Dear Kora,

Once Upon a Time, there was TravelingTraveling was where people went from one location to another location.  Not to locations like from one room to another in one’s own home, or even from one place to another in one’s own town – but from town to town, state to state, country to another country!  Called travelers, people who did this went to these places on Airplanes.  Airplanes were ships that flew in the sky and carried the travelers.  Back then, when I traveled, I did so along with your Pilot grandfather.  Pilots flew the airplanes.  For your grandfather Larry, traveling was his job.  He was always coming or going from a Trip.  A trip was a completed circuit of travel from the home to any number and combination of places, towns, states or countries and then back to home.  I hope you get to do this one day.

Love, Gjee

That’s the Way it Was

I wrote that for Kora, my granddaughter, who was just born last year, so she can know what traveling was like.  Since she’s been on this earth, traveling is something people used to do.  Back in the day, I liked to travel on the airplanes and I once in a while met her grandfather who might have been finishing a trip in a location I wanted to see.  That’s the way it was.  I traveled as often as I could, but being married to a pilot, meant that the ‘getting there’ of a vacation often meant I would be on my own.

Airline families flew in all kinds of crazy ways to get places.  Sometimes we would fly North to catch a longer flight South.  Going this way or that, eventually we’d get there.  It was the Wild, Wild West prior to September 11th for airline families.  My husband was a pilot for USAir and on that airline our family could navigate any of its flights (with special permission slips) and we called it Non-Rev travel – or non revenue for the airline, and it was also called Space Available aka Space-A.  We used ID-90’s also, and for a small fee we could fly space-A available on other airlines.  While it was a good deal, flying this way there was never a guaranteed seat, and after the horror of 9-11, became harder to do. 

When my husband switched to flying cargo, there was no more non-rev for me! I didn’t want to fly in a box. ID-90’s became less and less reliable, and after being stranded in places hard to get out of, when I really wanted to get somewhere, I ended up buying tickets like everyone else.  I still felt lucky because when I got to where I was going my husband would be there waiting in some far-off place. I considered it was flying two for one.  And while it was rare, sometimes my husband and I would actually would fly ON the same airplane!  Whenever that happened, I had to understand that as a pilot wearing his easily identifiable pilot uniform, he was allowed certain privileges that we, mere mortal travelers, were never allowed.

The following are a revamp of chronicles I came across in the journals I kept while traveling with Larry, a humorous look-back while we all wait for travel to return to normal – whenever that will be and whatever it will look like.

Travel – Post 9-11, Pre ToC, (Time of Covid)

For me to have been on an aircraft with my pilot-husband Larry, he would have to have been:

1.) Flying the plane, (which was rare in our case), or

2.) He was deadheading

Deadheading, not a word I like much for obvious reasons, (and for the full dictionary on the horrific irony of aviation terminology, stop reading and check now YouTube for George Carlin’s airport shtick).  When pilots deadhead, they are NOT heading an airplane into the ground; they are merely catching a ride to or from work.  For example, sometimes pilots land a plane in Italy, then need to get to Paris where they will take command of their next airplane to fly it to New York.  Consider deadheading, an Uber system for flyers.  All the crew of any aircraft deadhead on occasion – some more than others depending on their route.

On the occasion where Larry would be deadheading on a plane that I might also have a ticket to ride on, I enjoyed watching him do his airline thing.  Far as I knew for work, he just left the house and came back, so this was the closest I got to see him working!  And don’t tell him, but I didn’t mind checking him out in his uniform, (I’ve always been a sucker for a uniform)!  When Larry deadheaded on the same plane, it was a chance to observe him interacting with the ticket takers, other Crew or Crewmembers (who were other pilots but also, the Flight Attendants, people who tended to your needs during a flight). It took all sorts of people to get a plane in the air. Also when I entered the plane, and passed the little room up front with all the windows, I got to see him hang out talking shop with the plane’s drivers.  I considered it a form of pre-flight entertainment.

Back then, when the company officially deadheaded Larry, (or shuttled him around) he was accustomed to getting there in style.  For international flights his company always sat him in Business or First-Class seats – those were the fancy sections inside of a plane (called a Cabin).  Sounds like a sweet deal, but in reality, it was so tired crew could rest.

Another, ‘unofficial’ way crewmembers got around the world for work was by picking any flight and hopping on it for a ride, the way most people hop on a bus or metro line.  That’s what it meant for Larry to get a ‘ride’ to work – but it was also known as Jumping.  Crewmembers wishing to jump on any plane only need ListListing didn’t mean a ship leaning to one side or the other, it was to call ahead and inform the airline about an intent to jump.  Now, jumping and deadheading were different.  Jumping was not parachuting out of a plane; it was a complementary service that the airlines accommodated one another.  Deadheads were paid for.  When crew jumped on a flight, to get them where they were going, gate agents would give them any seat on the plane left unsold, and if there were none, pilots would be allowed to sit in the extra uncomfortable jumpseat up front in the Cockpit, sorry, ancient usage – not touching – it’s now known as the Flight Deck and that’s what the room up front with the best view is called.  Once on the plane, flight attendants tried their best to sit jumping crewmembers – whenever possible – in first-class as a courtesy, again so they could get better rest.  When airline folk traveled on business, they tried to take care of one another.  After all, they knew what it is like living on the road, err – in the air.

When I rode on the same plane that Larry was deadheading or jumping on, it was usually my opportunity to watch Larry ride in first-class or business.  Without me.  Because my paid-for, ticket-to-ride seats were seldom, if ever, in first-class or in business, but far back in the plane cabin’s Never-Never Land, in a place called Coach.

Newport News to Dublin, Flight #USD2B

It was the start of a trip to celebrate our wedding anniversary; but also my birthday, which are NOT on the same day.  All those years ago, I had the good sense of insisting on two special dates so each occasion would be commemorated properly into perpetuity.  But to this day, because they are only seven days apart, both are usually celebrated crammed together.  It’s kind of like having a birthday around Christmas – you get screwed on the presents.  But after so many years, I’d become accustomed to it and to compensate made my present twice as big.

That year was our 27th Anniversary, and we were headed to Ireland for a week.  From there we planned to go on to Lanzarote, Spain, one of the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco, for a couple more.  We would be on our own in Ireland.  I’d brought along maps and employed a device called a Garmin, a primitive form of GPS to help us navigate the Emerald Isle.

Because it was an anniversary trip, and I really wanted to travel with my husband like everyone else, I bought him a real-live ticket as a surprise.  But what I’d really paid for was the pleasure of enjoying Larry ride in the back part of the plane – in coach, aka ‘steerage’ – with me.  Back then, any international flight required a minimum check-in time of two hours prior to a plane’s take-off.  The Airport, (or the place where the airplanes came and went) nearest to our house was small and close by. 

We decided to Check-In early at the airport, drop our Luggage, (sampler packs of your belongings) and then leave to enjoy a pre-departure lunch at a nice Restaurant, (which was a place where you could sit inside and eat food). At the Patrick Henry Airport we took turns checking-in while the other waited in the car.  Check-in, was a communication to the airline that you were ready to fly; you’d turned in your ticket, they’d checked your identification and knew who you were and confirmed where you were seated. Then the airline took your luggage, and threw it into the belly of the plane and you hoped you’d see it again.  After all that, you were expected to wait for the departure time.  Prior to 9-11 we would have parked at the curb, gone in and done this together. 

As Larry checked-in, I called my mother, as was custom before traveling, you would say ‘Goodbye,’ to everyone you knew just in case you never returned.  I had emailed her our Itinerary, which was a detailed schedule of our trip.  Now traveling to some destinations took more than one flight to get there.  These separate flights were known as Legs.  Our flight to Dublin took two legs to get us there – the first leg to Philadelphia, and from there a leg on to Dublin.  To this day I still don’t know why they are called legs.  My mother, well-season traveler herself, pointed out to me that as far as she could tell from our itinerary, Larry and I didn’t have seat assignments on either of our legs.

I explained to my mother that, for some reason, I hadn’t been able to make seat assignments, in business, first-class OR coach when I’d bought the tickets online.  I assured her not to worry, that everything would be fine.  I explained that Larry and I were at the airport checking-in early and would be seated together in no time.  Then Larry returned to the car and told me, “Visit the lady with the long hair at the ticket counter.  She’s helping us get seated together.”  I bid my mother farewell and dragged my bag to check-in while Larry sat in the car and waited for me.

It’s Gonna Be a Bumpy Flight!

The lady with the long hair at the ticket counter told me that while Larry and I could fly seated next to one another on the first leg from Newport News to Philadelphia, that on the leg from Philly to Dublin, he’d been assigned the very last seat.  Sneaky guy!  The guy who gets all the privileges, every time he flew – hadn’t mentioned to me that he’d just snagged the last seat to Ireland!  (So he’d planned to leave me at the Liberty Bell! Hmm.)  I couldn’t believe it, but I’d been Bumped!  To be bumped in airline lingo meant the airline had sold tickets to more travelers than they had seats to seat them.

The lady with the long hair comforted me by giving me ‘inside information’. “That flight is fully booked, (full). As a courtesy, I listed you as the first Stand-By,” she said most sincerely. A stand-by is a bumped traveler hoping that another traveler with an actual seat assignment forgets to arrive before it’s time for the plane to leave, such that they themselves might fill the empty seat.  Airline family members were often stand-bys when they flew non-rev or space-A.  For every flight here were typically multiples of stand-bys. What it meant was that if anyone didn’t show up for the Dublin flight in Philly, the lady with the long hair gave me priority over everyone to get that seat.  As Eddie Izzard would say, “And this is all true”.

