Hitler’s Food Taster

e83880b1036d260e300f6a706700f697“Margot Woelk kept her secret hidden from the world, even from her husband. Then, a few months after her 95th birthday, she revealed the truth about her wartime role: Adolf Hitler’s food taster.

Woelk, then in her mid-twenties, spent two and a half years as one of 15 young women who sampled Hitler’s food to make sure it wasn’t poisoned before it was served to the Nazi leader in his “Wolf’s Lair,”” [continue]

Playground on the Potomac

Weekend before last, Herm decided we should drive over to Colonial Beach. It was a beautiful day. Even though these pictures were taken only a couple of weeks ago, our leaves are all gone now.

It’s been decades since we’ve been there. When we lived in Maryland, we drove down there occasionally just to look around and eat lunch at a local seafood restaurant that sits at the water’s edge. We got a window seat with a view of the water this time. This is the off-season.

Colonial Beach is one of those places that was something special once upon a time. You can still feel it. Its sparkle may be gone but the essence lingers. It’s heyday was during the last half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. It was so popular that its nickname was  “Playground on the Potomac.” The automobile wasn’t available yet, but it’s proximity to Washington D.C. made it convenient for people to arrive by boat.It didn’t take long for people to realize it would be a nice place for a summer cottage by the water.  Soon there was a building boom of Victorian-era homes, small cottages and hotels. Those structures still stand today. Some are well maintained and others need a little love. Some of these “vacation” homes have year-round residents now. As the automobile became popular and made travel to distant beaches possible, Colonial Beach began its decline. However, gambling was legal in Maryland, and the Maryland state line conveniently ended at the low-water mark of Virginia’s Potomac River shore. Colonial Beach’s piers extended into Maryland waters. Technically and legally, they could and did put slot machines on them. The “pier casinos” revitalized the area for a while, but when a devastating fire consumed the piers up to the waterline in the 1960s, the town continued to decline. Dad still talks about this. I think it was a big deal when it happened.You can still see why it was once a thriving resort town. The small cottages and large Victorians seem to hold secrets from bygone times. The ancient trees, narrow streets and fenced yards  make you feel as if you’ve stepped back into the gentler pace of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.

Of course, we were visiting on a late autumn day. I’m sure there’s more hustle and bustle in the summer months, and I’ve heard that retirees are looking at it in a different light recently. After all, it is still conveniently located between Richmond and Washington, D.C., and it has the second largest beach in Virginia. It still possesses the mystery and fine structure of an undeniably beautiful but more mature woman – one who hasn’t had her brow lifted… yet.

This one was for sale. $150,000.

~From twenty or thirty years ago, I remembered a  house that had twin sycamores in the front yard. I wondered if we could find it.

Day-trippin’

 A few weeks ago, Herman mentioned that he’d like to start taking day-trips to places that are within a couple of hours away. We usually go over to Wakefield this time of year, and buy a few tins of nuts from Plantation Peanuts to give to people during the holidays. My mother’s family is from the area, and my grandfather was a peanut farmer. It’s kind of a tradition for us to give Virginia peanuts to a few people during the holidays. This was the first of a series of day-trips we plan to take. More to come.

~

We stopped at a junk/antique store on the way. The guy said he had it all, “Everything from fine antiques to pure junk.” I didn’t see any fine antiques, but I did see some top-drawer junk that I liked.~

I’ve been looking for a little bookcase for a while, but I needed a very specific size to fit between the bathroom door and closet door in our bedroom – less than two feet wide. I had just told Herman that junk shops never seemed to have many bookcases. I guess they sell quickly because everyone needs them. No sooner than I got the words out of my mouth, I turned around, and there it was, in all it’s glory, surrounded by tons of other junk.~

We bought it and brought it home. Herman refinished it and I really like how it turned out. A few books, an Art Deco clock that was given to my parents when they got married and Herman’s mother’s pitcher, and the transformation is complete. I do love me some junk… and it’s cheap… so cheap.Perfect fit!

~

Then we went over to the Virginia Diner for lunch. The parking lot was full of antique cars.~~~~

~

The man in the following picture walked up to Herman and acted as if he’d known him his entire life. I think he really thought he had. He said, “Well, I guess you’re not used to seeing me this dressed up.” Herman just smiled and shook hands with him. He then followed us around and talked nonstop, telling one story after another. He said he bought his camera in 1985 and “shore” couldn’t afford a “high-dolla” camera like mine. Quite a character

~~~

Herman’s stepfather and his stepfather’s sister had identical trucks like the one in the following photo. Herman said that his stepfather never drove over 45, and his sister never drove over 35. One day, Herman and his uncle took the sister’s truck to a local mechanic for her, and his uncle drove 55 on the way home and fire started shooting out the exhaust. Herman said it was all the carbon burning off because it had never been driven over 35.

~

A cotton field on the way home.It was a nice day. I’ll be posting soon about our next trip.

What’s in a day?

“The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.”
Lucille BallWhen I look at this graph, I think to myself, the first circle should be larger and the second should be smaller. It’s an unpleasant fact. This realization comes to everyone eventually – if they live long enough.

Sometimes, if you’re very very lucky, the first circle holds more of the unpleasant things – the things that taught you lessons and made you stronger and wiser – and the second, while it may be smaller, holds mostly good stuff: children, growing grandchildren, family, good friends, self-knowledge, etc.

But then there’s that wretched health thing. Yes, there’s that. That’s the big equalizer, isn’t it? That famous  Ubie Blake quote would probably have been more appropriate than the Lucy quote above.

“If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”  – Ubie Blake


Still, when I put it all on the scales and try to balance it out, I think the gifts in my life tip the scales in my favor. How much of this is perception and how much is reality? Who knows? I do know that I may not have the greatest number of gifts, but the ones I have are sterling and that’s what matters.

I always say that I only ever had to make one good decision in my whole life, and that was to marry Herman. The rest was gravy.

So, as I look at that second circle, I see lots of great things ahead: grandchildren growing strong, Herman and I growing closer and little hairs growing where they shouldn’t. Okay, strike that last one.

If I were asked to characterize life in my sixth decade, I’d have to say mostly contentment with a few sprinkles of anxiety when life spins out of control. It doesn’t spin out often, but now, when it does, it’s pretty scary. I have to admit, the health thing gets to me sometimes.

There are still lessons to learn, and I believe one of mine is to learn to sit with vulnerability – to fight with vigor when fighting is required, but to accept reality when there’s no recourse. And then, of course, there’s learning to tell the difference between the two. So there are still some very tough lessons ahead. If we’re open to learning, the universe never stops teaching. My birthday promise to myself is to stay open.

Happy birthday to me.

——-

1970 – I’d just bought a pair of navy blue pants. I was walking out of the store, into the middle of East Gate Mall. He was waiting for me. I’ll never forget how he looked at me.

File this one under “Best Days.”

~~~~ If you’d like to see my birthday gift, jump over to Daily Snap.

Happy birthday Rosa Parks and who is Claudette Colvin?

We all know Rosa Parks’ story and how on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, she refused to obey bus driver James Blake’s order to give up her seat to a white passenger. School children will be talking about her tremendous contribution to the civil rights movement in schools all across the country today, and deservedly so, but who was Claudette Colvin?

Claudette Colvin attended Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery in 1955. Her family didn’t own a car, and she had to ride the city’s gold-and-green buses to school. On March 2, 1955, nine months before the widely publicized arrest of Rosa Parks’, Claudette Colvin, age 15, boarded a bus on the way home from school. When four whites boarded the bus and the driver ordered her, along with three other black passengers, to get up, she refused.

It was at the same location Rosa Parks would board a similar bus a few months later. This is only the first of a number of ironies in Colvin’s story.

