Monday, February 25, 2013

We Were American

My father loved history, especially anything to do with our Spanish ancestors.  Along with bedtime cuentos, I grew up listening to stories about our antepasados who came over in the mid 1700’s.
The harsh, lawless terrain of southwestern Texas proved too much for these court-bred Spaniards, so they retreated to the civilized comfort of Mexico City until the crown warned them and their leader, the Visrey de Escandón, that they had to settle and populate their claim or lose their land grant. Besides England and France, there were other Spaniards waiting to grab a share of the new world.
There is no record, oral or written, of our antepasados before they came to America, so our history starts suddenly in 1747. It sprung up in the desert like the mesquite and the nopales.  They founded what are now the towns of Zapata, San Ignacio, and Ramireño, Texas.
That area was so forbidding and undesirable that the rest of the world ignored that no-man’s land. Only marauding Comanches and murderous thieves passed through my grandparents’ land, but they were all met with the same “abrazo” – the bullet end of a gun or a rifle. In self defense, even the women had to shoot, use a knife, and ride a horse as well or better than the men.    
I loved listening to this oral history and never questioned my citizenry.  My ancestors claimed their place in America as far back as two hundred and sixty years and my Native American ancestry goes back even further. 
While researching for my next book, a generational story written as historical fiction, I learned that I am a third generation United States citizen.  Really?  My grandfather was “naturalized” in the early 1940’s, in time for his American-born sons to enlist in military service for World War II. Really? 
We were American before there was an America. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rethinking Retirement

          One should never retire “from” a job; one should retire “to” something.  Sure you officially resigned or quit from a position, and everyone gave you a retirement party (hopefully), but what comes after?
          And there is an after.  For most of us, it will span 20-30 years after we leave the daily grind.  That is a long time if you don’t plan for it.
1.     Are you financially able to retire?  Do you have a savings or retirement account? Are you planning a second career or a part-time job?
Sorry, but without money, full retirement is not in your immediate future.
2.    Are you planning some sort of health routine?  You certainly want to spend the majority of your remaining life span in good health, so make sure you consider a consistent health routine and a healthy diet.  This includes visits to the doctor and the dentist.
3.    Have you discussed your retirement plans with your spouse, partner, and/or family?  Include them in your plans, so there is no misunderstanding about how you will spend your time (and what you are willing to do for them). 
4.    Are you scheduling activities that will continue to help you grow socially, mentally, and emotionally? After having been out in the work force for all those years with all those people, you don’t want to suddenly become a hermit, secluded from all outside contact. 
5.    Finally, let’s get to the bucket list – what activities do you enjoy that you will now be able to spend more time doing?  What pursuits have you always wanted to do that you now have time to accomplish? Once the newness of retirement wears off, it might be a good idea to check off some of those “to do’s” on your bucket list.  What are you waiting for?  Get to them. You aren’t getting any younger.  

Monday, February 18, 2013


The daytime nurse reminds me that tonight is the all-male choir program in the dining room.  Do I want to wear something special for the occasion?
I show her my comfy gym outfit.  I have chair yoga at ten and a Scrabble rematch with Mr. García after lunch.  Any singing Romeo who spots me in the audience tonight and is hot for my phone number can just take me the way I am dressed, walker and all.
The evening nurse works our wing because we are ambulatory.  We can bathe ourselves and change our own diapers.  He’s afraid to touch us, afraid we are contagious.  In a way he is right.  Everyone ages; everyone dies.
When it is time for the evening program, I shuffle back to the dining room on my own.  A creature of habit, I head for the one spot where I sit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It is my lucky chair.  This is where I beat Mr. García at Scrabble for the fifth time earlier in the day.  I lean my walker against it before I make my rounds.
“Hola, Gloria.” In her late sixties, my friend once danced with Patrick Swayze in the movie Dirty Dancing, but now she is confined to a wheelchair.  She lost her left foot to diabetes two years ago and is scheduled for vascular surgery on her right calf next week.
“Que tal, Ricardo.”  Our resident playboy is in his nineties and silenced by a stroke, yet his wheelchair is surrounded by a covey of elderly women in walkers and wheelchairs, all vying for his attention.  He waves at me with his good hand, but I just keep on walking. 
I wave at the Colonel but he only has eyes for his wife.  He scoots his chair closer to her wheelchair and takes her hand.  He lives in my wing and she lives at the other end of the complex.  Once her Alzheimer’s got so bad he could not take care of her any longer, he moved her here.  He followed soon after to be close to her.
She doesn’t understand his gesture and looks at his hand. Her memories of him have slowly dissolved into the corners of her mind, but from the way he looks at her his haven’t faded in sixty-five years.  I think of my husband and make my way back to my seat. 
The choir files in and I notice the male nurse standing by the door.  He scans the room and I do too. He frowns. He sees remnants, the one facet that exists of us now. He would be surprised to know the full fabric we conceal under these remnants.  When we were his age we lived full, loud lives.  We danced and loved and laughed.  We have stories to tell. 
He sees me looking at him and I frown.  I feel sorry for him.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