Clearly I was disappointed.  Then the lady with the long hair offered me another consolation – a first-class upgrade to Philadelphia.  “I have one last seat,” she said.  I had visions of payback:

I’d sit in the very first seat – all the way to Philly.  I’d get a massage… a hot facial!  I’d enjoy free champagne.  Gorge on filet mignon and sleep it off – the whole way in a horizontal position!  Larry would back in coach – in steerage!  I figured I’d mosey back there, behind the curtain, take him my nuts.  I’d tell a self-deprecating first-class joke, I’d laugh and laugh, then return to my luxurious accommodations – up front, in the front of the cabin…

Could have I done that?  No!  The flight was barely an hour!  I wouldn’t have time to even to pee on that flight!  Besides, something deep in my soul couldn’t imagine sitting in first-class while my husband was in the back, and paying for an Economy ticket (i.e. cheap ticket).  Go figure.  (To be honest I didn’t take it because the upgrade wasn’t free.  Now, if the upgrade had been free…)

But It’s Our Anniversary!

Encore.  I’d have to travel alone and meet Larry in Dublin.  I wasn’t happy about not having a seat for the second leg of my trip, but what could I do?  I’d done it before, so many times, I hoped for the best.  I returned to the car and we headed off for a quick bite of lunch.  But you can imagine how I teased Larry about glomming onto the last seat!

Our son, Aaron, (who eventually became Kora’s father) met us for lunch.  He wasn’t surprised to hear that, yet again, it looked like his dad and I would be traveling separately, “Even when you guys pay for the tickets, you can’t get there together? Is this really your anniversary?” he laughed and winked before he left with a hug.

Because we live so close to the airport, we returned our car home to be boomeranged back by our dear friend and neighbor, Carol, another experienced traveler. It was always fun to be taken to the airport by a friend. It was someone else to say goodbye to, and you wouldn’t have to pay for parking while you were gone.  People took turns driving one another to the airport. Carol wasn’t surprised either to hear of our paradox, “Wait, you bought Larry a ticket this time, and because of that, you can’t use your ticket to fly on the same plane?” she chuckled and shook her head, “At least you know what you need to do!  Happy Anniversary!” 

It was a quick load onto the airplane.  We cozied in together on a USAir Dash 8 – an airplane Larry had flown long, long ago.  This time no one noticed Larry, no one offered him water or a seat in first-class, or paid any attention to him at all!  An everyday Joe Traveler he was.  No uniform, he wore khaki pants with a blue sport coat and salmon-colored shirt. Aaron had mistaken it for pink.

Sitting together was such a privilege for us!  We talked to one another; stashed our stuff in each other’s seat bins, we fastened each other’s seat belts.  It was our anniversary!  And all was well.  He was just about to hold my hand. Then the last person came onto the plane and announced she was going to kill her husband.

We’re All Going Down!

The lady was very agitated and made funny noises that sounded like a cross between an agonized moan and a pig squeal.  In addition, she made facial expressions hard to explain without demonstrating them, and if I did, I might only come close.  She wore sunglasses and a floral swirly frock. Her eyes rolled, her mouth sagged agape and she captured air in raspy gasps.  Her beautifully manicured hands fluttered around and over her turban wrapped crown.  In the aisle, her lengthy scarf lazily dragged over seated heads as she spun around in slow circles, mentioning again and again how this time, she’d really decided to kill her husband. 

Even if this had been before 9-11, can you imagine this not capturing more than a few people’s attention?  Firstly, all on board were thinking, ‘Is her husband on this plane?’ and more importantly, ‘Is he sitting close to me?’ and other things like that flew through our minds.  Heads turned like water sprinklers back and forth searching the cabin for the doomed spouse/target.  I hoped he wasn’t wearing a salmon-colored shirt.  The good news was that her husband was NOT on the plane! Whew!  But, she assured us, he was ‘dead meat’ when she saw him again, that was IF, she said, “If I live that long.” 

Poor Killer-lady, you see, didn’t like flying – let alone on a Propjob, (Google: Wright Bros/propjob/whatisthat?).  Her husband had kept secret her ticket was for a prop engine airplane.  Therefore, she equated we were all going to die.  Nice lady, turns out, just terrified.  For her panic attack she apologized profusely to us cabin dwellers, first-class, business, coach alike, (because on a propjob – they’re more or less all together).  The lady asked for water so she might take her magic pill.  The flight attendant was more than happy to accommodate her. Killer-lady ended up with, like 12 water bottles.  People were sending their own up from the way back. 

Collectively we all took a deep sigh, “That’s better,” much nicer.  And what I learned from that is – if you come on an airplane and announce you are going to kill your husband, you’ll get water like you’re in first-class!  Mercy, the rest of us didn’t even get a beverage service to Philly…and those poor people in the way back….so thirsty. 

Larry and I never had an opportunity to hold hands, because he held hers.  Of course, her seat was across from ours!  You see in the commotion and trying to help the flight attendant Larry was identified as crew.  He showed her his badge.  “Ah yes, a pilot,” said the flight attendant.  In a loud voice she added, “Ma’am, you’re sitting across the aisle from a pilot!”

Crew frustrated with scaredycats frightened to fly often relied on jumping crewmembers in this way, to help address various cabin difficulties. And it did seem to calm some folks down.  That’s because there was a difference sitting next to traveling airline crew – you were safer.  It worked miracles, but there was no sense to it really.  Because if a plane, God forbid, were to suddenly go down – there’d be little extra protection by sitting next to a crewmember – wearing a pink shirt or a uniform.  But they could hold their hand as we all go down.

The Kindest Man in the World

It was so sweet.  My Larry, holding the lady’s hand across the aisle.  I thought, ‘We are paying for this.’  The guy seated on Killer-lady’s other side appeared nervous and fidgety.  Once in the air the flight attendant offered to move him to another seat, but he braved it and stayed put.  He didn’t hold her hand though.  I drew a deep breath and let it all go; smiled and kissed Larry, “Happy Anniversary, sweetheart.” 

By the time the brief flight was in descent the lady was laughing and telling jokes.  We all laughed along, (with a huge sense of relief).  And it wasn’t all my husband’s doing with the hand-holding, but for God’s creation of that little tiny pill.  There was a tremendous round of applause upon landing, and I was unsure if it was for making it without her killing anybody, we didn’t crash or for her bravery. I still can’t help but wonder what ever happened to her husband after that flight.

So Far So Good

At the Philadelphia International Airport Larry and I hustled to the Gate and were prepared to beg for my seat on the airplane with Larry for the Dublin leg, (mind you I had a ticket). Gates are waiting room areas in airports where travelers congregate before being allowed Passage onto a plane.  Travelers are also called Passengers because of this.  At the gate we were surprised to find that what was an impossibility for the lady with the long hair in Newport News was, “No problem,” for the man with short hair here in Philly.  We were offered and took seats together in the Bulkhead.  It was that simple. All that worry.

Bulkheads are wall barriers that separate the parts of the cabin; first-class from business class, business from coach, (no touching!).  Bulkhead seats, directly behind these walls were also found in first and business class but in coach could be some of the very best seats.  We felt lucky getting the best seats in coach. The flight to Dublin takes 7 hours and 2 minutes.  It was in one’s best interest to get the very best seat locations on international flights from the United States to Europe because of the way the airlines scheduled them.

If You’re Sleepless in Seattle, Fly to Europe

You might as well.  The way it was went like this – if you were an American who wanted to visit Ireland or anywhere in Europe, you could leave from anywhere in America, at any time of the day that would ensure you would lose one night of sleep.

It was that simple.  No matter how many legs of your trip had, to go to Europe from America was to forfeit one night’s sleep.  I think there was some sort of mandate that no flight could fly East-bound over the Atlantic during the day – just not ‘plane’ possible.  It was the airline’s job to get travelers to arrive in Europe, (name any city) from precisely 6:00 to 9:00am.  Period.  And that was precisely one half day, or 12 hours before any Hotel would allow a traveler to check-in, (Hotels were buildings with gobs of rooms outfitted with beds where travelers slept and accessed their luggage if it had arrived.  You didn’t need a ticket for a hotel to check-in, just a reservation or listing; you wanted to be on the list at a hotel when you got there). American travelers arriving in Europe, blurry eyed and half-dead were left to wander the streets dragging their bag with nowhere to go.

Flying to the United States from Europe was a much better deal; flights from there left in the morning – at decent, civilized hours like 9:00 or 10:00am. You didn’t even have to get up early.  Europeans had it figured out. Their flights to America were during the day – you were awake anyway so you could work, watch a movie, eat lunch, take a little nap, write your novel – all assured that you wouldn’t be late for supper in New York and you’d not lose not one wink of shut eye. 

But U.S. departures along with the time difference, plus being seated – perhaps in coach – on a full airplane that’s packed and cramped, equated to a L O N G 7 hours and 2 minutes. 422 minutes! That’s a lot of minutes!  There’s an equation for inches to minutes that I won’t get into but suffice to say that every inch of room you had on a seat in coach counted – well, bigtime.