Police were summoned. One of them kicked Colvin, causing her to drop her school books. She was removed from the bus, screaming that her constitutional rights were being violated. She was taken to jail and later convicted of assault and violating the segregation law.

Can you imagine how she must have felt when the two police officers took her away? She had no idea what was going to happen to her.

So, why do we know the name Rosa Parks, and why have many of us never heard of Claudette Colvin?

“The bus was getting crowded and I remember him (the bus driver) looking through the rear view mirror asking her to get up out of her seat, which she didn’t,” said a classmate at the time, Annie Larkins Price. “She didn’t say anything. She just continued looking out the window. She decided on that day that she wasn’t going to move.” Other black passengers complied; Colvin ignored the driver. The driver walked back and asked her again.

“I’d moved for white people before,” Colvin says. But this time, she was thinking of the slavery fighters she had read about recently during Negro History Week in February. “The spirit of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth was in me. I didn’t get up.”

Some black leaders believed she was too young, and too dark-skinned to be an effective symbol of injustice for the rest of the nation. Then, as local civil rights leaders continued to debate whether her case was worth contesting, that summer came the news that Colvin was pregnant — by a married man.

Source: CORE

Again, irony came into play in Colvin’s story. When African American leaders concluded who would be the best test case for the Supreme Court, it was decided that Colvin would not make an “effective symbol of injustice” because she was “too young, too dark-skinned” and an unwed mother. But for a few bends in history, the name Claudette Colvin could have become a household word. She could have been the one with the easily recognizable face, but nine months later, Rosa Parks boarded a bus in the same location and history was made. It’s the birthday of Rosa Parks that we celebrate, and the name Rosa Parks became the household word.

Colvin’s case never made it to the Supreme Court, but as we tip our hats to the very deserving Rosa Parks today, let’s keep Claudette Colvin’s story in mind, and the stories of countless and nameless others. As in most movements, there were many unsung heroes in the civil rights movement.

Colvin later told the Montgomery Advertiser that she would not have changed her decision to remain seated. “I feel very, very proud of what I did. I do feel like what I did was a spark and it caught on. I’m not disappointed. Let the people know Rosa Parks was the right person for the boycott, but also let them know that the attorneys took four other women to the Supreme Court to challenge the law that led to the end of segregation.”

Other women played similar roles in the civil rights movement. While Colvin’s story was highlighted  here, you may wish to research the contributions of Irene Morgan, Sarah Louise Keys, and Lizzie Jennings .

On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks, age 42, refused to obey bus driver James Blake’s order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. Her action was not the first of its kind. Irene Morgan in 1946, and Sarah Louise Keys in 1955, had won rulings before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Interstate Commerce Commission, respectively, in the area of interstate bus travel. Nine months before Parks refused to give up her seat, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to move from her seat on the same bus system. In New York City, in 1854, Lizzie Jennings engaged in similar activity, leading to the desegregation of the horsecars and horse-drawn omnibuses of that city. But unlike these previous individual actions of civil disobedience, Parks’ action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Source: The New Civil Rights Movement

Sources: Congress of Racial Equality, New Civil Rights Movement

Today

Written last night.

First –

I’m listening to Otis tonight. He’s soulful and bitter-sweet, and he makes my heart hurt and smile at the same time? I’m right there on that dock with you, Otis.

—————————We drove down to N.N. today. I had to get my I.N.R. checked. It was low on Friday, but it’s just in the normal range again.

We occasionally have lunch at the Panera Bread that’s outside of Williamsburg proper, and that was the case yesterday. Herman got a bowl of broccoli cheddar cheese soup and I got the tomato bisque – same as last time. We’re so predictable. They give you a hunk of a baguette with it. It’s perfect on a cold day. We got a Greek salad with it this time and shared it. I only had a little but what I had was delicious. I love feta and Kalamata olives.

