekend evaporated before my eyes. Never mind the weekend. I was going to be lucky if the bones on the left side of my body — my shoulder, elbow, forearm, ribs and hip — weren’t broken. None of the surfaces in the bathroom are forgiving, and I had cracked against the wall of the tub. The vision of walking into reunion was replaced by my coming home from the hospital in a body cast.

I realized I was screaming as I lay on the ceramic floor and had been for a number of seconds to no avail. There was no one else home. I screamed some more, just because I could, then began the miles-long crawl to my bedroom. For some unaccountable reason, I thought I would feel much better if I could get into my bed. Silly me, I couldn’t even stand. Nor could I stop shaking. I was able to pull the phone off the table, however, and I called a dear friend who fortunately was home and had rescued me before. Together we drove to the hospital.

That was only a 10-minute trip, but I felt every pebble and bump in the road. The hospital personnel were wonderful. They wheeled me into the emergency room, and after some inevitable paperwork but not much of a wait, I was helped onto a bed between two curtains and my date of birth corroborated several times with the paper bracelets on my wrist. An empathetic physician’s assistant greeted me and asked what had happened. Then came the X-rays.

Of course they were going to X-ray the places that hurt, and I tried not to scream during the many rearrangements of my body. The process seemed to go on forever although I had no idea of time, and then it was over. I joined my angelic friend between the two curtains and squirmed in bed, searching for a pain-free
position as we waited for the results.

The PA came with good news and bad news. My shoulder, elbow, arm and hip were badly bruised but not broken. In fact they were already turning colors of the rainbow amid the swelling. But my back, the area of greatest pain, had what seemed like a new compression fracture. I had endured that trauma before, and the PA couldn’t be sure it was a new or old injury. And there wasn’t much the PA could do except recommend a painkiller, preferably Tylenol, and send me home.

Imagine the reaction of my Denver friend when she completed the 2,000 mile trip to my house, only to find me laid out in my living room and still shaking. She did go the different events of reunion weekend, and through her descriptions and the texts and emails from those gathered, I was able vicariously to enjoy hearing what they talked about. I think before the next milestone reunion, I won’t shower.

Social

9,190FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,102FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe