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Off to Portland, Oregon Today

category_bug_journal2.gif By the time this is automatically posted this morning, I'll already be at the airport ready to board the plane to Portland, Oregon – well, with a change in New York. There aren't many cities you can get to from Portland, Maine in one hop.

Thank you all - so many of you - for your kind words and well-wishes yesterday. From your fingertips to god's ears, as it were.

If those gods are with me, I'll find a home I want to buy this week. I've been lucky in finding good homes quickly in the past and maybe that luck and my instincts will prevail again.

I'll check in here to see how you're all doing while I'm gone and I'll post something if I can find time. If not, at minimum, there will be a link to the day's new story at The Elder Storytelling Place. I return to Maine late Friday.

“Talk” soon.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Madonna Dries Christensen: Small Town Museum Holds Family History


Finding a New Home (Again)

category_bug_journal2.gif Early tomorrow morning, I will board an airplane headed for Portland, Oregon. My goal, over the next three or four days is to find a new home.

Portland, Oregon is what most people think of as a home town; it is the place where I was born almost exactly 69 years ago although, if I had not filled out hundreds of forms in the intervening years requesting the name of my birthplace, I doubt I would attach undue importance to that fact.

Oh, there was family there, now diminished to one brother, but I was always willing to embrace any of the eight other cities I have lived in as home – until life, and I, moved on.

This latest, in Maine, has not worked out for me – one of the larger of my life's mistakes. This city (population 60,000 or so) is too small, too quiet for a woman whose spiritual sense of place will always be New York City, Greenwich Village in particular. I was priced out of it four years ago and, being nothing if not a practical sort, have found some contentment in the memories collected there over 40 years.

(Sometimes I take a mental walk about my New York neighborhood, taking pleasure in all the details of the buildings, businesses, shops and restaurants along with the historical facts I amassed during my time there.)

I don't regret my four years in Portland, Maine. It's been another kind of adventure, but it is time to make a more suitable life now and I am fortunate that even during the housing crisis, my apartment's location, condition and attractiveness made for a quick sale at a price, with careful budgeting, that allows me to make this move.

When I visited Portland, Oregon in 2007, I loved the liveliness in its downtown on a summer evening. It felt like a version of Manhattan. Walking the length of a city block or two, I passed dozens of people – something that doesn't happen walking for a mile or more here. The people and the laughter and the hubbub of conversation spilling out of restaurants and bars energized me.

In contemplating a move to Portland, Oregon over the past couple of years, I found myself drawn to the grandeur of its natural setting that I recall from childhood. The towering Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens visible from the city; the denseness of the forests; and the crashing of the Pacific Ocean surf just 90 miles away. (Maybe there is more to the idea of home as one's childhood place than I am giving credit to.)

As emotionally charged as the word “home” is with the ideas of comfort, settledness, refuge, the core of one's daily life, it is the practicalities that have consumed me as I have combed the real estate listings during recent weeks preparing for this move.

Like many elders, my circumstances - thanks to the banksters - are diminished a great deal from when I moved to Portland, Maine four years ago. There is no money this time for built-in bookshelves and new vinyl windows, should my selection need them. So I have concentrated on properties that will need little, if any, work that I can't do myself.

Portland, Oregon is primarily a city of single family homes and there are, in our distressed housing market, many attractive ones to choose from. Most, however, have humongously large yards touted in the listings as a plus. Puh-leeze. I don't intend to spend my remaining years mowing a lawn.

And, because my income is limited, any large repair job – a new roof or heating system, for example – would nearly impoverish me. So I settled on a condominium where such expenses are shared. This reduces the number of choices a great deal. Another consideration is my age and the health issues I may acquire in time, so I eliminated many two-floor apartments and those with a lot of steps to the front door.

Others had to be dropped from consideration because they are short sales – priced lower than the owner's mortgage balance. These, I am well assured, can take six or eight months to close, time I don't have and if I did, I feel uncomfortable benefiting from someone else's despair.

Further, I want to be able to walk to the store. Driving here in Portland, Maine for no more than a forgotten quart of milk or bulb of garlic irritates me every time it happens. And I must consider nearby public transportation should the day arrive when I need to turn in my car keys. Fortunately, Portland, Oregon's transportation system is, relative to its size, nearly as good as New York City's.

So, after hours that probably mount up to a couple of 24-hour days, I have whittled down my choices for this trip to 14 condominiums (condominia?). My real estate agent did drive-bys over the weekend to remove any that, as The Elder Storytelling Place contributor, Nancy Leitz put it to me in an email, are next door to Joe's Python Farm.

It is odd, today, as I look at the printouts of those 14 properties, to know that one will probably become my new home. None of them feels like a place of comfort and refuge right now but I have no doubt, as I always have in the past, that I will make it so.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson: Survivor Island


ELDER MUSIC: Beethoven

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic I heard a radio program a few years ago that asked the question, ”Which was the more important event in 1770 - the birth of Beethoven or James Cook’s discovery of the east coast of Australia?” The latter event led to English settlement here not long after. There were various views put on both sides and I can’t remember how it was resolved, if at all.

Most of you who are reading this would go “easy peasy,” but there are a couple of readers for whom it’s not so cut and dried. I’d go for Beethoven (even though I may not be here if that were the case). After all, there wouldn’t be all his great music if he hadn’t been born, whereas someone would have stumbled over the east coast eventually.

Indeed, there were French explorers sailing around about the time the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Cove bringing their cargo of ne’er do wells.

Oz

I’m rather glad both events happened. So, as this is a music blog, Beethoven is the choice today rather than convicts and warders.

Beethoven0C I’m not featuring Beethoven’s music that can be heard every day in all major (and minor) cities in the world. So there’ll be no symphonies, no piano sonatas or concertos, no string quartets, not even the lovely violin concerto. These will be pieces that aren’t often played in concert halls or on the radio.

BeethovenB In spite of what I just said, the first offering started out as the final movement for the Piano Concerto No. 2. Ludwig decided to give it the flick but it eventually surfaced as the Rondo for piano and orchestra in B flat major.

♫ Rondo for piano and orchestra

Beethoven

Not content with the string quartet format, old Ludwig decided to add a few more instruments. Perhaps he had a few extra friends around that day.

This is the fifth movement from his Septet in E flat Maj, Op 20 for clarinet, bassoon, French horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass. I’d like to play it all but it’s far too long, even longer than its name.

♫ Septet Op 20 (V)

Beethoven

The words mandolin and Beethoven don’t often appear in the same sentence; however, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. He wrote several pieces for mandolin but these don’t often turn up on the concert repertoire. There are also rather few classical mandolin players, most seem to gravitate to bluegrass as I imagine the work would be a bit more regular there. There are some around though and we’re going to hear one today - The Sonatina in C Maj for mandolin and piano.

♫ Sonatina for mandolin and piano

Beethoven

Another thing that doesn’t immediately spring to mind whenever Beethoven is mentioned is Irish folk songs, but write them he did. Also Welsh folks songs, Scottish songs and - well, just generic folks songs too. Any sort of songs, he didn’t care.

Here is Kerstin Wagner singing From Garyone, My Happy Home.

♫ From Garyone, My Happy Home

Beethoven

I thought cantatas met their match with Bach but no, Ludwig wrote a couple as well. Neither of these was published or performed during his lifetime. The first cantata, On the Death of Emperor Joseph II, was written when Beethoven was nineteen, and the other not too long after.

There was an attempt by the Bonn Court Orchestra to mount a performance of that first cantata but they all threw up their hands and said, “Too hard.” I’ll go with the second one. Here is the soprano aria from the Cantata on the Accession of Emperor Leopold II. The soprano in this case is Cameron Fiona.

♫ Cantata on the Accession of Emperor Leopold II

Beethoven

When you think of Beethoven, you don’t think of brevity. Here’s another surprise. One of the CDs I have has seventy-two of his works on it. 72! I don’t have any other CDs with anywhere near that many. I’d be pushing to come up with any with half that number. So, I’ll pick something from this just for the hell of it. This is called a Musical Joke. I’m afraid the joke is rather lost on me as I did French at school, not German.

♫ Musical Joke 3

Nice and short, why not another one. This is also a Musical Joke.

♫ Musical Joke 7

I must admit I didn’t see the joke there either, just a bit of piano playing. Of course, things may have changed since Ludwig’s days. I bet they were all falling around laughing their heads off at those last two. I hope you were.

Beethoven


GRAY MATTERS: Health Care Reform

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


Amid all the well-deserved celebrations and self-congratulations on the passage of the health insurance reform bill, I thought I heard a dog bark. I was wrong. From the very beginnings of the late great debate, this dog didn’t bark.

I speak of the one most popular alternatives to provide guaranteed comprehensive and universal health care coverage – not just private insurance - for all of us; Medicare for All was not even considered.

As a state legislator, senator and candidate, that was Barack Obama’s choice. But despite what he now says, he does not tell the truth when he says every idea was truly considered. In fact, he refused to allow others to consider any proposal for single-payer health coverage.

As a result, Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and most health research groups, and the mainstream press boycotted and wouldn’t permit discussions of the simplest, most straight forward possibility for health care reform, Medicare for All. It was shut out of White House meetings. Not even Kaiser or the Commonwealth Fund or AARP responded to my repeated appeals to at least give an airing to the single-payer alternative. Eventually, the process passed it by.

So it was ironic that John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat and the longest-serving member of the House was given the honor of calling for the decisive vote on the reform bill. But the universal health care legislation he and his late New Dealer father championed for years was ignored. Nevertheless, Dingell gallantly praised the passage of the Obama bill and was at the signing.

But the second longest-serving member of Congress, John Conyers, Jr., also from Michigan, was nowhere to be seen in the celebrations. His bill, HR 676, the U.S. National Health Care Act, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All, just 30 pages long, had nearly 100 congressional sponsors, including several blue-dog Democrats who voted against the Obama bill, plus more unions, doctors, nurses, advocacy groups and consumers than the White House was able to enlist for its proposal.

But Conyers was gracious, praising passage of “the first comprehensive set of reforms to our ailing health care system.” He noted that he “would have preferred a different approach,” but he didn’t repeat an earlier observation, that after a year of debate and compromises and deals with insurance companies and drug makers, the Obama bill passed the House by only three votes more than needed.

Conyers reiterated his support for a public health option which Obama gave away, “because I fundamentally believe in the value of public health insurance and remain an ardent supporter of universal single-payer health care,” like Medicare. And he called for a new campaign to achieve it.

Obama has said he would have favored Medicare For All “if we were starting from scratch.” So let’s review what might have been and may yet be.

The Conyers legislation would have established a “publicly financed, privately delivered health care system that uses the already existing Medicare program...”

It would cover, at no charge, all medically necessary services, dentistry, long term care with patients having the right to choose their providers. And because the free care would be paid for by taxes and premiums, private health insurers would be unnecessary and would be prohibited from selling coverage that duplicates the benefits.

And unlike the plan that has passed, HR 676 would eliminate the need for dozens of fragmented, wasteful programs by including the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, and other government funded programs with the exception of the VA health program, which may eventually become part of the system. And it sets a goal of converting to a non-profit system in 15 years. Read for yourself here.

One problem with the bill that has passed is that it leaves in place all the federal, state and private insurance bureaucracies for the dozens of competing and duplicative agencies with their complex rules that differ from state to state. Premiums for Medicare Advantage and the Part D drug benefit, for example, may differ from one county to another. While subsidies for Medicare Advantage insurers are to be eliminated over time, the current system is to remain in place, although these plans will be required to spend at least 85 percent of their revenues on the care of patients.

Indeed, to give the Obama bill its due, while it is not a health care plan, it is a health insurance reform which can be strong measure to regulate and restrict the behavior of health insurance providers.

Insurance companies will be barred from dropping people from coverage when they get sick. They will be barred from excluding children for pre-existing conditions; later that will apply to adults as well. They must provide immediate access to insurance for Americans who are uninsured because of a pre-existing condition. Children will be able to remain on their parents’ health plan until age 26.

In addition, insurers cannot impose lifetime or yearly caps on benefits, and new plans are required to cover preventive services such as mammograms, colonoscopies and immunizations without cost-sharing. That’s to become a standard Medicare benefit for all beneficiaries, who have been required to pay for co-insurance.

As expected, the 40,000-member Physicians for a National Health Program, which supports HR 676, worried that the bill that has passed will take too long to implement, that it will further enrich the for-profit insurance industry by $447 billion, that costs will go higher and that the new regulations are riddled with loopholes.

All we can do is see how it works. Here is the best and clearest graphic to explain the bill. (pdf)

If things don’t really change for the better and Democrats remain in the majority in Congress, maybe we can come closer to the Conyers bill, and hear the dog bark.

Questions? Write saulfriedman@comcast.net


Childhood Games and Mort Reichek

In a recent email, Australian Peter Tibbles, who writes the Sunday Elder Music column on this blog, recounted some of the games he played as a kid, noting not only the universality of them, but the differences from country to country and even city to city within countries. I suspect there were differences from neighborhood to neighborhood too.

Peter mentioned Kick the Can and Hide and Seek. The name of the latter, in Australia, was shortened to Hidey and It was He down under, although it sounds odd to me think of a kid yelling, “You're He.” “Also universal,” wrote Peter, “was the way the kid sped up the count towards the end.”

“Then there was Hopscotch (that’s Hoppy to us – nothing to do with the cowboy),” Peter continued. “Marbles of course (for some reason called allies – pronounced as the plural of alley)...We didn’t 'skip rope,' we played skippy.”

We played all these games in Portland, Oregon, where I grew up, with the American names Peter references and I'd forgotten we always sped up the Hide and Seek count toward the end just as Peter and his friends did. Marbles was just Marbles in my neck of the woods, but a particular kind of marble was called an alley.

More boys played Marbles and Kick the Can than girls, and few boys joined the games Mother May I, Simon Says and Hopscotch which they considered too “girlie.”

Most fascinating to me in Peter's note was description of the Australian version of Jacks which they called Knuckle Bones:

”This is because where I was in the country, it was always played with the knuckle bones of sheep. Later they had plastic versions. Not for us the wimpy American version with a rubber ball. We threw one of the bones in the air, did whatever and had to catch the bone before it hit the ground.”

Wow. I'm pretty sure we would have proved Peter's “wimpy” point by finding real bones too creepy to touch.

In his email, Peter made the distinction between these “kids' own games” and “big games” like tennis, baseball, football and cricket, but Mort Reichek, who blogs at Octogenarian, contributed a wonderful post to The Elder Storytelling Place early last year about New York City street games he played in the 1930s and '40s.

Stickball was his version of baseball, played with a broom handle and Spaldeen, sewer grates marked off as the bases.

Mort and his friends also played street versions of football and basketball altering the rules considerably to suit the confines of his block near the Grand Concourse in The Bronx. I consider these a sort of hybrid of Peter's “kids' own games” and “big games.” You can read Mort's story here.

While I am writing about Mort, I want to bring you up to date. Last October he suffered a terrible auto accident involving “instantaneous acceleration” in his driveway in New Jersey resulting in at least two back surgeries and many months of rehab which is now continuing in Florida. In a recent email, Mort told me,

“I am indeed now in a Florida rehab/long-term care facility. Quite a difference from what we used to call 'old folks homes'...I am making progress on the walking front. Unfortunately, little on my other problems. I am still on a feeding tube and and still plagued by bladder and bowel issues.

“During operations to rebuild my spine, a small bone spur was evidently pushed into my throat. It blocks passage of food and water and thus the feeding tube.”

Like many of you, I miss Mort's excellent blog and his contributions to The Elder Storytelling Place, and wish him as swift a recovery as possible. Mort has occasional access to a computer at the rehab and checks his email when he can. You can write to him at iankev@gmail.com.

And when you've done that, how did your childhood games compare with those mentioned today?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: The Mother's Day Present


GAY AND GRAY: A Tangled Web of Gender

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif I enjoy being around mature transgendered people. When someone has fought their way through identity confusions, their own and other people's ignorance about and consternation in the face of gender elasticity, and the sometimes hostile or silly reactions they receive from others, the adult individual has usually acquired a rare self-understanding that is pleasant to encounter.

This isn't about chronological age, though arrival at this happy state of self-knowledge and acceptance sometimes accompanies getting older.

In light of this, I found it interesting to read, "Is Your 'T' Written in Disappearing Ink? A Checklist for Transgender Inclusion" distributed by the Transgender Aging Network (TAN).

This is a self-evaluation form for agencies that aim to serve L[esbian] G[ay] [Bi-] T[rans] people. Too often, this sort of resource bombards "helping professionals" with what come off as demands for a mechanical correctness. This particular specimen of the genre seeks earnestly to explain. For example, do you really mean to be available to the needs of the trans community?

If you only discuss "sexual orientation," you send a message to transgender persons and their partners that they are only welcome if they are perceived as lesbian or gay male, that you only serve transgender persons on issues related to their perceived sexual orientation, and/or that your program does not address the unique prejudices and issues faced by trans/SOFFA [Significant Others, Friends, Families and Allies] of elders.

If it is, in fact, the case that your program, publication, or policy is designed only for lesbian-identified or gay male-identified transgender persons, perhaps you should consider dropping the "T" from your materials and instead explicitly state that you welcome transgender persons who are lesbian- (and/or gay- ) identified. That way confusion is lessened and people are better enabled to find services and supports that fit their needs.

Or are you ready to deal with the complexities that arise among transgender persons and their families?

In contrast to lesbian and gay male couples, many transgender persons are coupled with someone who may not feel she or he is included under the LGBT umbrella. Such partners may be women who identify as heterosexual but who are partnered with an MTF [Male to Females], men who identify as heterosexual but who are partnered with an FTM [Female to Male], lesbians and gay men whose partner has transitioned (resulting in a couple that now looks like it's an "opposite"-sex couple), and others.

If your program strives to support, accommodate or address the needs of LGB couples and families, it needs to carefully and explicitly address how partners and families of transgender persons who are (or are perceived to be) heterosexual will be welcomed.

The life stages of trans elders can be a little different that those of lesbians, gays and bi-sexual folks. The handout continues:

It appears that a much higher proportion of transgender persons (particularly MTFs) than lesbians and gay men "come out" in later life. That means that older transgender persons may not only be dealing with all of the issues older lesbians and gay men deal with, but also with coming out at work, to the kids and grandkids, to the neighbors, to service providers, etc. If your program offers coming-out supports, make sure it has transgender- and SOFFA-specific materials on coming out, as some of the issues are different and some transgender persons and SOFFAs may not feel that LG-oriented materials adequately reflect their issues and needs.

Particularly look at whether you can support the partners of newly-out transgender persons. These couples, some of who have been together 30 or 40 years or more, may have no idea that other long-term marriages and partnerships have survived one partner's gender transition. Even if they do realize staying together is theoretically possible, they may be unable to conceive of how they, personally, will cope with the myriad social, professional, and internal changes involved.

There are a myriad of issues in people's lives that we don't automatically take into account unless they are our own issues.

None of this stuff is easy for any of us. We really want the genders to be clear cut, binary and obvious. Have you ever walked across a street, seen someone coming the other way whose gender you couldn't immediately place? Did you feel a little unease until you felt able to mentally assign a gender to the the person? I've had that experience as recently as yesterday.

I think we do this far more of than we are quite aware of, especially in big cities. Those of us who seldom or never have the experience of being the cause of others' gender unease do need to be aware that whatever momentary distress we feel is something the other people have to learn to live with. That's all just part of being human.

If interested further in this topic, here are links to a couple of recent posts I've done about trans people in my life: A Trans-Gender Eucharist and Switch: A Community in Transition.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ernest Leichter: My Love Affaie with European Trains


What's in Health Care Reform for Elders

category_bug_journal2.gif Throughout the protracted debate for health care reform, my concern was mainly for midlife people – those not yet old enough for Medicare.

As I often said, Medicare for All would have been the better and easier way to go (or, at least, a public option in the bill) but here we are with a beginning and importantly, the principle, now set in legislative stone, that every American has a right to affordable health coverage.

That, in time, will become as accepted as women's suffrage and civil rights are now and, perhaps, will shift to the more enlightened view in other advanced countries that health care is the right of every citizen.

Although I'm disappointed overall (or maybe just exhausted from the year-long fracas), there are good things in the bill (that carries the ungainly name, “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”) – and some, to which I had not paid close attention in the final draft, are for us old folks.

Medicare physician payments can now be increased through rewards for improved quality of care.

A nationwide database will be created that, with background checks, will help prevent repeat predators from being hired in nursing homes.

Better consumer information on quality of care and enforcement of standards will make it easier to choose good nursing homes.

You can read more about these and others changes here (pdf) and here.

Many subscribers are concerned about potential cuts to their Medicare Advantage plans or increased premiums or cuts in benefits such as free gym memberships. On the other hand, the bill requires that 85 percent of revenue be used for actual health care rather than administrative costs like high executive salaries and bonuses.

Also, I would like to remind Advantage subscribers that your low premiums or, in some cases, free coverage, come out of the hides of those who purchase traditional Medicare. Our premiums are higher than they would otherwise need to be to help subsidize Medicare Advantage.

Personally, I don't think my total cost for traditional Medicare B, D and supplemental of $271.90 per month is unreasonable (given the U.S. system) for the care I receive. (I'm sure the Medicare Advantage changes will be argued vehemently.)

There are two immediate benefits for all Medicare members: one - a free annual physical is now included, something that makes both health and fiscal sense, along with free preventive services, such as screenings for colon, prostate and breast cancer.

The other is a gradual closing of the infamous doughnut hole in the drug benefit, Medicare Part D, important to many elders whose prescription drug costs stretch or are beyond their means.

Here is a short video from Senate Leader Harry Reid's office explaining the Part D change:


DENTURE ADVENTURE UPDATE: For those of you who have asked, the fatigue from my teeth extractions has finally lifted. Healing is going well and I'm making daily visits to the dentist this week for fit tweaks and adjustments.

I've been off pain pills since Monday and although I'm not ready to chew anything challenging, I had dinner at a restaurant two evenings ago with no mishaps. Mussels and scallops were easy to chew; salad greens not so much. That, I assume, will come in time.

Like the old saying goes, “If I'd known I would live this long, I'd have taken better care of my teeth,” but they have plagued me since childhood, so maybe it wasn't up to me and, anyway, it's too late now. Given the alternative of toothlessness, the denture isn't so bad and as I gradually become accustomed to it, it doesn't feel quite as much like a boulder in my mouth.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran: Rose


REFLECTIONS: Philandering

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the twice-monthly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. His other column, Gray Matters, formerly published in Newsday, appears each Saturday.


Category_bug_reflections Only a few of you may know the names Kay Summersby or Lucy Mercer. But I’ll bet most of you will recognize Gennifer Flowers or Monica Lewinsky.

These pairs of women are generations apart, but they speak to critical differences in those generations. Once we were a nation of understanding, and discreet, adults. Now we are a hypocritical society of YouTube voyeurs.

Once, we brought presidents to the brink of impeachment for matters of political principle, true high crimes and misdemeanors. Today’s members of the Congress – filled with miscreants, adulterers and worse, we now know – decided that someone else’s philandering was among the crimes worthy of impeachment.

Let me hasten to say that I am not excusing philandering or adultery by either sex, but recognizing that both are facts of human life. Indeed, the greatest heroes of our Bibles, the people who wrote the seventh commandment, engaged in adultery. A recent best-selling novel questions Christ’s celibacy.

As Christopher Hitchens writes in an essay on the commandments in the April Vanity Fair, despite the biblical admonitions, adultery was and “continues to be a great source of misery and joy and fascination...It (adultery) perhaps does not deserve to be classed with murder, theft or perjury.”

If that were the case (as charged against Bill Clinton) the men who took essentially the same oath as Clinton (to uphold the laws) would be or should be standing trial –Governor Mark Sanford, Senator John Ensign, Eliot Spitzer, Rudolph Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Mark Foley, Larry Craig, John Edwards. All of them betrayed the public trust if not their oaths.

But here is an essential difference among most of them; their lovers, with few exceptions, couldn’t keep their liaisons to themselves. They did more than kiss-and-tell. They went to publicists knowing full well their stories might ruin the man with whom they had had sex.

Lewinsky, the most tawdry of them all, saved a semen stained dress as proof of her encounter with Clinton so she could cash in on the publicity. The wonder is that Clinton had the poor taste to choose someone like her who, in more ways than one, couldn’t keep her mouth shut. Maybe his poor judgment should have been the impeach able offense.

Similarly, Ensign is charged with having tried to pay off the husband of the woman with whom he, Ensign, was having an affair. The husband, a member of the senator’s staff, threatened to (and finally did) go to the press.

Spitzer’s lady, a call girl known as Kristen now running for office, was really Ashley Dupre, who bared herself and humiliated Spitzer via MySpace after Spitzer resigned.

And although Edwards was out of office, consider the conduct of his liaison, Rielle Hunter, posing for sexually provocative photos with the child Edwards now acknowledges. Questions: What sort of mother is she? What sort of judgment did Edward demonstrate in choosing this person?

Consider the case of the aforementioned Kay Summersby, the Irish daughter of a of a retired British army officer who was in her thirties when she joined the British Mechanised Transport Corp and drove an ambulance during the blitz. In 1942, she was assigned to drive Major General Dwight Eisenhower, who eventually got five stars and became the European Commander.

With Eisenhower’s help, Summersby became an American citizen and a driver in the Women’s Army Corps. Although the men close to Eisenhower must have known something, not until years later – in her second memoir in 1975 after Ike’s death – did Summersby confirm that she did have an affair with her boss during the years 1942-1945. Summersby had been married and divorced when she met Eisenhower and in 1952, when Ike ran for the presidency, she remarried her ex-husband, a stockbroker and lived quietly on Long Island until she died of cancer in 1975, the year her tell-all memoir was published.

Sure, Eisenhower was not yet president when they their affair. But had Summersby flaunted their relationship, he could have been embarrassed, even relieved of command, which would have been disastrous for the European war effort. President Truman, who learned of their affair, did intervene to save Eisenhower’s marriage. Reporters, if they knew of the relationship, like Summersby, did what was expected in those days - they said nothing.

Similarly, Lucy Page Mercer, from prominent Maryland and Virginia families, was hired by Eleanor Roosevelt as her personal secretary in 1913. In 1918, Eleanor discovered through love letters her husband’s affair with Mercer. And although Eleanor gave her husband an ultimatum never to see her again, Lucy Mercer was with FDR when he collapsed and died in Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12, 1945.

But it was not until 1966, in a memoir written by a Roosevelt aide, that the romance confirmed. Lucy Mercer Rutherford, who was married to a New York socialite when she spent time with Roosevelt, never spoke of their relationship. She died of leukemia in 1948.

Since Thomas Jefferson’s liaisons with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings (which some historians deny), presidents or would-be presidents have had affairs. A woman named Nan Britton claimed to have been one of Warren Harding’s mistresses, but she waited until four years after his death. John F. Kennedy is strongly alleged to have had a record number of mistresses for his time in office, including Marilyn Monroe.

There is a story, which I know to be true, that Lyndon Johnson came to the bed of a guest at his ranch one night and told her, “This is Your president.” She resisted his advances. And the sainted Ronald Reagan was having an affair with Nancy Davis when he was married to Jane Wyman.

Who is to be condemned for these relationships? Brilliant, complex political leaders like Roosevelt have what I call self-winding egos that need reassurance wherever they can get it - especially if, like Roosevelt, they bear almost superhuman burdens. Ike, I think, needed Summersby to get through a time when he was responsible for so many lives and nothing less than the destiny of Europe.

The women they chose were not FaceBook bimbos and I would suggest they were more liberated in their time than those who seek their 15 minutes of shame.

One more provocative thought. I think I’d prefer a president who is sexually satisfied. But I would hope he or she would pick a partner worthy of the office.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: What I Know About Joy


Short Take on the Health Bill Vote

category_bug_politics.gif So they finally passed the health care bill in the House yesterday. The few press stories I've had time to read this morning hail it as “historic” and I suppose, given the decades of failure, it is. But it is so far from what it should be and what it might have been that I don't feel much joy.

Not a single Republican in either house of Congress voted for this bill which means, one must assume, they, as a party and individually, do not believe everyone has a right to health care or that the insurance industry does have a right to mega-profits at sick people's expense or both.

Like many TGB readers, I have written and emailed and telephoned over the past year more times than I can count. I don't believe our efforts had much to do with the outcome. If they had, some Republicans would have voted aye.

The best there is to say is that it's a start. Oh, and I sure did learn a lot about how Congress works or, rather, doesn't. What's your take?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Magpies


ELDER MUSIC: Songs About Films

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic I was watching Key Largo recently and thought, “There was a song about this film.” I wondered if there were more films that had songs written about them. So that set my wombat brain going (that’s the Australian equivalent of a little bear brain) to see what I could come up with.

To make it more of a challenge, I excluded film scores and songs that have appeared in films. I had to compromise a little. If I stuck strictly to “songs about films” I think I could manage two so there was a little stretching of the criterion for selection.

The first film to consider is Touch of Evil. This was made by Orson Welles. I saw it recently and realised that it’s a very ordinary film. I know that film buffs love it but it left me cold. I am saddened by that as it was made less than a decade after Orson appeared in the best film ever, The Third Man. And it wasn’t too long before that film that he made Citizen Kane.

Anyway, it produced a really good song called Touch of Evil by Tom Russell from his fine album, “Borderland.”

RussellEvil

The gentleman on the right with the moustache is Charlton Heston.

Tom is not only a fine singer and excellent songwriter, he also writes a terrific blog. When I read his pieces I think I should give this away. Fortunately, he doesn’t write very often so I get over it. Perhaps I shouldn’t say that as you’ll all be heading over there instead.

Here’s Tom with the song.

♫ Tom Russell - Touch of Evil

I don’t know if Gene Pitney’s version of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was meant to be the theme for that film or not, but it certainly sounds like it should have been. It really conforms to movie themes, mainly westerns, from the fifties and sixties. That is, it gives away the plot.

There are films where you can go along just for the opening credits (and theme) and then leave as you know all about it (I’m thinking of you, High Noon, amongst others). This isn’t the case here as it wasn’t used in the film (but that’s the basis of this blog post, after all).

PitneyLiberty

This was one of John Wayne’s best efforts (not forgetting James Stewart and Lee Marvin, marvelously nasty as Liberty).

♫ Gene Pitney - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Rio Bravo comes close to being my favorite western, yet another with John Wayne. Well, he was good at those. Not much chop in anything else though.

In this case, we have a singer who actually appeared in the film – Ricky Nelson. The song he sings didn’t. It’s called Restless Kid and was written by Johnny Cash. This is quite obvious when you listen to it; you can imagine Johnny singing it. This song is sung from the point of view of Colorado, the character Ricky played.

RickyRioBravo

Also in this one were Dean Martin (playing a drunk, hmmm), Walter Brennan, Angie Dickinson, Ward Bond, John Russell – fine cast.

♫ Ricky Nelson - Restless Kid

I think Bonnie and Clyde was the first of the run of great films made in the seventies. I know, it came out in the mid-sixties, but it looks as if it fits with those from ten years later. This was the first time that Faye Dunaway had impinged on my consciousness. I had seen Warren Beatty before but this one showed that he was more than just a pretty face. It may also have been the first time I noticed Gene Hackman.

Georgie Fame had a hit around that time with The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde. I don’t know if this was about the real Bonnie and Clyde or the film, but I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt so I can include it.

GeorgieBonnieClyde

Georgie went on to become a really fine singer and keyboard player in jazz and R&B. He’s still playing well, better than ever, really. He occasionally appears with Van Morrison. There are few better doubles than that.

♫ Georgie Fame - The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde

The Bruce Springsteen song Nebraska is not, strictly speaking, about the film Badlands. It’s actually sung from the point of view of the Martin Sheen character from that film.

BruceBadlands

I won’t say much about Badlands because I’ve pretty much forgotten it. I saw it when it was released and haven’t seen it since. I suppose I could hire the DVD and check it out but I’m not all that interested. I’ll just go with Bruce singing the song. More to my liking.

♫ Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska

Returning to the one that started my train of thought, Key Largo. Entertaining flick with Bogey and Bacall. Also Lionel Barrymore and Eddie Robinson (playing yet another mobster). The song was also called Key Largo and it was recorded by Bertie Higgins.

BertieKeyLargo

I knew I had the tune in my collection somewhere but I hadn’t thought about it for years, let alone played it. I eventually found it. I must admit I know little about Bertie - his name was about it - and he was yet another of the one-hit wonders from the eighties (sorry Bertie). That being said, I rather like it. It’s also one of those songs that sticks in the brain. You have been warned.

♫ Bertie Higgins - Key Largo


GRAY MATTERS: Estate Planning

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


[NOTE: This cancer they say I have is isolated in my stomach, has not spread and is slow growing. I begin taking pills (xoloda) for chemotherapy in a week or so. Otherwise I feel OK.]

The dozens of books on aging that come to me from publishers and authors are mostly useless. One reason: There is no such thing as an instruction book on aging, although Aging for Dummies, would be appropriate since most of us take it and learn one day at a time.

My complaint is that most of the advice is rather obvious, as in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Secrets of Longevity. “How do you live, sleep, eat and play to live a long, healthy life? Adopting a longevity lifestyle. Quitting smoking is the single most important lifestyle measure you can do to increase your overall longevity.” Really?

I don’t mean to poke fun, but for those of us who have achieved a certain age, we don’t need to be told what we already know. Aging is not necessarily “golden,” as one book has it. (My late sister-in-law had a throw-pillow which said, “Screw the Golden Years.”)

This column was designed as a survival guide, for as most of us have learned, our older years, rather than becoming simpler, have become more complicated – from learning to negotiate the thickets of Medicare to conserving and protecting your home and savings, your estate.

Thus I am partial to books like Estate Planning Smarts ($19.95) by Deborah Jacobs, a lawyer and financial journalist, because it takes on a subject that we need to know about, and that provides solid, useful information. As I told her, this book is a keeper for those of us who need help riding the unpredictable currents of the economy and surviving with our estates intact.

The notion of an “estate” may seem overblown for many of us. But if you have some savings, a house, a pension, some bonds, insurance policies, a car and maybe an IRA, you have an estate to protect and care for. Estates are not just for the rich. As Jacobs writes,

“Estate planning is, above all, a way to take care of yourself and the people you love. It can minimize the hardships of your old age and ensure that less of what you leave behind goes to taxes...”

And keeping up with contemporary issues can help you make intelligent and money-saving decisions.

For example, financial advisers these days, leaping on the latest commission-making fad, are trying to sell clients on converting their traditional IRAs to the more recently created Roth IRAs. For the first time this year, there are no restrictions on one’s income in order to be eligible for a Roth.