I decided that I needed an old fashioned calendar for my purse. Digital scheduling seems way over the top for my life. Every year I get one or more of those pocket calendars in the mail from a local dry cleaner or auto dealership or Realtor. In the past, I’ve promptly thrown them in the trash. When I finally came to the conclusion that a small, low-tech, pocket calendar would be just the ticket for me, I didn’t receive a single one. So I bought an inexpensive one yesterday.

When I was young, I thought I wanted the kind of life that required scheduling. I admired that woman who looked at her watch while standing in line. You know her. She looks at her wrist and lightly taps her watch with her index finger. She has no time to waste and wants to convey that fact to the sales clerk. She purses her lips and furrows her brow. She has places to be, people to see, meetings to attend.

I’ve never had the kind of life that required scheduling, but I used to have the kind of mind that could remember the few appointments I needed to remember: the occasional lunch with a friend, an annual doctor’s appointment, a fund-raiser for the elementary school, a hair appointment, retrieve son after track practice, karate class, swim practice, soccer practice, etc. There really wasn’t that much to remember, and most of it was repetitive.

I love my low-tech Rolodex, too. It sits right here on my desk. It’s fantastic – grab it, flip it, retrieve the number or address (except when a stack of Herman’s who knows what is hiding it). I do put birthdays, appointments and anything else I have to remember on the calendar on my computer. Reminders pop up a couple of days before the event and keep me on track, but…

Things have changed. Even though this method has worked just fine in the past, I suddenly have a bazillion doctor’s appointments, and a diminishing capacity for remembering things. I can’t keep them straight, and I can’t take my whole computer with me to the doctor’s office? I’ve made appointments with doctors on a couple of occasions only to return home and learn that the appointment I just made conflicted with another appointment on my calendar. Now I can just pull this little calendar out and flip to the desired date to see if I already have an appointment scheduled on that date. Simple enough for me.

I thought of my best friend’s daughter when I bought my new calendar. She was toting a Day Planner around by the time she was twelve or thirteen, and believe me, she had a life that deserved scheduling. I wanted to grow up to be like her.

I finally got my wish. I now have a life that requires scheduling. It just isn’t the kind of scheduling I’d envisioned – no cocktails with Robert Redford or dinner with Richard Gere, no high-level meetings or getaways to exclusive spas, but I have a cute little calendar to schedule my days. That has to be worth something.

It’s true what they say. Be careful what you wish.

history of a house – a family

Photo: 1-31-2010

I have a friend who declares she can always tell when there’s stress or sadness inside a house. She swears that when weeds start growing in a previously well-maintained yard, trouble is brewing inside. When a shutter remains askew for too long, something is out of kilter inside. When paint starts peeling on the outside, you can be sure the souls inside are shedding old skins as well. It could be injury, illness, death, crisis, addiction or divorce, but when a house that has been lovingly cared for starts falling into disrepair, it almost always means trouble.

Our house was four years old – practically new – when we bought it in 2002. The couple who owned it bought it when it was brand spanking new; they were the first and only owners. We never met either of them, but we met their son during the home inspection. He was a nice kid. I’ll never forget.

It was a blisteringly hot day in July, and he was college bound that fall. His mom and dad separated and divorced shortly after moving into this house. He must have been about 13 or 14-years-old when his dad left. The neighbors knew very little about them. We heard rumblings about how they kept to themselves before and after the divorce. Human nature can barely resist speculation in these situations.

We were told that the husband left her for the “other woman.” Who ever knows the ins and outs of another marriage? No one, but I did learn a couple of things. The divorce agreement allowed her to remain in the house until their son entered college, and she was to receive the proceeds from the sale – meager though they were. The son was less than two months away from campus life when we came into the picture.

Practically a newborn, the house had not seen years of abuse from sheltering children and grandchildren and cats and dogs. It did not have layers of bubbling, boiling, or peeling paint and wallpaper. There were no chartreuse or fuchsia or acid-inducing orange walls. There were no scratches on the floors or sticky doors or outdated decor.

