Voting like our lives depend on it

I am sharing thoughts from a letter that I never intended to publish. This person and I have exchanged many emails during the election cycle. He put me on a group mailing, and I requested that he remove my name. Today I received a private one asking me to listen to a sermon on YouTube, saying it would probably offend me. And it did, particularly a remark about Muslims. I responded that I listened to about half of it but had to stop. I wasn’t offended as much as sickened. His comment to me was that he understood that I said I didn’t agree with any of it, although he felt I did but wouldn’t admit it.

I made a mistake in engaging in this discussion today, although I did so because of being accused of not listening to the other side. He also told me that I should look at mathematics and not listen to Dr. Fauci, that he changed his mind too often. Who does that sound like?

If you haven’t already voted, please do so. Many are saying that our lives depend on it, and I agree. 

The following was part of my response to this man:

On Zoom, I enjoyed a great sermon and All Saints Day with communion today and felt very much at peace. After that, we had a presentation and conversation on racism which lasted over an hour because no one wanted to leave the meeting.

I am praying for peace in the country I love and hope that citizens will vote with an open heart that is in no way compromised by worshipping the rich and famous. I pray that someday you will see where the fake news comes from and understand the undermining of democracy this misinformation has caused.  Many deaths from Covid-19 would have been prevented if our leadership had implemented science over politics.

I look at those I know who live in God’s abundant grace and pattern after them, the people I see who are true servants. The ones who believe, as Kennedy said, ”not what my country can do for me but what I can do for my country.” Every day I hear from those who are cooking for the homeless, taking supplies to the food banks, contributing to the Deacon’s fund at our church so that they can help anyone in need, and checking with neighbors who are alone. Instead of arguing about politics, they put their beliefs into action. We never talk about the election in a group discussion. Because of the love shown, we don’t have to. One of the dearest in a group is from Taiwan, and she has parents and siblings there. She works for one of the giant pharmaceutical companies and has felt demeaned by the remarks about the Chinese. And she has especially worried about the false promise of a vaccine.

I think we are put here to love one another, to respect each one, to encourage and be present as a listening ear for those feeling lonely. I have joined every Democratic group on Facebook as well as other groups, including one for those suffering from emotional issues, so they have a way to vent. I contribute to a home in Little Rock for LGBTQ youth who have been kicked out by their parents, and I subscribe to a newsletter devoted to LGBTQ issues. I try very hard to practice Christianity though I often fail. When a person publicly mocks a disabled person, I think of a phrase from Al-Anon that ”your words are like a stinging bee.” The Jesus I know would never have acted like your president. Quite honestly, if Trump knocked on my door and asked to come in, I would only let him in if he was sick and in need of help. I would not allow his presence at my dinner table. 

He replied by saying perhaps we should just leave it here. I agreed.

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Ten weeks in

A memory from 2009 surfaced on Facebook and prompted this message. The memory was of a Sunday morning, having coffee with my husband, reading a stack of Sunday papers and commenting that we needed to get ready for church. I had written that it was a beautiful day. So much has changed in 11 years. My husband died in 2013, I moved from Jonesboro, Arkansas, to Little Rock and later to California. How good is it that we don’t see the future? The pandemic we are in the middle of has no boundaries, and it is not going to magically go away. 

Today was a nice quiet Sunday morning, although in California instead of Arkansas. I read the newspapers online, missing the stack John and I would share over early morning coffee. And then I got ready for church on Zoom, which I couldn’t have imagined 11 years ago. It’s so quiet the dogs intently watch. I think they like the sound of the voices as we greet one another.

After church it was time to be outside, enjoying the sunshine and trimming the dogs, though Mary Kathryn Marcom’s critique is that I will never make it as a groomer! John Marcom calls every day, and we usually talk about the news and I reassure him that his sister and I are fine. He and his husband, Arif Hasyim, are isolating at home, though they take a walk each day and usually send a picture of a beautiful place or colorful flowers as they know that I love seeing the different varieties.

It has been over ten weeks since I have set foot out the front door. Mary Kathryn and I were talking today about what has been the most difficult challenge during sheltering-in, and to me it is remembering to take a day at a time and not project to the future. I can name the easiest parts which include being very grateful to be sharing a house with my daughter and having a nice yard to enjoy. I am grateful for wifi so that we can share through virtual meetings and can be entertained by lots of different sites.

It is amazing how inventive people have been. I am grateful that I have developed a newfound appreciation for flowers, plants, even the tiniest leaf. We have plenty of food and a comfortable place to be. With three little clowns that keep us smiling, it’s difficult to think of life without our furry companions. And faith, remembering that God is right here with us as we travel an unknown path.