Bulkhead seats are usually seats with lots of room, a mathematically calculable space we knew as legroom, and legroom was used to stretch out legs, (in this case meaning not rooms for your flights, but your own, actual two legs).  Airlines measured and advertised legroom down to the slightest decimal and fraction; it was that important to keep track of.  But not all plane cabins were configured the same way.  And even experienced travelers and crewmembers, familiar with all the various layouts, sometimes simply forgot to ask about the particulars of planes floor plan, especially when they were happy to be just getting on Board.  Larry and I remembered we’d forgotten this once we’d boarded, (not like surfboarding dude, to board and boarding meant to get on a plane).  “No wonder the seats were available!” we groaned.  On that leg, there was enough legroom for a small dwarf.

As it Twas in the Beginning

Airline seats in coach were notorious for being small and close together without much legroom.  The very first ‘coach’ referred to a closed-in cabin, that didn’t fly but had wooden wheels and it was pulled by a horse.  And because of this, airlines used the same term to apply to the section with the least expensive seats.  Don’t ask me why. This largest section of seats, (on any passenger plane) was also referred to as Economy, (as in affordable).  “Coach or Economy?” the someone asking was trying to fool you, because it was not a choice but the same thing!  But all seats were not the same, and the one advantage that non-bulkhead seats in coach had over bulkhead seats, was that armrests between the non-bulkhead seats hinged up and down and could be tucked out of the way thereby inching out that little extra space, so critical for comfort.  There was no advantage to a bulkhead seat with no extra legroom in any section of the cabin especially because bulkhead armrests were fixed.

From doubt that the lady with the long hair created over whether-or-not Larry and I would be even on the same plane, to having the man with the short hair, putting us in adjoining seats, this was the last straw that broke the bulkhead’s back.  Upon spying the lack of legroom for my long legs, accompanied with no retracting armrests, we ended up not riding next to one another after all.  There was but one empty seat (with no recline) in the very back of coach – a place I was all too familiar.  I kissed my husband farewell for the night.  Like so many flights before, Larry ended up sitting in the front, (only this time in the bulkhead, legs draped over the armrests and into my empty seat) and I slept in the back with some strange guy.

“I’ll Have to Get Married!”

Cooking a big and beautiful meal comes with more than a grocery bill to pay. I’m talking the kind of meal where good company is hosted and toasted, there’s been lots of food and fun, you’re pleased with pulling it off, but afterward you stand alone in the midst of the aftermath. The kitchen is a MESS! 

There’s not an empty spot on the countertops (you don’t have enough of them anyway), every appliance you own stands tall, proud from being used (but defiantly dirty), next to the crowded sink the good china stacks up like crowded downtown New York Skyscrapers (why didn’t you use paper plates?). Every large pot (encrusted lids set aside) are now sudsy bathtubs for smaller pots; they sit patiently for rescue from the Bar Keeper’s Friend.

The good linens are stained, and you’d insisted on using the napkins that will also need ironing to be used again. Crumbs are piled on the floor, the Roomba is on the Fritz, (and you don’t have a dog). Odd splats stick to the stove, smears of something (mashed potato) refuses to easily wipe clean must surely be the handiwork of creative children painting with gravy paint (where is that scrubber?). The laden dishwashers’ on-button awaits the burden of a touch. The refrigerator is stuffed, No Vacancy to store leftovers (storage containers are dirty anyway or missing or don’t have a lid). 

Where does one begin?

Please don’t stop reading, I am not Martha Stewart, and this is not about an audacious first world inconvenience; it’s an analogy. The above-mentioned kind of bounty is not to be taken for granted but appreciated greatly. My description of the kitchen was the best way I could communicate, when I initiated a phone call to a friend; my mind was a mess hall of confusion.

My friend is smart, independent, single and I admire her spirit, her life, her freedom. I believe she, in return, admires my married-with-children life. Ah, grass grows green only where it’s fertilized, and today we think organic is best, so that means shit. Green grass takes a lot of shit – whatever side of the fence it’s on.

My friend’s been away, to get away from where she was to be somewhere else, to think and to write. She’d only just returned. It was good to hear her voice.

But first, RGB’s died.

Our conversation was delightfully all over the place as is typical with this savvy woman, an intellectual thinker with deep insight. But for a brief instant we tied anchor to the current state of women’s rights in our country; “Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s died.” Such a huge loss we agreed, the tiny woman a monumental tower really, her wisdom a beacon of justice guiding women’s rights now blown out with the incoming of the Jewish New Year.

“She must have fought like hell to live through the coming election,” agreed, agreed. 

My friend and I mourned her loss singly but together, over the phone. Due to the pandemic, we haven’t seen each other (in person) for months yet we live only miles apart. In my five decades around the sun I’ve found there’s no person who looks at the world exactly as do I, and I’ve found that can be okay. I’ve developed a kind of tolerance tranquility.

But it’s also nice to be with someone who shares your values, thinks like you do. It feels comfortable. “What are we going to do now?” We shared feeling uncomfortable, and that in a way was comforting.

What’s about to happen (in the coming weeks) according to U. S. law, is completely warranted. And forty-five, (#45, as in the current President) plans to put his thumb on the scales of the balance of justice of the Supreme Court and fill the position occupied by RGB, (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) before her enormous seat is cold.  Who’s to argue?  Never mind the same law that forty-five’s followers are adhering to now was defied and the same right to President prior was not allowed.  That was so hypocritical yesterday.

I say to my friend, “I’m hearing from So-and-So, that [forty-five] (my insert because So-and-So used his name) is so fair and balanced that a woman will replace a woman!” I’ve left out So-and-So’s name, (then and now) it’s not necessary to really speak my mind. “Can you believe that?” I continue on, “Like all women are clones. It’s most likely that forty-five’s next Supreme Court Justice pick doesn’t even share DNA with RGB.” It was nasty of me to say but garnered a chuckle.

But perhaps it’s best a woman like RGB doesn’t share too easily her DNA, because as history repeats itself over, (and over and over…) women now know that too easily their collective knowledge might be stolen by a man.

You do remember what happened to Rosalind?

In the early 1950’s the race was on to discover what DNA (identified in 1869) was really all about. Rosalind Franklin, a scientist working in England was getting dangerously close to understanding the bigger picture, because she, in fact, took one – an incredibly revealing picture of DNA. But in 1953 her co-worker, Maurice Wilkin stole her incredible x-ray, her Photo 51, and took it secretly to Franklin’s rivals, James Watson and Francis Crick, (all this went down in England) and they were working on the same thing, who then without permission used Photo 51 (without giving credit) to confirm their concept of DNA for which Watson & Crick subsequently received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1962, (deep sigh) the year I was born. I beg pardon from scientists for all the imperfections in my summarization for this complicated and little-known part of history.

I think it’s not easy to be open minded in sealed storage containers and I turn to gather my dirty linens.

Not all china can be replaced.

As we all are, I am now learning about a woman, Judge Coney Barrett, forty-five’s newly announced pick.  A conservative Catholic, I understand she claims to honor the original intent of the Constitution.  She does not concern herself with how different from then that life is now, or that the original intent of the Constitution had nothing to do with voting rights or freedom rights leaving all that stuff to the states to deal with. What might have confused people, I think, is implied in the other founding document with words like independence, and equality and pursuits of happiness. Non-scholars like me get it all mixed up.

How could have Americas’ founders possessed the capacity to envision freedoms for all at the very time they themselves owned people, bought and sold them, enslaved new ones, displaced Native Americans and repressed women married or not? It seems to me strange and curious the Constitution was signed on September 17th, 1787 exactly two hundred thirty-three years ago plus one night before RGB died.

Barnett’s criticized the Affordable Care Act, not that I was a huge fan at first, but I hear crickets on how to replace it. And on abortion, the appointee Judge is worried who’s paying for them – not the federal government, and that makes sense for someone who doesn’t want to help anyone have access to birth control in the first place by not giving them access to health care! Maybe I’ll find she has exceptions, but certainly her opinion will leverage heavier sitting at the furthest edge of a right-leaning, teeter-totter court. Abortion is so complex, so extremely personal, I believe on this issue, women need a court’s compassion and not to stand in judgement from it.

I’m always curious anyway about folks condemning abortion; often they are of the same gene pool that thinks execution is the solution for poor souls beyond redemption. The way I read it; Christianity’s Constitution teaches all souls are to be redeemed by the death of a certain son who promised salvation for all. But what do I know? I’m always reminded of the conditions, always the conditions.

What I’ve come to know is that for all is not for all, at all; never has been, and there are those hell-bent on keeping it that way. Sign For All on the dotted line. What? You want to actually read this stack of hair-thin parchment imprinted with rules (engraved in 5 point Helvetica, you’ll need a magnifying glass) and conditions? Why, they’re transcribed into ancient and mind-bending legalize; all neatly footnoted but not necessarily credited properly, why would you want to do that? I hereby label the leftovers.

Dust will not have time to settle before Coney Barrett occupies the desk of the little-giant Jewish lady who concerned with the rights of people different than herself. People of different cultures and colors, races, who weren’t married, and if they were it didn’t matter to whom. RGB seemed to strive to consider the Declaration of Independence alongside the original Constitution and the subsequently added Amendments, (it took a couple more Septembers and a few burning bushes before we got tablet with the ten Bill of Rights). 