The big advantage over a traditional IRA: There are no requirements that the owner must take required minimum distributions after age 70-1/2, which means the assets can grow tax free as long as the markets are kind. And after five years you may withdraw some of the converted funds, tax free. Non-converted funds are taxable.

It sounds great, but Jacobs, who has devoted a chapter to the Roth says, “they are a wonderful tool for some people but not right for everyone.”

The biggest problem, which your financial adviser may minimize, is the cost of conversion, for if you’re rolling over $100,000 from a traditional IRA to a Roth, that $100,000 is deemed income on which you must pay income tax.

If you convert, this year only, says Jacobs, you can delay the tax payment until next year and take two years to pay. But raising your income by, say, $100,000 may have complicating consequences for means-tested Medicare premiums and other benefits pegged to income.

In a neatly summed up table on page 106, Jacobs’ bottom line: If you can’t afford to pay taxes on the amount converted and you won’t recoup that money anytime soon, don’t do a Roth. If you don’t or won’t need the money in the IRA for household expenses (or emergencies) and you want to leave as much as possible to heirs, a Roth can build your estate, tax free, which is as close you can legally get to money growing on trees.

On a more mundane level, many readers have puzzled over whether a simple will is enough to leave behind. That depends on the will, the size and value of the estate and the probate laws and issues in your state.

Wills are subject to probate, a court-ordered process, which seeks to determine whether the estate has left debts to be settled and whether there are contesting heirs. Probate can take time and it could be expensive, so except for the most modest estates, probate should be avoided.

Enter the living trust.

Simply stated in an AARP paper, “...just like a will, a revocable living trust is a written document that lets you direct how your property will pass after your death.” But “unlike a will, it also directs how you want your property managed during disability.” When creating a living trust, the creator may name himself or herself as trustee, with a loved one as co-trustee. That means you maintain control over the property during your lifetime.

The trust does not take effect until the creator transfers ownership of the property, such as the home, to the trust. That’s called “funding the trust.” For example, you transfer ownership of the home to the trust and you become the owner-trustee. IRAs need not be transferred because the beneficiaries are designated.

A living trust may not be necessary if the estate is small and probate is not problem, but it’s a handy device for avoiding probate in many states and allowing the co-trustee to manage the estate and divide the assets among heirs.

As Jacobs points out, while a will is a public document, a trust is private. One caveat: A living trust won’t help you escape estate taxes. But it can help save on those taxes on properties that appreciate in value after they’ve been put into the trust. And because you, the living person, has control of the trust, a spendthrift nephew can be prevented from stealing from it.

Trusts may also be used to transfer funds from older persons as part of what has become known as “Medicaid planning,” divesting one’s self of assets to qualify for Medicaid, which will pay for long term nursing care for persons with few assets. But be careful, Congress during the last eight years has imposed restrictions on such transfers and Medicaid funds are being slashed in every state.

Here, in sum, is Jacobs list of documents you ought to have:

  • Will

  • Living revocable trust

  • Durable power of attorney given to a trusted family member, friend or adviser

  • Health care proxy (some states won’t recognize the right of a spouse or child to make decisions)

  • Explicitly written living will or advance directive

For more information, visit Deborah Jacobs' Estate Planning Smarts website.

Questions? Write saulfriedman@comcast.net


Not the Kid I Used to Be

category_bug_journal2.gif One of the things I've noticed about getting older is that when illness strikes, it takes so damned long to get well. Colds are particularly irritating. When I was a kid, my mother handed me a couple of packs of tissues, sent me on my way and aside from a runny nose, I hardly noticed it.

For the past decade, probably longer, colds lay me as low as a flu. In fact, I can hardly tell the difference between them. Fortunately, I rarely get a cold.

And so it is with this denture adventure.

There is almost no pain; Tylenol easily handles it. My dentist, in a followup visit yesterday, 24 hours after the extractions, said I'm healing well and gave me a prescription mouth rinse to prevent infection and further speed recovery.

All good news, except that the 20 minute drive to his office, the 15-minute examination and 20 minute drive home with a quick stop at the market exhausted me. I spent most of yesterday napping again.

Now, as I sit here at the keyboard in the in the wee hours before dawn on the third day after the surgery, I'm thinking I need to lie down already. It's even an effort to the feed the cat who, given his yowling, has no sympathy for my condition.

I've had teeth pulled before. It's not pleasant; I recall a couple of days of pain, but not this overwhelming fatigue. It's a good lesson in old age planning: our decades of experience, in this instance, lead to expectations that don't apply anymore. We are not the kids we used to be.

So it was overly ambitious (hubris?) to think I would make the eight or 10 phone calls on my list today to begin lining up the ducks for my move to Oregon. Next time I'll prepare better by lowering my expectations.

I'm going back to bed now.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Olga Hebert: Cooking with Gas


Something Special on End of Life Care

[PERSONAL UPDATE: How nice to receive so many words of encouragement from you on yesterday's post about my - uh, dental challenge. Thank you all for your kind notes.

The needle pricks (more than a dozen) of novocaine were the hardest part. (Forget waterboarding; if Dick Cheney wants to know anything from me, just keep sticking needles in the roof of my mouth and I'll tell him anything.) After that, the teeth pulling was easy. The denture feels like a boulder in my mouth, but I assume I'll get used it.

The oddest thing is how tired I was even before the procedure was finished; as exhausted as if I hadn't slept for two or three days. Back home by 10AM, I spent all of yesterday in bed, waking every few hours for pain pills. Tylenol handled it fine and I was soon asleep again.

This morning, I'll visit the dentist again to see how I'm doing and then, I think I'll spend some time with the mirror smiling at myself. It's been a long time since I've allowed myself to smile much. It's terrific to have attractive teeth again.

Anticipating that I wouldn't feel much like writing after the dentist yesterday (good call, Ronni!), I prepared the post below a couple of days ago. It's a lovely, little film.

Again, thank you so much for your encouragement and care. I appreciate all of you so much.]


Most of us are all too familiar – through stories from others or the personal experience of family members - with end-of-life horror stories. Too often, dying elders are plugged into machinery, kept alive long past their use-by date because, lacking instructions from the patient, doctors and hospitals are obliged to do any- and everything to maintain life, even if it is in name only.

If you have not made a living will or other kind of advance health care directive and appointed a health care advocate through a durable power of attorney, you should. We'll discuss details of that soon, but today, there is La Dama y La Muerte or in English, The Lady and the Reaper.

This short film, from Spanish director Javier Recio Gracia was among the 2010 nominees at the recent Academy Awards in the category of Best Animated Short Film. It is beautiful (maybe a little unfair to doctors) and funny – a joy to behold.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: The Little Brown Wooden Box


On the Move

category_bug_journal2.gif This is the dread extraction day on my journey to a denture. It's an early appointment – 8AM – so by the time most of you read this, it will be over and, I assume, I'll be napping.

One of the things we tend to forget about surgical procedures is that the body can't tell the difference between a tidy incision (or teeth pulling) by a professional and a messy stabbing by a mugger. It's all the same to a body which goes into defense mode to heal the rift. That takes a lot of internal energy so rest is in order to give the body all possible resources to do its magical work.