What I have a terrible time wrapping my head around are the people who have lost loved ones to Covid-19, not even being able to have relatives sharing the grief process, those who don’t know how they will make a payment that is due, the ones who are seeing their businesses slip away, the ones who need to go back to work but can’t find good child-care options, the ones who literally don’t know if they can feed their families. And I think about all our front-line medical workers, from support people to medical personnel, who put themselves at risk daily.

We who are at home can take a little boredom to stay safe and, most of all, keep from putting the lives of others in jeopardy. Please wear a mask if you have to go out, practice social distancing, wash your hands and remember a smile with your eyes shows that you value the life of the person serving you.

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You can’t shut down springtime

On Tuesday, March 3rd, I headed home from Tiburon and I felt so great, having had a wonderful time at bridge, feeling I had played well enough that my partner wouldn’t dump me, and celebrating the friends I had made since moving here. Players had stopped asking “how long will you be visiting?”

When I returned home my daughter told me that she had been reading a lot about the coronavirus and because of her kidney transplant and her doctor’s advice, she was going to have to self-isolate. She had been cautioned that, being immunosuppressed, she was at extremely high risk of being very severely infected from the virus. 

The next day while thinking about the best way to handle this information, I attended a morning meeting and played duplicate bridge that evening.  As we played, I began noticing how many players were consuming finger snacks and then picking up their cards. That night after returning home I told my daughter I couldn’t risk that again and emailed my partner whom I played with on Thursdays. He replied that he was glad to hear from me because he had debated canceling. A few days before this I had received an email from the hostess of the Friday foursome telling me she wouldn’t be playing again until at least June. One of the members was so surprised as this was about the time we were just beginning to realize how dangerous the virus could be. June seemed so extreme. Little did we know what a wise friend she was. 

My daughter and her boyfriend shopped that day for groceries and stocked our kitchen. The only way they see one another is if he stands on the sidewalk and she stands in the doorway, both of them in masks. They have phone calls and Zoom dates. One thing we have all learned is to take a day at a time. To project would be insane as no one knows how long we will be sheltering in.

My daughter is a certified life coach and is on several committees at her church so she is busy most of the day. I love to read and keep up with the news. We both spend a lot of time in the backyard with our three little furry friends.

Though with the message from the county that there is too much danger of transmission of the virus to allow landscapers to work, the yard won’t be as welcoming. This is a group of workers who will be in need of help and many won’t qualify for stimulus checks.

My daughter and I bought a house together last May and are thankful to be here. She had lived in an apartment about twenty minutes from mine, and we would have been even more isolated. Our house is small but a great plan for us, as we each have privacy. There is an atrium as you enter and it gives another seating space, outside but not quite, especially nice on a windy day. 

Housekeepers are another group that need help. It’s not their fault we are not letting them into our houses, so think about continuing to pay yours, sending a weekly check. I was told today there are 45,000 undocumented workers in Marin County, a startling number.

I attend church on Zoom and several meetings such as Book Club. Sunday my daughter helped me set up a get together with friends in Jonesboro, Arkansas, my home town. We had a lot of laughs as it took almost the hour to get most everyone on. The next time will be better. 

Each group I know of is trying to keep in touch, if not by internet by exchanging emails, texts, and sometimes the old fashioned way, a phone call. There are fifteen in my writing group, and I try hard to read all the emails but I don’t always respond. It can be overwhelming. For the first time I understand when my son responds that no, he didn’t see the message yet. Between the political messages, the newsletters updating the Coronavirus facts, the subscribed-to newspapers sending out their headlines, advertising the available entertainment online, etc., there is not much time in the mornings after catching up with messages. Oh, and then there is Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

We have found dressing very comfortably but as if we were going out is a help to keep a day in perspective. If you are dealing with any type of depression or feeling overly anxious, please don’t be afraid to ask for help. Fear of the unknown is very difficult at best but now we are dealing with an unpredictable enemy. 

This is a time to embrace our faith, the pretty blossoming trees, the beautiful colors in the flowers, whatever and whoever you turn to in times of crisis. I am grateful for so much that the list is very lengthy. One thing which makes me stop and think is the hunger everywhere. A check to a food bank would be a great way to give back to your community. It’s 8pm now and I hear howling to praise the medical workers, all at risk in treating patients with Covid-19. The young boy next door blows his horn so it is a cacophony of sound. 

Be good to yourself and above all, wash your hands!