I’m confident the future Justice has read them all and hope she continually considers what life was for the wives of the men who wrote them were bound by laws where women could not vote or maybe could; if they were old enough, land-holding enough, married enough and so on, (so many conditions). Surely, the human mindset has evolved to be more accepting in two hundred and thirty-three years. I rinse clean the wineglasses. 

“We will see what she does, [Judge Barrett],” I say to my friend, “Anything is possible,” an uncharacteristic silence fell between us.

What Wilson grudgingly gaveth. 

“But it feels like this man [forty-five] wants to take and take from us!”  Dignity, health care, rights to our bodies, ______,_______. I envision forty-five, the old crafty shyster, laughing it up on Air Force one at his big break. I can see him now saying, ‘Hey baby, it’s better to be lucky than good!’ I literally hear the clinking of champagne glasses. And it feels to me his pick is no more important to him than switching one tchotchke (he never liked anyway) and replacing it with another (and thinking after a while no one will notice the difference – it’s still a w o m a n! He might know how to spell it). Oh, how I hate losing things I cherish.

 “It was August 18th, 2020,” an exact month ago and one hundred years America celebrated the finalization of a Woman’s Right to Vote. “One hundred years ago. Wow,” like the time belonged to the Egyptians, or to that effect, my friend and I commented back and forth something when I mentioned I’d voted earlier that day.  She planned to drop her ballot the next week. It’s a right we still have we cherish, not hanging like Roe vs. Wade or healthcare but he’s trying his best. 

The same year one hundred years ago, in 1920, (and a month earlier) and over in England, #DNAscientist-extraordinaire-to-be, Rosalind Franklin was born into a country that had accustomed itself for two years to men, aged at least twenty-one, voting alongside women, (on the condition the women owned land and were over thirty).  It took their Parliament ten more years to instill legislation to finally allow all women and men of age twenty-one the right to vote.  Some things just take time to get it right. I leave the oven door open to let the heat out.

I love how History displays her sense of humor. Especially when she wrote the chapter where she cast America’s President Wilson – get this, a Southerner from Virginia, and known racist AND well-known opponent to suffrage, as (wait for it) the Champion for the 19th Amendment! She’s the best writer, History, she doesn’t make things up. It’s an incredible scenario read where Wilson left Virginia for Princeton, found himself President but lost his wife, was lucky and married another, found himself surrounded by Fourteen Points and was major a player for peace after the War to End all Wars, and yet still had these two pesky daughters who embodied the movement of the ‘abhorrent women’ (his words) aka the suffragettes. And suffer he did.

It’s a complicated story really, and I dare not sugar coat the truth of a flawed man who adamantly denied even his daughters their rights but in the end was indeed transformed (to a degree) by the senselessness of WWI, and who at last decided to write in a chapter that was less concerned with the status quo of sexism, and maybe more preoccupied with race.  What it takes to hold onto power; it’s like all the effort it takes to cook a grand meal, there’s always the kitchen after to deal with.

Everyone who reads Wilson’s last chapter walks away with different opinions, of the President, of the man and his motivations where in January, 1918 he introduced the amendment to grant the right to vote to white as well as black women; a notion that split our Congress and took a year to ratify, (break neck speed compared to England). I feel that what our Congress was worried about then, they still are; maybe if feminists and black people vote in-block they might lose control. What then?

“What a mess it all seems,” I’m talking current affairs now and my friend seamlessly follows. I picture our thought threads linked together with ladder rungs like DNA in Rosalind’s photo.

She says, “It’s hard not to be discouraged right now.”

We couldn’t go to France now if we wanted to.

“The days of old provide perspective to me, you know – when it seems the world is spinning out of control.  Seems it couldn’t get any worse,” one says things like that when one’s grieving. Then, “Who was that famous guy that threatened to leave his country?” I needn’t say another word; she tells me it was the actor, Gerard Depardieu. 

“He didn’t want to pay his taxes, so he left France,” I adore her sarcasm. It was not necessary to say anything of a similar story when someone left somewhere (New York) and moved somewhere else (Florida) for the sounds like the same reason.

Over the years we hear the threats of those who have either left or threaten to leave their homelands in protest over election outcomes. They make a headline, and then nothing. As we continued talking, I put my friend on speaker and Googled when RGB was born:  March 15th, 1933.

History again, gives me a wink and a nod. Maybe I’m not living in the worst time! Ruth was born at, what I am sure Americans had to believe was the worst possible time in history. 

Thank God for Bloody Marys.

First of all, for the better part of 1933, no one could drink. At least today I can legally whip up a Bloody Mary (Mary being the most gracious part of the mix). In 1933 there was also no internet keeping us connected, and unemployment was like at 25% or more; folks were sleeping on park benches or hiding money in their mattress! Thank Heaven Al Capone, Public Enemy #1, was in jail because it was scary enough with Bonnie & Clyde running all over killing everybody. Weather was record extreme that year; ‘Dustbowl’ became a word and temperatures reached over 130 degrees in Mexico.  Hungarian, Leó Szilárd, while at a stoplight in England dreamed up something marvelous for keeping the peace that became known as a nuclear chain reaction.

It’s 1933 and the Reichstag’s on Fire?  What’s that mean?

Over in Germany, Hindenburg handed over to Hitler the Reich Chancellery who then promptly banned all his competition, turned off the water main when the Reichstag blew up and conveniently cremated all the civil rights, but gave him an idea to complete Dachau.  Eins, zwei, drei, it was time and Hitler declared, ‘I will now withdraw from das League of Nations!’ (That which Woodrow worked so hard for and for which he’d received a Nobel Prize). Japan announced with their arms crossed, ‘We leave the League too!’

Scary dang 1933! Meanwhile, Franklin D. Roosevelt (who’d escaped assassination earlier in the year) was elected President and calms everyone running around telling them, “The only thing Americans have to fear was fear itself!” All you gotta do to get me to panic is to tell me not to.

The year ended on an up note however; (maybe to help Americans do exactly that – to calm down) Prohibition, at long last, was repealed in December.

I’ve discovered that Bloody Marys really are the bomb when I need a break from forty-five telling me to chill out, the pandemic will just go away…by Easter, no, when the warm weather arrives, (but not warm weather from climate change!) or before school starts, after Labor Day or by Election Day, he’s promising vaccines in everyone’s stocking this year – no it’s gonna be in the New Year Kool Aid, but actually it will glow green like the economy in the St. Patrick’s Day Beer (is anyone paying attention?) and zoom, (the original intent of Zoom) a year is gone and we’re back to Easter again.  He meant Easter of 2021 all along – you weren’t listening?? He never said, ‘Let’s pack the churches,’ and that’s just as true as Hitler never packed Dachau.

What a year to be born, Ruth.  And what a year in which to die.

I forgot to mention something else about 1933: Ghandi’s 1933 Hunger Strike – this one against Britain to help circumstances of the Untouchables Cast, that happened as well, and I want to honor it.  Nonsensical as it may be by beginning my bLog with metaphor of a middle-class kitchen mess and closing with a humble humanitarian hunger protest. Hmm. 

I respect those who stand up for themselves or others, and do not knock them down. I ask, “Do you think anyone threatened to leave the country in 1920, before the 19th Amendment came to the floor?” or how about in 1933, when folks were hankering, (for anything but hooch) longing for the top shelf. You gotta admit History was hard on 1933, but since she went ahead and jotted it down, the least we can do is learn from it. I wonder who wanted to leave the country when Roe vs. Wade was being argued, or who will when it is again next time. The law was upheld in 1973, I was eleven. Where would one go without that law?  Your best bet is somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere but know this – Northern Europe is hurting for babies, birthrates are low and they are desperate. 

Choice. Free will. Independence. People and power; control and constituency, incongruent words. What History, have we learned from you?

Pick a spot on the map.

I blurt out, “Maybe I should leave the country – you know if he’s elected again.” My thinking is becoming clearer now, I’m formulating a plan.

“Where would you go?” my friend, she’s serious.

“Somewhere remote, isolated from all this mess.” Mess (aka worry) about problems I didn’t make and don’t want to have to clean up. I’m loading the last platter into the dishwasher.

Notions of me leaving are ridiculous; my family is here; I cannot leave them. My friend totally gets this. She plays along with my fantasy anyway.

“I’ll go all by myself! Live on an island!” and we both laughed and laughed. Meanwhile, I placed the hand-washed china back onto the shelves.

The pandemic has pilfered my prerogative to leave if I wanted to. I give preference and my passion for two young grandchildren who need me to help their parents work their way through this preposterous predicament. And soon I’ll be blessed with another grandchild that is expected in December. How could I welcome her arrival via Zoom? No, I’ll stay close for a time, in my bubble, mask at the ready.

I close the door; my fridge is organized; I’ve frozen meals to offer my children so they won’t have to cook at least two days next week.

 “I’ll come with you,” my friend needs no invitation. “We’ll go alone; together – you pick the place. We’ll write all day long.” We two women, living in what I hope is not the Middle Ages, (what age is over-the-hill again?) are not-famous but clearly fantastic, savvy-thinking feminist sympathizers. We giggle, “We’re doing this.”

We’ve not known one another since high school, but long enough to feel like we have.  She’s helping me wipe down the counter tops. Crumbs fall over the edge. They’ll be there tomorrow.