The attic was not filled with the usual debris of a lifetime, and key pieces of furniture were conspicuously missing throughout the house. The garage was strangely devoid of guy stuff, and his side of the closet was empty. No, the house was not suffering from too much living, quite the opposite. I’d never seen a house that screamed for human companionship like this one did. Humans always leave their mark – something that says, I was here.

The walls were still builder white, and there were no photos or prints or wall hangings of any sort on the walls. The deck floor had been left to bleach and dry in the elements, and weeds were growing up through it. It had never been acquainted with a preservative. The yard was filled with crabgrass, broad leaf weeds, huge bare spots, and dead or dying grass. The house had not been abused by an abundance of living, but it had been sorely neglected by a lack of living. It was the most nondescript place I’d ever seen – a blank canvas.

I loved the floor plan, the neighborhood, the beautiful moldings and the price, which was below market value because it had been on the market for months. It had no personal appeal. It needed a girlfriend to tout its good points and find it a date.

The boy wanted us to know that his dad had once been a presence here, something more than a ghost. He told us about the pulleys attached to the ceiling in the garage. They had once held a kayak and a canoe – reminders of happier times with his dad. He said that he and his dad used to take them down the river on weekends, that he and his dad had installed the pulleys together. Herman made much about how clever that was and how he could find a number of uses for them.

You could barely see the deep sadness swimming behind those impenetrable boy-man eyes. He was ready to fly the coop, this place that was never really home to him, this place where it had all ended, this place where he had watched his mother climb the stairs at night with her wine, this place were she had spilled it on the carpet beside the bed when she became too weary to be careful. This was a house filled with pain.

My heart hurt for the boy who missed his father, and felt the need to make strangers (us) understand that he was not a bad man. I felt for the mother and wife who had lost her husband, and was now losing her new home and her son all at once. She found it difficult to leave the wreckage behind and move on. The rending of her life was too much.

Overwhelmed at times, she did many irrational things during the process of selling her house. Herman was disturbed by her actions on several occasions, but I kept telling him that she would come around because she knew better than anyone what she had to do. She had no choice. She had to go through with the sale eventually and move forward.

I’ve thought of them many times over the years – the father, the mother, the son, the family. After a few years, I heard that she met someone special, and a wedding was in the offing. I don’t know about the son or husband. I do know that the husband could not be found to sign the papers on the day of closing. It took a few more days to track him down, and I assumed he was doing one last thing to get under her skin. The distance we will go to hurt someone we once loved is sad.

This fairly new house already has an impressive history of neglect. Herman and I moved in, and a flurry of long needed repairs, cleaning, staining, painting, seeding, and weeding commenced. Just when things were looking up for it, my father had a stroke, and the house was abandoned once again. It fell into disrepair for the second time in its short life as our family entered crisis mode, only to be followed closely by over three years of survival mode while we stayed with Dad. The weeds grew, the grass died, and the deck dried out again, and we still did not come to its aid. A neighbor kid mowed the grass for us and that’s about it.

We’ve been back a little over a year now. The place has been spiffed up a bit during that time. It’s amazing what a little paint here, a bit of preservative over there, a power seeding out there and a power washing over here can do. Of course, we can always find something else to do, but things have come a long way around here. This (now slightly-less-than-new) house is almost ready for its next family. These two old codgers need to move on to a smaller, lower-maintenance kind of place. Maybe a young family with kids who will leave their marks on it will move in here. May their troubles be few and small and their memories (yet to be made) sweet and lasting.

Peyton Place

Grace Metalious

Remember Peyton Place? If you were around in 1964, you do. Based on Grace Metalious’ best-selling novel about secrets, scandals, and hypocrisy in a small New England town, it was television’s first serialized prime-time soap. The fictionalized town was based on Metalious’ hometown of Gilmanton, New Hampshire, and many believe the stories and characters were based on actual events and real people who lived in Gilmanton.