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A different kind of Easter

Mary Lee Writes | Easter Service

I celebrated Easter Sunday with my daughter and our three little furry friends, self-isolated since March 6. My daughter has had a kidney transplant and, because of the anti-rejection drugs, she is immunosuppressed. We began isolating earlier than most, and we have found being dressed and ready as if we were going out helps keep our attitude positive. And we are going out – to our backyard.

As I was drinking my coffee and relaxing Sunday morning, I realized I must dress, because “I leave for church at 9:30.” That’s when the realization hit me that I would be tuning in to Zoom today. I still needed to be presentable as we gathered to greet one another.

The service was lovely and the feeling was one of connection. We rejoiced in the news of the resurrected Christ with beautiful music and an always relatable and outstanding message from our interim pastor. The service concluded with an outstanding recording of the Hallelujah Chorus. The minister is a Southerner also but somehow he has lost that drawl that people immediately comment about. The first time I was partnered for duplicate bridge a woman passed my car as I was getting out and I said hi to her. She turned around and said to me, “you are my partner. I was told it was someone from the South.”

Following church, my daughter and I listened to the incredible Easter concert given by Andrea Bocelli. You’ll find it on YouTube if you missed it. I think he is amazing to have overcome his blindness and share his talent with millions.

In the afternoon, our Santa Monica family called on FaceTime and five were able to chat. It was an hour of laughter, reminiscing, and sharing how each is coping. One is in her freshman year of college and wondering how her plans will change. This threat has given many a new perspective on how they wish to spend their lives, and she is contemplating her future.

A young man on our street here in Terra Linda has set up a four o’clock check-in each Sunday on one of the internet links while we are isolating. It was fun to see neighbors and know we are all here for each other from our backyards. He told us he goes to the grocery on Mondays and if we would email him our list, he would be happy to drop the groceries at our door. That added to my comfort level!

It was warm in the sun so I enjoyed my dose of Vitamin D. I think we finally have the anti-bark collar for my little Havanese that works. He loves surprising anyone who walks by our fence with aggressive-sounding barking, and that is not admired in this quiet neighborhood. It makes him unhappy to wear it so I have been choosing to pamper him! I am trying to be a tough mother but then that cute little face says “please don’t put that on me.”

Last night I continued watching “My Brilliant Friend,’’ based on the book by the Italian author Elena Ferrante. It is in Italian, but don’t be discouraged by subtitles. It is a captivating story of friendship between two girls.

To sum up my day, it was good. We missed my son and his husband, only thirty minutes away, but far away with the threat of Covid-19. We are trying our best to protect ourselves and in this effort we protect others. If you haven’t allowed yourself to read an account of being infected by this virus, I urge you to do this. Also read a doctor’s story of intubating many patients. The only preventive is to stay home. I don’t want to read about you as a statistic. Yesterday was a good day, and today is another good day. If I don’t accomplish another thing I have enjoyed writing to my friends. In comments, perhaps you’ll share with me how you are handling this time.

There are many who are terrified financially, those whose businesses are in jeopardy, those who are challenged by being on the front lines, the undocumented who are ineligible for unemployment benefits, the uninsured, some who live paycheck to paycheck and now they don’t have one. And today we sympathize with the Southern states hit by tornadoes the past several weeks. Today many are grieving lives lost in the tornadoes. Many have no electricity in the middle of this Pandemic. I could go on but I am asking you to search your hearts and reach out as you can. Remember your housekeeper who is now out of work. You probably budgeted for that service so continue paying them. A contribution to a Food Bank would be welcome. Let’s remember Jesus’ teaching and treat/love our neighbor as we would wish to be treated/loved. Join me in carrying yesterday’s Easter joy each day to others. Stay safe!

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I still have 1,359 friends on Facebook

Mary Lee writes | Facebook

Take a deep breath, Mary Lee, and stop feeling like the little girl who all of a sudden got reprimanded and dissolved in tears. I know that I post too much on Facebook. When I read an article that might be helpful (or backs up my own opinions) I tend to post it. I love posting memories as reminders to friends of the good times we have shared. Lately, my daughter and I have self-isolated to try to avoid coronavirus, and for this reason I have been sharing even more than usual as this is a way to connect.

There have been articles lately addressing the loneliness of older adults. Having lived in three different areas since becoming a widow nearly seven years ago, I have made a lot of friends whose support I value.

I have my bridge buddies, my PEO buddies, my book club buddies, my church buddies, my writing group buddies, my dog loving buddies, to name a few.

When I see a picture of a dog in need of adoption or a lost dog, I post. A person is missing, I post. I’m a sucker for pictures of families, especially kids and babies and older children who are making a mark on the world.