My 10 ½ Romantic Movie Recommendations (In Honor of Valentine’s Day or Anytime You Need a Smile)

1.    Crazy Stupid Love – to quote the movie, it is a combination of sexy and cute, especially Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. (Okay, mostly Ryan Gosling.)
2.   Dan in Real Life – told from the male perspective. A lonely widower raising three daughters falls for his brother’s girl.  Best quote:  You are the murderer of love.
3.   Falling for a Dancer – an Irish mini-series; a hidden gem.  I fell in love with Mossie the first time he set eyes on his cousin’s wife, a feisty woman in an arranged marriage of convenience.
4.   Murphy’s Romance – a May-December romance played by Sally Fields, a divorcée, and James Garner, a widower. He makes the screen sizzle in this one.
5.   One Special Night – another James Garner romance, but this time he goes after Julie Andrews, a widow.  The one bad hitch – he is still married to a wife with Alzheimer’s.
6.   P.S. I Love You – this is a romance between a widow and her late husband.  He sets a series of letters and gifts in place to help her face her grief after his death.
7.   Sabrina (with Harrison Ford) – this version is so much more believable than the one that paired a youthful Audrey Hepburn with the elderly Humphrey Bogart. I call it the American version of Pride and Prejudice. 
8.   Some Kind of Wonderful – best screen kiss ever!  Don’t miss it.  You break his heart, I break your face. Ah, high school like most of us remember it.
9.   Someone Like You – best bad boy ever – Hugh Jackman! Need I say more? Best movie quote ever:  Time wounds all heels – the mantra for all of us who remember what it feels like to be dumped.
10.Up! – Yes, the animated movie.  What better romance than the one between Carl and Ellie? Reinforces one’s belief in true love.
10.5     Under the Tuscan Sun – this one gets only half a rating because it is the one and only romantic movie where the heroine spends the entire movie chasing after love, only to find that her true love isn’t a person but a place – Tuscany.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Happy Breastday to Me!

I gave myself a very special birthday present this year – I had surgery. Before you think it was to increase, decrease, or “lift” something, let me tell you it was not cosmetic (though I could probably use a few nips and tucks at my age; the infinite number of creams I buy OTC are not working their promised magic).
About four or five months ago, I discovered a hard lump about the size of a large marble in my left armpit.  I had been feeling small pangs of pain in my left chest for several months, but I figured it was just my turn to dance with heart disease.  Everyone in my immediate family is diabetic and suffers from strokes or heart attacks, so I thought – here we go; my turn. I was going to tell my internist about the pangs during my next visit, so imagine my surprise when I discovered the lump.
The Drama Queen in me immediately manifested herself – cancer, I thought.  I have cancer. I searched some more and found that the texture on the left side of my left breast felt different than its right side.  I tested my right breast and compared it to the “patch” and sure enough; I had an area about the size of my palm that felt denser than the muscle around it.
This was when the coward in me wanted to pretend it didn’t exist. What should I do? I wanted to ignore it and maybe it would heal itself; maybe it would go away.
But I have things to do.  I had to find my courage and take care of me.
My gynecologist verified my findings and sent me to get mammograms and a sonogram.  They came back “benign,” and I celebrated, but she persisted and referred me to a surgeon.
SURGEON - Tell me that wouldn’t scare you too.
He explained that the lymph node was doing its job – reacting to the mass nearby. He also explained why the mass itself didn’t not show up as a malignancy. It wasn’t concentrated in one area; it wasn’t a lump.  He agreed with the digital exams, but to be absolutely, 100% sure, that it wasn’t malignant, I would need a biopsy. 
I didn’t qualify for a needle biopsy because the surgical needle is guided by a lump that can be seen; my mass would require a surgical biopsy – an incision from which he could take a sample.  While in there he would try and remove as much of the mass as he could without making a bigger cut.  
It was my decision, he said.  If I could live with the discomfort, I should be fine.
I have never lived in “shoulds.” I can only muster my courage with “definites” and “absolutelys,” so I decided to go ahead with the surgery.
I spent my birthday preparing for the surgery the next day.  I turned down offers for dinners and parties and get-togethers.  I had to get my game on.  If all turned out well, there would be more birthdays in my future. 
The biopsy won’t be back until next week, but from the looks of the tissue, the doctor is pretty optimistic it is a benign growth. The incision is longer than he promised, and the pain is not any worse than the discomfort I felt before the surgery.
I share this with you, dear reader, as a reminder to take care of yourself.  We must find the courage to fight for our own health and well being.  Never “go gentle into that good night.”
I gave myself this present because I have a wonderful husband, a beautiful, feisty family, and many more people to pester before I leave this place.  I beg you to find your courage and take care of yourself as well or better than you take care of others.
Happy Breastday to me!