Grace Metalious’ (now touted as a breakthrough feminist before her time) book is now considered a study in the hypocrisy of 1950’s morals, but when it hit the stands back in 1956, it was simply a dirty book. The world was not ready for it. Today, Peyton Place appears on women’s-studies curricula at universities, and is required reading at some.

Peyton Place was the forerunner to a sequel, a huge movie nominated for nine Academy Awards, and of course, television’s first prime-time soap. At a time when most novels sold 3,000 in the first month, Peyton Place sold 100,000 copies. It sold over 10 million copies by the end of the decade, surpassing Gone With The Wind, and it maintained the position of best selling novel for close to 20 years after its initial publication. The term “Peyton Place” worked its way into the cultural lexicon as a synonym for a town or event filled with hypocrisy and unsavory secrets.

During its pinnacle, it is said that one out of every 29 citizens of the U.S. owned a copy of the scalding censure of small-town values, racism, incest, child abuse, and the oppression of women; of course, most copies were hidden under the mattress or behind a cabinet.

Grace broke all the rules for women of her generation. She was outspoken, smoked in public, hated housework and was well read. The citizens of Gilmanton never forgave Grace for exposing their underbellies. Never adjusting to her fame or her neighbors’ scorn, and after squandering her money, Grace died from cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 39.

Grace once said, “To a tourist these towns look as peaceful as a postcard picture. But if you go beneath that picture, it’s like turning over a rock with your foot—all kinds of strange things crawl out. Everybody who lives in town knows what’s going on—there are no secrets—but they don’t want outsiders to know.”

My first memory of Peyton Place took place in a second floor bathroom in high school. I was only 13. A group of senior girls were laughing and snickering in hushed tones as one girl read aloud the “best parts” from a paperback copy. I was enthralled. I stayed in the stall, listening. When I exited, I took longer to wash my hands than ever before or since. That was my only exposure to the story of the small New England town until the television series debuted a year later in 1964.

The series was tamer than the book, and now seems downright innocent. Still, it was considered racy at the time. Finally, when I was a grown woman with a child, I decided I was practically the only woman of my generation who hadn’t read it. Always lagging behind and feeling left out, I decided to find out what I’d been missing. I finally got my own copy and read it.

I found the following clip from the series. I wanted to be sexy and sultry like Betty (Barbara Parkins), but I fear I was more like poor, mousy Allison (Mia Farrow), but not nearly as studious. I actually had Allison’s outfit in this scene. The exact outfit. I know. Embarrassing! The only difference is that my A-line skirt was plaid, and my little, white blouse had a Peter Pan collar. The suspenders are exactly like mine. Sad, isn’t it? I even carried my books like Allison, hugged self-consciously to my chest. Youth truly is wasted on the young.

Sources:
Inside Peyton Place: The life of Grace Metalious ~ Emily Toth
Housewives: Vanity Fair ~ Michael Callahan

She walks in beauty, like the night…

The Venus of Willendorf is the most famous early image of a human.

The Venus of Willendorf, also known as the Woman of Willendorf, is an 11 cm (4.3 in) high statuette of a female figure estimated to have been made between 22,000 B.C.E. and 21,000 B.C.E.. It was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria near the city of Krems.[1] It is carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the area, and tinted with red ocher.

Wikipedia

It has been said that her large breasts and posterior connote fertility. If the Venus of Willendorf is any indication of feminine desirability in 22,000 B.C.E.,  our ides about what characterizes beauty and femininity have certainly evolved, or perhaps many would say, devolved? How thin is thin enough in the twenty-first century? What defines beauty today? Whatever the answer, we’ve moved a long way from Ms. Willendorf’s day.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen

~

Kelly Ripa~

Katie Holmes~

Kate Moss~

Sarah Harding (Girls Aloud)

~

Angelina Jolie~

Victoria Beckham~

Lindsay Lohan~

Tori Spelling~
Calista Flockhart