I post when immigrants are unfairly treated, when human rights are withheld, when I read a post that is clearly fake. When our President does something I think is absurd.

At 83, I have had so many people pass through my life and somehow I can’t let them go. They are a part of what makes me who I am today.

I try to be fair to differing opinions but, although I have voted several times for Republicans, I decided I needed to study the platforms carefully for each party and make my choice. I do not hate Donald Trump because I think he is a damaged human being and to be pitied. I cringe to think how his presidency will be leaving our country in shambles, and I hope voters will stop believing fake news sites and check out their sources. We owe that to the children of this country, restoring decency in speech as well as actions. Forget the fictitious border wall that “Mexico is paying for,” and put that money toward developing a fair plan for immigrants. Save the programs developed to make lives improve, such as DACA. Yes, I am a yellow dog Democrat and proud of it.

Try feeling the peace in your heart that comes from the acceptance of others, no matter whom they vote for, whom they love or what faith they follow.

I have a core group of friends on Facebook who share honestly. If we disagree, we say so. I would miss them because they remind me of my convictions.

My daughter encouraged me this morning to write a blogpost that would make you laugh in the midst of this crisis, something lighthearted. Then I received an email from a high school friend who told me he was unfollowing me. All of a sudden I was that little girl who never did anything right, so she just never achieved anything. Then I thought, grow up! The easy way out is to retreat and have hurt feelings. The adult says stand up for yourself. My old friend told me that we agree on issues almost 100% of the time, but posting once a day is really too much, that posting once a week is enough. Friends, I apologize for not controlling my passion as I believe that the bottom line is that we love one another and respect our differences. That’s all that counts. Ignore my posts or unfollow me, but stay my friend.

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Table tales

Of course, the dining room furniture had to be imposing. The huge dining room was next to a thirty- by forty-foot living room with a fourteen-foot ceiling adorned by a striking crystal chandelier. Are we hearing a little snicker already? Looking good was important to my family.

My grandmother and a friend got on a train to St. Louis to find the right furniture. The table, more narrow than some, boasted five leaves so twelve people could easily be seated. The chairs were extremely heavy and added elegance. The sideboard was around seven feet long. A pretty matching console was chosen. Completing the set was a tall china cabinet, with solid doors embellished with a chinoiserie motif in green.

Mary Lee writes | Table tales

Chinoiserie for the china cabinet

I must back up. My grandparents, Mary Emma and Eugene Barton, purchased this house in Jonesboro, Arkansas, around 1924. My mother, Dorothy Barton Rebsamen, was single and living at home. The family had lived on West Washington until this home, located on twenty-two wooded acres and modeled on a Mississippi country club, was purchased. My mother married my dad, Lloyd Rebsamen, in 1930, and the couple moved in with my grandparents as my grandfather told them they couldn’t marry unless they promised to live with them. I was born in 1936 into that weirdness.

As I grew up in this situation, I formed a relationship with this table. The early years were torture for a child, as I was expected to sit at the table until the adults were ready to move to another room. There was an old man called Uncle Levi of whom I have only hazy memories from interminable meals, quietly listening to him “preach.” I think he may have been a retired Baptist preacher.  My grandmother always sat at one end of the table so her foot could reach the button under the rug to summon the server. The dining room had a swinging door to a hallway which then opened to the kitchen. It was not all that easy, carrying trays, clearing the plates, serving dessert. However, I don’t recall a thing ever being dropped or spilled.

When I was nine, it was decided that the house needed to be renovated. My parents bought a place nearer the center of town, on South Main, and we all, my parents, grandparents, and I, moved and lived there for about three years. That was the first of several moves for the dining room table. Once the work was completed on the house, we all traipsed back in, though I have always thought my parents would have liked to stay in their own place on Main Street. The dining table returned to its place of honor, fulfilling its obligation.

Covered with freshly ironed linen cloths, the table witnessed many bridal teas, ladies luncheons, DAR State Convention teas–just about any occasion, as we certainly had the space. The prettiest table that I remember was arranged by Faye Kenward for my friend Jane Fietz Stepka’s engagement announcement party. The centerpiece was a birdcage painted yellow festooned with yellow daisies and a canary that looked almost real.

Mary Lee Writes | Table tales

Ready for nearly any occasion

My grandmother died while I was at a girl’s camp in Texas in 1950. Upon returning home, I walked into the living room to see her casket and many chairs set up for her funeral. I was totally unprepared for this, as I had only been told she was very ill. The refreshments were served on the dining room table.