I intend to take as much rest as necessary, but not too much because (drum roll)

Take a gander at the Condo For Sale badge in the right sidebar. That's right. My apartment sold yesterday and there is a signed contract.

Woo hoo! Five showings in two weeks on the market and it's done. Well, there are the inspections and such, but I know the place is in excellent shape so I don't expect any surprises. The closing is set for 17 May and I'll be in Oregon for summer.

It has taken me by surprise. I'd been half-assed thinking that maybe I'd clear out some closets in the next few weeks, but I didn't feel any urgency about it. Now I need to get organized, make lists, sort the house, start packing not to mention, find a place to live on that other coast.

I'm pretty sure the sale will take the edge off recuperating from dental surgery but for the short term - today - it feels like a lot going on all at once.

A denture is a big-deal milestone in getting old, one that younger people, due to advances in dental care and techniques, will endure in fewer numbers than our generation. How will it feel? What adjustments will there be in eating and speaking? How long will it take to become accustomed to it?

For the longer term, I think moving 3,000 miles wins the lifetime milestones category. I had no expectation, in the current housing market, that my apartment would sell so quickly at such a good price. If that had not happened, Denture Day would have greater impact for me; now, the extractions feel more like an annoyance, a delay in moving forward with the main event. Nevertheless, what a way to celebrate the sale.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Walt Grant: Consorting with the Enemy


Is It Wisdom or Neurobiology?

category_bug_journal2.gif Contrary to what I wrote last week about the pain of letting go of many books, I'm not as disturbed these few days later as on Thursday when I sent them on to new lives. Undoubtedly, part of this acceptance is the money I will save on shipping costs when I move, but there is more to it.

Relatedly, I have noticed for several years, maybe a decade, that there are fewer must-haves in my life. There was a time – a long time – when no matter the condition of my bank account, it was impossible for me to resist $250-$300 Bally shoes when I passed the shop on Madison Avenue in New York twice a month or so.

Come spring and fall, I spent lavishly on new work clothes – suits, silk blouses, suede this and that and, of course, more new shoes – whether I needed them or not.

There was also, in those years, an irresistible urge to see the latest movies (in first run), read the newest books (in hardback), buy the latest updates of software and the two computer games I played (as soon as they were issued) and then congratulate myself on how au courant I was.

Nowadays, I don't do these things and I don't miss them for a second. When I do indulge – usually it's a new hardback book – I weigh the spending decision not only against the bank balance but consider, too, what upcoming necessary spending might be on the horizon and hold off if homeowners insurance, property tax or dental work is due soon.

As with selling my books, a lot of this is the result of severely reduced financial circumstances in retirement. But the important point is that when I decide against making a given purchase, I don't feel deprived as I did in my younger adult years. The negative emotional charge that ate at me then when I deprived myself of something doesn't exist anymore.

Other negative circumstances that arise in the normal course of living that produce sadness, anger, resentment, grief, etc. - have not disappeared, but I am better capable of feeling them and continuing on with daily life rather than becoming paralyzed for days or weeks as happened in my younger and mid-years.

There is the inclination to pat myself on the back, take a bow, preen a bit at the wisdom I've gained in my old age. But there was a niggling thought in the back of my mind that I had read something about this phenomenon. And sure enough - recent brain studies show a positivity bias in elders.

“...younger and older participants were asked to rate the emotional content of standardized images as positive, neutral or negative, while their brain activity was monitored with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine...

“The older participants rated the images as less negative than the younger participants. The fMRI scans helped researchers observe this reaction in the senior participants. The scans showed increased interactions between the amygdala, a brain region involved in emotion detection, and the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region involved in emotion control.

“According to Dr. Dolcos, 'These findings indicate that emotional control improves with aging, and that it's the increased interaction between these two brain regions [the amygdala, a brain region involved in emotion detection, and the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region involved in emotion control] that allows healthy seniors to control their emotional response so that they are less affected by upsetting situations.'"

So much for preening.

Another brain study found one answer to why some elders are more susceptible to fraud and swindles than younger people:

“...because they experience disproportionate changes in certain areas of the anterior portion of the frontal lobes...Damage to this subregion — due to stroke, tumors or other injuries — can cause dramatic changes in personality and higher-order abilities: reasoning, judgment, decision-making and emotional processing...

“[O]lder adults who make poor decisions are not simply 'demented,' but rather display relatively localized abnormalities in regions of the prefrontal cortex known previously to be important for judgment and making complex decisions.

Another set of brain researchers are studying the neurobiology of wisdom which they define as

“...such attributes as empathy, compassion or altruism, emotional stability, self-understanding, and pro-social attitudes, including a tolerance for others' values.

"'Defining wisdom is rather subjective, though there are many similarities in definition across time and cultures,' said [Dilip V.] Jeste, who is the Estelle and Edgar Levi Chair in Aging, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and chief of geriatric psychiatry at UC San Diego.

"'However, our research suggests that there may be a basis in neurobiology for wisdom's most universal traits. But questions remain: is wisdom universal, or culturally based? Is it uniquely human, related to age? Is it dependent on experience or can wisdom be taught?'"

The researchers are investigating wisdom's connection to a balance between more primitive brain regions (the limbic system) and the newest ones (pre-frontal cortex.)

Study of the brain, our most complex organ, is difficult and still in its infancy. Little by little, however, researchers are gaining insights and some are spending more time in recent years trying to tease out the changes that happen as we get older.

What they have discovered so far leads me to believe that, unfortunately, I can't take personal credit for my improved attitudes and behavior. Judgment, perspective, emotional stability and even wisdom in old age may turn out to be normal neurological growth.

It doesn't matter – I'll take it any way I can get it.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson: Maudie May


ELDER MUSIC: Patsy Cline

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic Patsy Cline was killed in a plane crash in 1963 at age 30 along with Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas and Randy Hughes. She’s another who died far too young whose music is not just remembered but is still relevant to us today. It’s still as fresh as the day it was recorded. The same applies to Buddy Holly and Otis Redding.

Patsy Cline

She was born Virginia Hensley in Virginia on the wrong side of the tracks.

It seems that as a child Patsy had a timid little voice until she had a serious throat infection. After that her voice rang like a bell and boomed like, well something that booms. She also had perfect pitch, a handy little attribute in a musician.

After her father skedaddled, Patsy worked various day jobs and sang at night in a local night club. She had a brief marriage to Gerald Cline, who was a lot older and didn’t think much of this singing lark. She had a manager by then who suggested that she use Patsy after her mother’s maiden name, Patterson (also her middle name).

By the earlier fifties she was appearing on local radio programs, especially one by country singer Jimmy Dean. In 1955, she signed with a small record company who released a few songs and eventually was noticed by Owen Bradley, who would be her main producer for the rest of her career. He managed to get her signed to Decca Records.

Patsy appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and later became a semi-regular on Arthur Godfrey’s TV and radio programs. She met and married Charlie Dick and they had two children.

Patsy paved the way for later country, and other, female artists. She refused to be pushed around by men who thought they knew better than she did about her music.

Her last concert was a benefit show in Kansas City. Dottie West was wary of Patsy flying home after that show and asked her to ride back in the car with her and her husband, but Patsy refused.