“No TV, no news, no one to bother us, sounds like heaven.” I muse and settle on Africa – in the center of a game reserve, no, the Galapagos – a boat for two.  A life of simplicity sounds so appealing in the midst of cacophony and the mayhem of whether or not black lives matter. Why are we still stuck on these questions? Climate change is real, systemic sexism, racism must end.

It’s getting real our plan: “Let’s go – the day after the election, pandemic be damned. We’ll wear our masks, shields, bags over our heads, whatever. We’ll quarantine when we get there,” (she’s good at this)! The dirty linen will wait in a pile for another day; I’m free from ironing another napkin.

“Good God, I just want to hold onto the freedoms women have fought for,” my hands are clenched. It’s fight or flight and we’re frequent flyers – middle seat row occupied or not, we’re risking it.

“What’ll we do about heath care?” her question caked on my enthusiasm like dried gravy. “Damn girl,” she doesn’t cuss often, “We’re old,” (like I didn’t know) “If we go and I want health care, I’ll have to get married!”

Traveling back Nineteen Years

Saturday in Virginia, September 5th, 2020 in my book can go down recorded as one of those perfect temperature days, blue skies and low humidity. Apparently, I live in a ‘bubble’ now with my children and grandchildren, and we all hung out outside, ate nachos and watched Shrek after dark. Delightful, and weren’t we all surprised and pleased by the crisp cool nighttime temperature when our daughter took her sleepy children home for the night? Sounds sublime.

But something about the perfectness of today won’t let me sleep and I find myself up in the middle of the night lucky to see what the Moon looks like when it dons Mars as a glistening garnet stud earring, (pretty AWESOME!) Meanwhile, I’m thinking about the week ahead of me.

A big travel weekend, I can’t believe it’s really Labor Day.

In checking the U.S. Department of Labor website at (now) midnight, I learned that it’s not really certain who thought venerating the common worker “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold,” was a good enough idea to warrant a national holiday, but it might have been a man named Peter J. McGuire, a collective union man, and I like the quote that he is credited with saying sometime before 1882.

The meaning of Labor Day, for me, acquired an additional task nineteen years ago from just being a holiday (be it a traveling holiday or not.)  To me, it’s now more of a countdown to another significant day that is definitely not a holiday. Dubbed by W, Patriot Day, I will always refer to it as September 11th, or 9-11 and it’s a national day of mourning.

Thhuift, thhuift,‘ is the sound made when I tear off each day of my Page-a-Day Calendar. A gift from a dear friend, each leaf offers encouraging sayings. Saturday’s and Sunday’s are grouped together, maybe to save paper, or maybe ‘cause folks aren’t as obsessive about which day it is on the weekends. This weekend’s saying is, ‘Happy Long Weekend’ with a graphic of a l o n g hotdog.

I peeked ahead; Tuesday has a favorite by Winston Churchill, written with crazy lettering, ‘HISTORY will be kind to me FOR I INTEND to write it MYSELF’ (no punctuation.) For a minute my mind wanders as I think about how the days of the month slide around every year over the days of the week. The September 11th fell on a Tuesday. This year it will be on a Friday. Even if folks don’t get a day off, they may take one but for many it will be a second  l  o  n  g  weekend, (double-entendre intended.) I thought about the people assigned with the task of creating saying’s for calendars on 9-11, so I peeked ahead further. Friday’s page suggests we, ‘Be a NICE human.’ Page-a-Day credits Lori Danelle for it.  That is really nice, Lori!

This will be the nineteenth anniversary of September 11, and in this ToC, (Time of Covid) I wonder what the upcoming National Observances will be like. It will be likely Monday or Tuesday before any news media begins to provide any details. More than likely the observances will be simpler and less attended. Next year will be the big memorial or the twentieth anniversary, so this year along with every other special day being suspended or subdued because of coronavirus, it’s easy to imagine quiet and dignified services this year.

The horror of that day centered around our most treasured form of travel…flying. That Tuesday, nineteen years ago, people were traveling on planes like was then custom. We dropped our own fully packed bags on conveyor belts that channeled them through machines at security and simply picked them up on the other side. We didn’t give a second thought about walking around with water bottles. Home comers were met at arrival gates by loved ones; coming home meant little homecomings. A lifetime ago.

Nineteen years ago, my husband had only been a few years flying for the major airlines, but I was already used to having the ability to head straight to a ticket counter, show them my ID, state where I wanted to go, and well then, go. My kids were young high schoolers, so I didn’t ‘go’ a lot then, but just knowing I would be able to ‘go’ very soon, was extremely satisfying.

I think a reason I can’t sleep must be the weather. On 9-11 nineteen years ago on that morning I was home enjoying the beautiful Virginia weather; weather we had just like today. The windows on that day were open as well.  I remember reading the morning newspaper, (an item I haven’t laid hands on in what’s now, years.) My son, a freshman, was likely in a second period at school, and my daughter, a junior, was in Washington D. C. serving as Page in the U. S. House of Representatives. Pages attended early, early morning school at the Library of Congress and by nine that morning, the pages would have started their workday. Our girl served in the House cloakroom.

My husband was flying from somewhere to somewhere else; pilots are most appreciative of good weather. It was memorable weather. And it’s been remarkably a good weather day, at least here in Virginia, pretty much every anniversary since. I wonder what the forecast is for Friday.

The tenth anniversary of 9-11 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania began under a low and dark, heavy woeful cloud covered canopy. After years of wrangling with plans and legalities, it was finally the long awaited for opening of the Flight 93 National Memorial. Three Presidents were there in observance.  Presidents Bush and Clinton attended the entire ceremony and President Obama and First Lady, Michelle flew in on Marine One and laid the wreath. The skies brightened just before, the clouds gave way and allowed the sun to pay its’ respects and paint the heavens in the palest blue whisked with thin clouds. Throughout the service the color deepened, the clouds puffed up bright white to what Bob Ross called, ‘Happy Little Clouds.’

The monument was unveiled. The bells rang. A day as such cannot be prescribed.

The weather was an incredible component that day; as if at first it honored our profound corporate loss, and yet realized the necessity to ever so gently and tenderly nudge out the tiniest emergence of hopefulness in an effort to heal a collaborate aching heart.

But our sense of security has never really been the same has it? Travel then, like now, came to a complete halt, yet another similarity niggling at me and keeping me up. Then and now, great weather on both days; also there are parked planes on runways now and were then; there’s a fear of traveling – the same – only a few are traveling. (Remember the “Thank you for traveling!” campaign?  I think I have a button squirreled away somewhere.)

Nineteen years ago, an unthinkable tragedy highjacked so much more than the planes. In our national grief, people rallied together at tenth anniversary observances all over the country and supported one another. It felt like everyone was trying to be a nice human. Calendar lady, Lori would’ve been proud. 

It’s the inherent goodness of people that my family comes together for this current, ‘Happy Long Weekend’ (quote credit belonging to LeeAndra Cianci.) And not just my family – so many others are spending Labor Day with loved ones on staycations in their bubbles – a few are venturing out, some folks are flying, adapting and braving it for one reason or another. For the most part, however, travel is not projected to return to normal for four…years. And there will again be a new normal when it does return.

9-11 changed our habits forever, and I wonder how the pandemic will too. Or if, after we have a vaccine, will we stop wearing masks and obsessing about hand washing? I wonder if I’ll ever be able to greet anyone with a hug without thinking about catching a virus or will it be like picking up someone at the gate, (flowers or a balloon in hand) that’s just not going to be a thing anymore?

There will be bells ringing on Friday, at particular times, in three particular places; a resonance of remembrance for each name read. Names. So much more was lost than just names. The people on the planes, the people in the buildings, the heroes that ran into buildings but never came out themselves. So many, many names. So many losses. On such a nice day. And so I realize another uncomfortable parallel; in the ToC we lose daily so many, many names.

The people ringing the bells this Friday I expect will be wearing masks. In Shanksville, (and not just because it’s the nineteenth or the tenth or the twentieth anniversary, but also because of Covid 19), I expect there will be no # 39, 42, 43, 44 or 45 Presidents.  I think it will be a quiet day.

Keeping me awake right now mostly is thinking about the names. For me and my family the names spoken aloud in Shanksville, Pennsylvania this coming Friday morning at 10:03:11 are the names of PEOPLE – who are SO MUCH MORE than just their names.  Real people with real lives who real people still miss every Labor Day and every other day, and were real heroes who shortly before 10:03:11, decided to form a collective body, who as Peter J. McGuire might have said, very much “from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” But by doing so, in risking the creation of that collective body, those people, gave their lives.

The people on United Flight #93 saved our nation’s Capital Building and the people in it, and around it. One of the names in it was that of my daughter.  And she’s alive to have now blessed me with two grand-names.  That’s the grandeur I behold.  Because of their actions, the people on that particular plane, not only my family but every other House page and countless others were bestowed such grandeur.

So much more Flight #93’s heroes stand for today; their sacrifice is the manifestation of the spirit of coming together for a greater cause. There’s still another commonality with today when I think of the names of health care workers that are read nightly now on the news. By risking their lives to protect someone other than themselves they too are heroes. I’m proud that my boy on 9-11, now a man is an ICU nurse and fights on the front lines. He’s among those who labor to bestow the grandeur of living.

I am forever indebted to Flight #93’s heroes. I continue annually to honor them by not only attending their memorial and listening to their names, but also by continually trying to bring folks together for purposes greater than ourselves. I encourage each one of us to do the same in this ToC. Let us face, (with our masks securely fastened) all the threats that loom before us at this time.