My grandfather lived with us until 1954, when he attended a party in another city accompanied by an RN. While there, he met a woman younger than my mother, whom he married. He bought another house in Jonesboro where they lived until he died at the age of 84.

In 1960, my parents decided to move, and built their own new house next door.  My husband John bought the old homeplace, and we moved there with our children. We had lots of good times around that table shared with good friends. The table served many needs. One day, I entertained a bridge group and the man who helped me at the time asked what to do with the vacuum cleaner just as everyone was arriving. The closet where I kept it was in the room where we were gathering to play. I commented “just hide it someplace.” As the girls were leaving, one asked to see the house. She walked into the dining room and immediately commented, “what a unique place to store a vacuum.”  He had carefully put it under the table!

The furniture had a home for a while in Memphis, where Johnny and Mary Kathryn were in school, then it traveled to three more residences back in Jonesboro.

We hosted many dinner parties while living on Harrisburg Road and one evening, as I was checking the table before serving, I spotted a man’s wallet at the head of the table. Thinking someone had mistakenly put their wallet down, I asked around. One of the men claimed it, saying “isn’t it like a lady using a purse to reserve a seat?” At a dinner party?

The next move was to a house on Martinbrook Drive, where we did the most informal entertaining. My warmest, though saddest, memory is the night of my husband John’s memorial service. About ten very close friends and family gathered and reminisced until about one in the morning. Talk about warm and cozy!

Mary Lee Writes | Table tales

The side piece

Some months later I decided to downsize, and learned a nearby condo was coming on the market with a big dining room. I was so excited because I could keep my grandmother’s dining room furniture, as I had come to treasure it over the years as a reminder of her.

About a year later I made another hasty decision. My daughter had moved to Little Rock and a new home was nearing completion  just a block from her house. I bought it and downsized again, this time finally saying goodbye to my grandmother’s furniture, the dining room in this house being of more practical size. And, you know, it wasn’t hard at all. Material things are just that –  stuff that is not important. Less is good.

 

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Does this make me a liberal, or just human?

Someone asked me how I got to be such a liberal coming from Jonesboro, Arkansas. I have pondered that question as I didn’t at first have a good answer.

I was raised in a home with three servants, a cook, housekeeper, and gardener. On Sunday mornings my father would pick up the housekeeper and bring her to our house. Perhaps the bus didn’t run on Sunday? My mother didn’t choose to make beds, nor did she teach me to help around the house.

I remember my mother correcting me when I referred to the person who did the ironing as a lady, telling me not to ever call a black (referred to as “colored” in those days) woman a lady.

Spot (his full name was Leonard Taylor, but he was a very small man whom I had always only known him by his nickname) was our cook, and he had a drinking problem. My father would sometimes go to the basement and have a yelling fit at him because of something – anything to hurt him in my father’s need to vent his anger. Spot was a wonderful human being and probably one of the kindest men I have ever known. His wife ”Sugar” was my nurse and died when I was five.

As I felt the underlying tension in our very dysfunctional household, in my heart I knew I was no better than anyone else. I vowed to myself that when I grew up I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.

My parents lived next door to us when the children were young. One morning Spot came to my kitchen door, probably sent by my very controlling mother to check on us. I was at the sink and Spot asked what I was doing. I responded that I was making a stew. His answer was ”you shouldn’t ’oughtta’ have to do that, Miss Mary Lee.”

I was a very spoiled only child, although thankfully I was able to develop a sense of love and admiration for those less fortunate. I have always believed that by opening our eyes and ears we embrace those different from ourselves. I believe each of us is a unique human being and worthy of being loved. A very snobbish man told me once that I always had an affinity for those who couldn’t do for themselves. At the time the remark was made, I was helping a young paraplegic with the lift on his van. He heard what was meant to be a disparaging remark about me and internalized it against himself. I tried not to cry when I saw the tears in his eyes. I have been reminded of that day often during Trump’s rallies as he mocks people.

Boundaries are necessary when caring for and about others. A physician told me I was the type of person who would see a stranger in an airport bidding goodbye to someone, and wish to cry for them.

The years of Trump’s presidency have affirmed my view that empathy and honesty are all important. No one is perfect but we can live striving to be better. I cannot understand why anyone would support a man who said in an interview, on video, that he had never had to ask forgiveness because he hadn’t done anything wrong.

I want to be available to share my experience, but I have never walked another’s path, and I refuse to give unsolicited advice or to reproach anyone. There is only one judge. Does that make me a liberal? I hope it makes me a compassionate woman who believes in loving and accepting one another as we would want to be loved and accepted. I hope to be willing to respect those with opinions and behavior different from mine and always to be open to progressive concepts.

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