Patsy Cline

I Fall to Pieces was a song Patsy didn’t want to record. She thought it had done the rounds of all the other singers in town and they had rejected it (it hadn’t). She eventually was convinced to record it and it was a turning point for her, not just because it was a hit (not as big as we might think from our current perspective), but it was the first slow song she recorded. She had avoided them until then thinking she wasn’t very good at them. This sounds crazy to us who think of her as one of the foremost ballad singers ever.

♫ Patsy Cline - I Fall to Pieces

Patsy Cline

I’m a sucker for a sad song, which means I’m like a pig in, well, whatever pigs like to be in, today. There are few better songs in this mode than She’s Got You.

It seems that Hank Cochran, who wrote the song, rang Patsy and told her he had her next hit record. She told him to grab a bottle of booze and come on over. She loved it so much that she recorded it the next day. That’s the version you get.

♫ Patsy Cline - She's Got You

Patsy Cline

Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray has been recorded really well by k.d. lang. However, in spite of k.d.’s fine version nothing beats Patsy’s own.

♫ Patsy Cline - Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray

Patsy Cline

San Antonio Rose has been recorded by many people, notably Bob Wills who wrote it and Bing Crosby who recorded it with his brother’s orchestra. Others include Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. It was originally an instrument but members of the Texas Playboys (Bob Wills’s band) kept adding lyrics until it became the song we know today.

♫ Patsy Cline - San Antonio Rose

Patsy Cline

Patsy received a demo tape of a couple of songs from a young(ish) songwriter named Willie Nelson. One song she really wanted to record was Funny How Time Slips Away but it was promised to another singer.

She didn’t like the other song at all and didn’t want to record it – she didn’t like Willie’s idiosyncratic phrasing - the sort of thing we like about Willie today. Patsy eventually did record it, reluctantly, but after numerous takes nothing was happening.

She returned a few days later and nailed the vocal. She still didn’t like the song though but it was released and it may be her most memorable song: Crazy.

♫ Patsy Cline - Crazy

Patsy Cline

It’s interesting that Patsy didn’t seem to like her biggest numbers, she also put the thumbs down to I Fall to Pieces and Walking After Midnight. This is a song she recorded twice, and as with the next song, I’ve used the earlier version in spite of the rather prominent peddle steel guitar.

It was Patsy’s first major hit. It’s a song that, like many of hers, transcends the country genre and can be sung as a jazz number, blues or straight pop. Any way you like really.

♫ Patsy Cline - Walkin' After Midnight

Patsy also recorded A Poor Man's Roses (Or a Rich Man's Gold) a couple of times. The second time her voice is better and mellower. However, there are a lot of fiddles and much oooh ahhing and dooby doobying in the background so I’ve gone for the earlier version as I prefer the stripped back accompaniment and the grittier vocals. This version was recorded early in her career, in 1956.

♫ Patsy Cline - A Poor Man's Roses

Patsy Cline

For the last track there could have been a dozen or more that I could have chosen. I played them two or three in a row to see how they compared. There was one track I always included to see how it stood up to the others. It did, so that’s the one we’re finishing with: Why Can’t He Be You.

♫ Patsy Cline - Why Can't He Be You

This is the last photo of Patsy taken at the Benefit Concert.

Patsy Cline

I hope you can still function after hearing all those songs. You’re probably sobbing in your beers or whatevers. Me, I’m sobbing in my pinot noir. I don’t think that line has ever appeared in a country song.


GRAY MATTERS: Update on Saul

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


[NOTE FROM RONNI] While reporting on Medicare and home health care in this column last month, Saul wrote about one of the most common accidents that afflict elders, falling, and his own recent fall. Now he has been diagnosed with stomach cancer. But I will let him explain, as he did in an email he sent earlier this week:

“I'm anxious to get back to writing, but better to hold off until we see what's in store.

“This week I will be getting my new denture, then later in the week a conference with the oncologist to see what my options are. Near as I can tell, the cancer in the stomach is slow-growing and in its earliest stage.

“Only two options, radiation and/or chemo, here in Annapolis or Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, which would be a shlep. Radiation is usually a daily thing; chemo is weekly. But they are both weakening. I am truly optimistic, but the question is how much strength will I have. I'll be better able to tell in a few days.

“I have signed up again for home health care, which will keep track of my general health (blood levels) during the next few weeks. And I'll be doing physical/occupational therapy to regain my muscle strength.”

As Nance wrote in a comment on last Saturday's post: We wish you wellness and well-being, Saul.


Sorting a Lifetime of Books

category_bug_journal2.gif It's a long way from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon – somewhere, according to Google Maps, in the realm of 3,300 miles depending on which highway you drive – and the moving company is going to charge a lot of money for that trip.

To keep the price down when moving day arrives, I am divesting myself of as much stuff as possible. There were 75 boxes of books when I moved here from New York City; I'd like to reduce that by half for this next move.

I was recently introduced to a fascinating, young woman named Michelle Soliere. For the past several years, she has been the author of an ongoing series of stories titled, Strange Maine (soon to be a book), described on her website as:

“Freaks. Weirdos. Unmapped roads. Whispering rocks. Deadening fog. Ghost pirates. Lonely islands. THINGS in the WOODS. Home of Stephen King & Glenn Chadbourne. A place where the 4 seasons really know how to live.

“Maine: the way life should be! This site is a nexus for conversation about Maine's unique strangeness, people who love it, people who have experienced it, & people who are intrigued by it. History, mysteries, legends, current events, cryptozoology, & more.”

Green Hand Logo Last November, Michelle opened a used book store in Portland, The Green Hand, and appeared eager, when we spoke a couple of weeks ago, to purchase any and all books I am willing to part with. Yesterday she and her husband, Tristan, arrived at 8AM for our first session at weeding out my library.

Every inch of my shelves was full – nay, overflowing - when they arrived. Here is what it looked like after they left at 10AM:

Library Shelves

There are probably as many books spread through three other rooms in the house, so this doesn't seem like much progress to me. Michelle and Tristan will be back next Tuesday for another go.

I did the best I could at hiding my anxiety at parting with these old and new companions. I think I kept any dithering to a minimum. I'll never read John LeCarre again, but he has given me much reading pleasure over all my adult life; it seemed unkind to remove him.

It's amazing how large my collection of books on various aspects of aging has become. Since I don't intend to quit this blog any time soon, I decided to keep all of those except the for worst kind of trash I am sometimes sent – the how to stay young forever claptrap.

Of course, I kept everything written by friends, living and dead, and all of Gore Vidal – not a friend in the ordinary sense; I've never met him – but a lifelong friend, nevertheless, in the written word – one of the handful of writers I re-read with regularity.

You can bet money and win that it will not be long before I'm wondering why I can't find a certain book and then remember – in fury with myself or sadness – that I sold it to Michelle. In fact, that will probably go on for years. It's not easy letting go.

I am writing this in the late morning on Thursday, right after Michelle and Tristan left and now I must stop. Removing all these books – even if nowhere near enough yet – revealed an amazing amount of dust on the shelves that needs to be cleaned before Friday house showings. This was not how I planned to spend Thursday afternoon.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcia Mayo: Middle Cotton