The moon has moved now, Mars hangs underneath like a sparkling drop pendent ruby, and I’m at last sleepy.

Before I close my eyes I invite everyone to rethink the complicated but considerable Churchills’ statement about the writing of history. Let the wrights among us not record exaggerations, untruth’s or rewrites, but strive to get it right, as we right wrongs reciprocally and most importantly, TRUTHFULLY…all the while, remembering to be, kind humans.

“What on Earth were you thinking?”

The irony of beginning a Travel bLog in the midst of a pandemic is not lost on me. In this ToC, (Time of Covid) travel for pleasure is a futile enterprise. Literally I’ve been stopped in my tracks (more actually in Virginia, on a tract of land a little less than a half an acre). I feel grateful for everything I have, to be where I am and appreciate having had the opportunity to travel more than ever.

Once, a long enough while ago, I sat in Iceland and lunched with another female traveler. “This is my 160th plus something country…” she began as envy made my head swim. I thought ‘Wow – what an amazing accomplishment!’ Iceland was my third country, I was just getting started, and woman’s stories about the places she’d been fascinated me, I took notes. Oh, I thought – the nomad life – with no ties and the freedom to go where one wished when one wished it.

Reality check: It’s entirely reasonable to believe I will not visit 160 plus countries in my lifetime…and the real me knows that’s going to have to be okay.

My daughter was ranked in her high school as the top tennis player on the girls’ team. Proud of her ranking we had serious problem. She loved tennis; turned out though she did not want to play in the number one spot! Not while the #1, #2 and #5 girls in the state – and very likely in the country – played in her division and all year, would be her opponents.

My daughter does a lot of things – and a lot of things well. So I told her, “While you were at band with your friends, #5 was on the tennis court. The years you spent on the cross-country team and working on the yearbook, #2 was on the tennis court. The years you spent on the forensics team, the debate team, at vacation Bible School, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, etc., etc., the year you were a Page for the House of Representatives, #1 was on the tennis court (in her backyard).” Our daughter set aside her pride and played with a champion-like attitude.

What more can you ask for as a parent but why do I mention it? Because it’s exactly what recalled after eating lunch with the #1 travel lady. For some time I’d desired visiting every country she’d called on. She inspired me to get busy and I mapped out all the interesting places in the world she’d seen and added my own. I envisioned heading out for a month, or two – or a year! My mother had traveled the world when my kids were little. Students study abroad, why couldn’t I just go live in some exotic place for a while? Iceland was cool (literally) I thought, I could stay there and see every inch of Iceland. Why didn’t I do just that?

Because raising a family is important, and I’m married to a pilot who went regularly around the world and my work kept me, well – where I was working and, and, and. Someone had to be home for the kids, stability is important. It was my honor to be there for my children but also I dreamed that once they were old enough, it would be my time to explore the world! When I did, I met my passion.

I love traveling, SO MUCH! Let me describe how much.

Recently I held a discussion with my five-year-old granddaughter. It’s beyond her to understand how her uncle’s dog appreciates being petted lightly – but don’t touch her ears or she’ll snarl, and limit it to one hug cause it’s enough, and so on, and so on into infinity. “Oooo, Gjee,” my darling girl cries out, “I love her…SO MUCH! I just want to…squeeze her!” Tell her to stop touching the dog when she ‘loves it SO MUCH’? What kind of a Gjee am I? A grandmother who knows exactly what it’s like; she gets it honest, this feeling of ‘loving things SO MUCH’. (One long ago Christmas in Texas I found myself hostess to five stray dogs.)

I can’t hug or squeeze travel, and if I did it might bite me back right now with Covid 19. But I certainly tried to squeeze in a lot of it after a late start, and just this year returned home from a trip in mid-February at the beginning of the pandemic.

I did not grow up in one place, and ironically thought kids who did were lucky. As a military brat I moved plenty around the United States, and indeed my family bound a truck and camper, ‘North to Alaska’ via the ALCAN (Alaska-Canadian Highway). But did I really consider traversing Canada as leaving my country? I was a little girl and it didn’t feel like it to me. There were a lot of trees, so maybe I just didn’t get a good view of Canada. I never got a passport stamp, and I’m not sure today if I had or needed one to enter Canada at the turn of the 70’s.

Subsequently as a military spouse, I moved plenty of times again – and moving is technically traveling, but not, you know…. traveling. And the word vacation for military families is cipher for trips to see grandma, (yet to be fair, did include a couple of trips to Florida).

So it’s fair to say I didn’t fully appreciate the traveling I was getting in while seeing my own country and continent; I had this yearning to go anywhere elsewhere, “Name the place, I’ll go!” My mother was corresponding from places world-wide, my husband exchanged flying military jets for cargo planes that took him on trips literally around the world. He’d head west-bound and deadhead home from Cologne, or zoom straight to Paris and drop in all over Asia and return via Anchorage. And then there were the boomerang trips where he’d go far-flung one way and return. From home base I carried on living vicariously through pieces of mail with foreign stamps and with an oh-so-bad-case of the ‘I want it SO MUCH’ feeling inside me growing.

It’s not hard then to imagine that I barely contained my joy when I applied for my first passport. I couldn’t stop smiling for my photo. And off I was! I was nineteen years married with high school-aged children before I ever flew from the shores of North America…all the way to Puerto Rico. (Which as we know does not require a U.S. passport.) But my plan was to launch from there and add up stamps on my passport in the Virgin Islands!

It was January 2002. A tough year for my nascent wanderlust to finally emerge from its’ cocoon. We almost didn’t go. And when we did, it was with new truisms; trepidation & the TSA. The fear of terrorism abounded throughout the travel industry. Thankfully my inaugural voyage went swimmingly, and incredibly I racked up several stamps on my newly minted passport. (Never mind how difficult it was for me to find the places that would comply and give me a stamp!) I learned passports are not always a necessity for those entering a country from a cruise ship. Hard fought for, my first stamp was a treasure – my at long last coveted souvenir.

I’ve mixed it up since then, a jaunt to Mexico (stamp), a few cruises, many solo sojourns to meet my spouse in an airport somewhere (stamp, stamp). My above-average-tennis-player daughter was one of those who did study abroad – in Spain – so (stamp) I had to go there! (I’ve been back to Spain several times because this daughter came home with not only a master’s degree, but also an MRS and eventually blessed me with the granddaughter who shares with me ‘I love it SO MUCH’.)

I’ve learned to travel on my own to places, to meet up with others and after accomplishing traveling alone have come to appreciate the aide of travel companies. I’ve been many times to Paris, have lately been exploring Africa and of course remember fondly my early trip to Iceland where I met the very kind and very lovely #1 travel lady. Stamps were adding up but I still felt I was just getting started.

And then came Covid 19 (don’t squeeze too hard).

The upside to being stationary again is that it has given me time to actually reflect on my travels, why ‘I love it SO MUCH,’ and what exactly propels one to leave ones’ home to go see things – what is that? To me, it feels dangerously like an ‘ism’; something that once you catch it, it’s hard to stop because you just can’t get enough. But seriously, as I ponder about all the things in the world I might not have a chance to see, I try to reexamine my own advice.

When #5 blogger’s photos of Bali beaches leave me bleary-eyed, I try to remember being on the bleachers at a baseball game (watching my son cover first). And when enticed by #2 travel trekker in Istanbul, I place value when I installed computer labs and once hauling my family cross-country in a rented RV to Indiana so my dying grandmother could meet her infant great-grandchild.  When I feel taunted by #1 tourist temptress’ time in Panama, I remember pre-school drop off’s and PTA prom planning, or preparing Power-Points for my job, or painting for pleasure or prompting public funding for the arts. All those things, in their time, took precedence.

My wayfarer fever has subsided long enough for me to acknowledge that for me travel is one of the many things ‘I love SO MUCH’. It’s no longer important how many countries I’ve been to, how many stamps I have. I’ve visited some countries for only a day before moving on. To say that I’ve stepped into those countries, snapped a photo and perhaps collected a stamp on my passport, does that mean I’ve really been there? In ToC I’m just grateful for having been anywhere at all.

When I am off seeing anything, all I really want to do is share it with the people I love. I send home countless postcards (which, mind you are NOT easy to find, let alone score a stamp and send!). I take a bazillion pictures to show my children and grandchildren, “This is what I saw and this is what I learned…are you listening?” I drag home food and spirit samples, regional cookbooks; and once home follow the recipes and share the food with friends (who knew I’d like pickled herring?). 

I’ve shared email addresses with my guides, sometimes people I’ve known for only an hour,  a practice that’s become a foundation for friendships that have now for lasted decades!  I invite people to visit me, in my country. One fortuitous parlay led to a visit from an Icelandic group and I was able to host, in my home, 26 musicians and dancers!

“What on Earth was I thinking by starting a bLog?” Well about this good earth, the people on it and how connected we are; especially when a hitch-hiking virus can affect us all. Traveling to see the world is important; I believe it’s helped me to understand more of it and I feel fortunate to have traveled my fair share. I’m thinking that using the knowledge I’ve come away with and how it’s reshaped my life is more important than my actual journey. I have found connections everywhere I’ve been – similarities with even the most dissimilar cultures to mine. I find like things or don’t like things, and I’m thinking about why that is.

I’ve found pictures are helpful and at the same time don’t do places justice – it’s really about the history of the country, the wars they’ve fought, how they’ve come to where they are now; it’s about the people you meet. I’m thinking I want to share these bits of history I’ve not known about before, I want to pass on new food favorite recipes that have changed my Mid-Western farmer’s-daughter kind of diet. By writing and sharing my photos and memories, I hope not to evoke anyone’s restlessness or discontent about the ability to travel or not travel, but to establish new understandings, help some prepare a visit, to spark a memory for someone (maybe without a camera) who was once where I was, but most importantly to form new connections and friendships. Time is precious, and there are so many things to do. Travel is but one thing to do, my Travel bLog is another thing.

Philosophy of ‘Never Again’.

We can’t just forgive and forget.  I think to forgive is very important, but I don’t think you can just forget and bury all the negatives of the past.  We do need to focus on how to use these traumas of the past to really create that philosophy of ‘Never Again’, so that we can move [forward] and we can live in a much more constructive and positive way.” ~  Bonita Bennett, Director District Six Museum*

I heard a little bird ‘tweet’ something last week that saddened me and harkened my thoughts back to another time.  Growing up an enlisted military brat I wasn’t cognizant of racial inequities at first, the split in the society I knew was defined by the military; your dad was either enlisted personnel or an officer.  Being one or the other determined not only your dad’s pay but where the family lived on base.  Not that I knew anyone with a mom in the military, I found out later officers couldn’t marry enlisted persons.  And that’s the way it was.

Later still, I became aware of the world outside the insular base installation barricades.  Barricades that mind you, I grew up believing it was a privilege to enter.  Living on base housing as a little kid was, in one way, magical.  Kids were kids and we all played together, I never realized we were already segregated.  I could ride my bike and run from one house to the other with relative freedom as long as I was at home on time for dinner.  I felt the walls protected us.  Never mind periodically we had to be locked inside our homes while the base practiced disaster drills complete with costumed and ‘bloody’ injured lying in the yard awaiting medical team responses.  It felt scary, but we were told it was pretend.

The differences between black and white was less noticeable to me because black kids lived where I lived – on base, in our protected world.  We seemed the same.  But around middle school, I became aware of my own racial bias when I remarked to a classmate that I thought she was pronouncing a word incorrectly.  I must have noticed a difference; I don’t remember trying to hurt her feelings, but it did.  Pronunciation over the word dog – d o g – differentiated us.  The girl was black, and I was told by the adults ‘resolving’ the issue that I was correct how to say the word but I shouldn’t have said anything.  Neither she nor I were well served by the intervening adults.

So ill-served, felt her older brothers, that they took it into their own hands to teach me a painful, harsh lesson.  I was too young to recognize or remember any ripple effect my beating may have had upon the small and remote base community, but hush hush, after it was over, I had less friends to sit with at lunchtime.  How tragic.  I’d hurt my friend in a way I didn’t understand, so her brothers tried to hurt me in a way I would.  Shall the cycle continue or where do we stop and take a look at what’s really happened?

I hope in sharing my story it makes it easier to realize why a relatively quick visit to a place would have such a profound effect on me.  That was just one of the things on my mind at the District Six Museum – I easily related to Joe Schaffer’s description of an integrated neighborhood.  I thought my childhood community was integrated, till I found out it really wasn’t for so many reasons.  I write today in resolve of Bonita Bennett’s ‘Never Again.’  Her quote resonates with me, not words about ‘suburban lifestyle dreams’ that do not exist in reality.  I pray that we ourselves do not become buried by the negatives of the past.

The Education Officers at the District Six Museum are former residents of just one of 40+ neighborhoods in Cape Town eliminated by apartheid.  Here in the U.S., we knew about apartheid, watched it on TV but how did South Africa’s suffering pertain to us?  We’d waged Civil War, abolished slavery, integrated – but did we really and truly?  And just how is it conceivable to comprehend collective trauma of which you did not experience?  What happened between me, the girl and her brothers was a symptom of the greater problem of systemic racism not addressed properly fifty years ago and one we as a society continue to bypass.  To heal the chasm we as adults we must teach our children to know and hear and use appropriately words of difference, patience, tolerance, unification and restoration. 

I believe it’s imperative to draw in a personal past history to grasp tragic events not your own.  Too often, I feel exists an attitude “It didn’t happen to me, what can I do?”  What must be done is to take it upon yourself to empathize.  Joe Schaffers, Education Officer and former resident of District Six is quite right when he says, “Pain is part of recovery.”  Your story may be in stark contrast to being forcibly removed from your home, yet it’s likely that any trauma you’ve experienced (and your subsequent reaction to it) can align your understanding closer to his – like bumper pads narrowing in to the strike zone.

The spirit of Bennett’s quote to “focus on these traumas of the past…so…we can live in a much more constructive and positive way,’ these words can be applied to everyone who’s endured any trauma, any injustice.  I suggest trauma and dealing with unfairness is one thing everyone understands the same.  What’s different is how we recover from the trauma, and if we choose to dwell in retaliation and anger, or move forward like Director Bennett suggests.  There really is SO MUCH pain in this world, SO MANY injustices, so many wrongs done to one, and to a million plus one.  Small misunderstandings as in my personal example and large like the corporate example of District Six are there to learn from so that ‘Never Again‘ is not a pipe dream.

History essentially builds foundations of trauma upon trauma.  While at the Cape Town museum I recalled visiting Alicante, Spain and seeing evidential remains of churches that provided foundations for synagogues that were flattened for mosques, and now are churches again.  How do we rectify past pain and differences?  Conquer, destroy and build over it.  We take precious little time to study painful history enough to learn from it, enough to change from it.  We are all too soon laying freshly made bricks.

Trauma cannot be undone.  Forgiveness, post trauma, is a process that takes time.  And in that meantime let us NOT suggest we simply forget it.  It will repeat itself if we do.  We ought NOT forget to try and understand one another’s pain.  Let us remember and share our stories so as to live in Bennett’s “constructive and positive way”. 

*2010 BBC Sport

See Director Bennett and Joe Schaffer in the original BBC broadcast about District Six:

Juxtaposing Januarys in July.

My husband and I started going somewhere at the turn of every year when it dawned on us our kids really were grown-ups and had lives of their own. Our daughter is married to a man from Spain, and the DaC (Day after Christmas), understandably, they fly to visit family they don’t get to see the rest of the year. Our son is a nurse and worked the days between the holidays so his colleagues could have time off to spend with their children. After they leave, the house is a mess with evidence of their presence, but there always seems a void. With such lovely reasons for not being around, we cannot fault our children for leaving us to sop up our feeling of emptiness with the leftover turkey.

Then we had the brilliant idea to just leave town and go somewhere! The only criterion, it had to be somewhere warm.

Hawaii was first on our list and we hit it a couple of years in a row before branching out. Last January, we found ourselves in South Africa and this year (right before the coronavirus pandemic hit) we explored the City of Gold in the UAE. We had plans for visiting several other places this year when suddenly the now infamous micro-organism seriously slammed the pause button on our globe-trotting.

So now we wait. But wait – and as I wait in this ToC (Time of Covid) I now have time to actually look at the photos of the places I’ve been to – and review the many things I’d bookmarked to look up along the way. On my way home from Dubai, I met a fellow traveler on his way to Colombia. The delightful young man encouraged me to post my photos on Instagram, something I’d not done before. With so many years and trips to choose from I didn’t know where to begin, until an article caught my eye.

Written by Tom Slater, the article was about the history of Cape Town’s District Six and announced that Joe Shaffers would be receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburg, Scotland in November 2020. Last year in South Africa, ‘I met this man named Joe’, and have recounted many times what meeting him meant to me. Joe is one of the Education Officers at the District Six Museum. And please read my bLog below for more about the day I met Joe. Sharing my pictures of Joe seemed perfect; a way to at the same time, celebrate his upcoming honor and pay my respects to a man who’d taught me something. For sixteen days I posted photos of Joe and the District Six Museum.

Not knowing where to go next, I pivoted to my most recent trip and posted photos of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. But as the pictures built up on my Instagram page, the stark difference of District Six 2019 juxtaposed with Dubai 2020 emerged before my eyes and gave me something to earnestly think about.

At the District Six Museum, Joe and the other Education Officers recount unfailingly the story of how one of Cape Town’s most diverse neighborhoods was literally picked apart and flattened. The Groups Areas Act, was one of the three-part tragedies of apartheid leavened by South Africa’s governmental rule that fermented the diaspora of friends and families into zones based on their income, race, color and creed. In many instances integrated families were no longer allowed to live together.

In contrast, my next batch of posts were of the gleaming Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, where in one minute I zoomed up to the 124th floor! The back-to-back visual comparison of these sets of pictures provided me a sober metaphor to swallow. How fast things can be torn down. How quickly things can build up.

When I flew into Dubai I witnessed before landing, a gorgeous sunrise that gave promise the city would live up to its’ nickname. It did and more – Dubai is incredible. Each structure is a glorious feat and example of what can be accomplished by encouraging your children to play with Legos and Erector sets. Scrolling through my pictures, it’s still beyond my comprehension of how architects could dream up, let alone actually construct such grandeur. Dubai, a microcosm of stability in its’ region, literally is a shining example of what can be created by working together.

Comparing cosmopolitan Dubai to a rather humble but very proud (and past) District Six – before its’ destruction – at first seemed far-fetched but in these two cities by the sea I found an allegory.

From the dating in the evidence of pottery excavated from the sands of Dubai and the well-documented European record of sighting Table Mountain and the Cape, we know both areas have been occupied and built upon on and off for centuries. Ignoring the obvious and vast differences, what happened in each place during the 1960’s and the contrasting results of actions taken was what captured my attention.

In the early 60’s Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum began Dubai’s grandiose fifty-year infrastructure development program, built an airport and twenty years later, hired Maurice Flanagan from British Airways and launched the state-owned and premium Emirates airline. Like the excellent hosts they are, Dubai reformed its’ laws enticing companies and people from the world over to come and, in true Western style, live with all the amenities.

Meanwhile in the early 60’s, Cape Town’s District Six was already a well-developed community, well-integrated with businesses and people from the world over, albeit in less luxury. They were happy and satisfied when in 1966 everyone was handed eviction notices. In tearing District Six down for a supposed greater development, a great development was indeed torn down, and nothing substantially constructive has been built since.

“We’re such a rich country,” Joe Schaffers told me last year, “South Africa has so many resources, it’s still hard to believe what happened and the land of District Six still sits mostly vacant.” The price of laws that separate instead of uniting.

It’s my good fortune to have picked these two places to visit on consecutive January trips. I’ve seen from the top of the world’s tallest building breathtaking Dubai, where it’s said that ‘everyone and everything comes from somewhere else’, a modern, successful example of what can be accomplished and built up by assimilating difference and in harmony creating something bigger together.

And I’ve been to splendid, spectacular Cape Town but also know, from a first-hand source, about its’ empty space in the heart of the city where people who all had ‘come-from-somewhere else’ once congregated collectively together in relative harmony fifty years ago. District Six was a place where people of all colors lived and loved. While not a shining example like Dubai of structural engineering, it was a shining example of excellent social engineering – a cultural melting pot, before apartheid tore it down and threw it out.

“We’re working on it,” meaning District Six says Joe; such an elegant man and former resident smiles and bids me goodbye with his motto, “To each one, I teach one…so as to not allow this to happen again.” Happy Birthday today Joe, you’ve reached this one, and many, many more than just one.

“What are you looking at?”

It’s a question I get asked a lot, especially when I travel and take pictures with my camera. Often, when I take several pictures of something, someone else will come along and snap a shot as well, (just because I am). My answer is sometimes I’m not sure what I am looking at! Sometimes I’m just drawn to photograph a subject and my plan is to shoot and figure out why I did later. At the District Six Museum, a museum that commemorates the lives of the people who used to live in District Six, Joe Schaffers was educating me on Cape Town history. I was drawn to photograph a stack of street signs while Joe explained how they’d been removed when apartheid forced everyone in the neighborhood out, abruptly displaced its people, and then razed their homes and businesses. A year later and still thinking about the images I brought back, I looked up the the street names.  

From the top down: RICHMOND = splendid hill. TYLER = a worker working with roof tiles/housebuilder (old). PRIMROSE = i.e. “Led down the Primrose Path”/pursuit of pleasure often with disastrous consequences. BALMORAL = castle in Scotland, favorite for the Royal Family/brimless hat/heavy laced boot. EATON = English Colonist/colonialism in America/riverside village. VIRGINIA = virgin Queen, pure chaste/”Verginius”/associated with Latin, Virgo, maid/LegendWhen Appius Claudius began to lust after Verginia, her father Verginius, a respected centurion, killed his daughter to preserve her chastity. MUIR = moor (Scottish)/open grassland with poor soil/moor a boat-tie or chain so it will not get away.

The names of two streets really caught my eye, RICHMOND, the capitol of VIRGINIA in the United States. Richmond is a city about an hour from where I live in Virginia. Visiting the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa was seeing these signs a coincidence? In places foreign to me I find it natural to search for connections to my home. In breathtaking, beautiful South Africa, so far from my country it was easy to forget the colonizers of the countries were the same.

The street TYLER, I discovered, is a name having to do with building things, yet District Six was torn down. The PRIMROSE Street sign meaning sent chills up my spine with its’ connotations – a prophetic postmortem. BALMORAL, a royal reference, a hat – hmm, a heavy boot. I let that sink in. EATON Street represents colonialism, associated with riverside villages; associated with another era, often romanticized. VIRGINIA, my state, I’ve planted roots there, it’s proudly one of the first of America’s thirteen colonies and the colonists defeated the British in the last battle at Yorktown. The battlefields are the outskirts of my neighborhood. Queens, virgin maids, killing daughters to preserve chastity. Wow, nothing I think of when I think of Virginia, yet the origin of its’ name. MUIR Street, open grassland – poor soil – yet the fact was District Six prior to 1966 had been thriving – so vibrant a community! District Six really is now empty grassland, moored and tied up next to the Atlantic sea – water that connects Cape Town to Yorktown.

These things, a part of what I was looking at a long way from my home and peering through my own lens. I was drawn in to the story these street signs silently symbolize.

How I saw Joe.

“Where do we belong?” he asked…Joe asked.  I focused the camera lens through my eye piece, I watched his lips move.  In a pause his words diffused into the ether.  I breathed in the question and put my camera down, abruptly self conscious for several reasons.  I put a tack in the map of Joe’s story and paused in self reflection.  I felt quite the interloper, a white woman from America, I’ve not been displaced from my home, how did I belong to, relate to this place, this District Six Museum?

Joe Schaffers, one of the museum’s Education Officers, described how he and virtually everyone he knew living in District Six, were extirpated from their homes and moved somewhere else.  Buried in the rubble of his story Joe mentioned his birthday, and I placed another tack – he was the same age as my mother.  My mother had been displaced from her home, not by a government but by very unfortunate circumstances nonetheless.  I tried to concentrate on a vibrant, diverse neighborhood of 60,000 people being involuntarily displaced.  Joe equated the number to being about a tenth of the total population.  This disaster was done in 1966.  I was four years old when Joe was being kicked out.

Situational awareness kicked in.  I was in Cape Town, part of the Western Cape of South Africa, on the corner of Albertus & Buitenkant Street, in a museum housed within an agglomeration of buildings that began with a converted Methodist church.  I liked that a group of buildings was now home to a National Heritage Site. District Six, the actual neighborhood, was within walking distance; we’d driven on a street called Darling somewhere nearby, I wondered why it was named that and what Buitenkant meant.  It means outside.  I felt like an outsider.

“The area was declared white – forced removal,” phrases in Joe’s telling the story; he continued and I listened and raised my camera again, not to hide behind, but to capture images that I knew most certainly would take me more study and time to truly comprehend.  I turned to a display of street name signs towering behind me, a permanent part of the museum’s collection; they’d been added in 1994 for the exhibition, Streets: Retracing District Six.  Leveled at my head was the sign for the street, Virginia – I lived in Virginia, stacked atop several more signs, Richmond, Virginia’s capitol.  I pushed in another tack making notice of a connection or a coincidence?  I wondered which of the streets Joe had lived on.  A map expanded over the entire floor.

“The entire neighborhood just sits empty?” I missed who asked.  “Save for St. Mark’s, an Anglican church, yes.” Joe very kindly answered, “The Hand’s Off protest movement barred any real development.”  His hands were clasped as if in prayer and it all seemed incredibly pointless, cruel, shameful.  Joe continued his lesson – he used the word, trauma.  Trauma.  I didn’t need a pin to tack into what that word was all about.  My own history with trauma became a portal I connected to Joe’s story.  A different trauma, not the same, but a way I could relate to the lifetime of pain Joe felt! 

In the decades of work to heal the effect trauma has had in my life, I’ve learned there are diagrams to chart the hierarchy of trauma.  On those charts, the events – and the consequences of those events – Joe described ranked understandably as an event at the TOP, clearly one of the most devastating things that can happen to a person in their lifetime.  I believe people feel this intrinsically and categorize painful experiences as important or not important depending on where they fall on the list.  Seemingly in accordance to the hierarchy, experiences with subordinate trauma are often discounted as insignificant.

A profound thought came to me, (profound for me anyway) and it was that trauma is one thing that connects us!  Trauma doesn’t have a nation, country, a sex, a race, a color.

I wish that where a particular trauma ‘fell on the scale’ wouldn’t determine how painful it’s supposed to be.  Trauma is trauma – the experience of it and recovering from it.  For big or small trauma, who is to judge? The process of healing is to deal with it, to remember it, to share it with others and learn somehow to cope.  Could the human condition, bound through pain, provide insight into the lives of people unlike ourselves?  My guide, trying to keep me on schedule, signaled it was time to go.  I could have stayed with Joe all day.  My trauma was not Joe’s, nor his mine, but planted on the map of District Six I (a middle-aged white woman from the U.S.) found a way to tap into the pain of a South African, eighty-year-old man of color.  I used my pain to make sense of his.  I felt no longer an outsider; Joe and I are both survivors.  There can be no accounting for traumas like mine or his, no apology or reparation is enough.

So it is that I was delighted to read of Tom Slater’s powerful experience also with Joe, and their subsequent collaboration with the graduate program at the University of Edinburgh.  It makes me so happy that Joe will be, in November, 2020, receiving an honorary doctorate.  I invite you to read Professor Slater’s most excellent blog provides history of Cape Town, and how apartheid demolished District Six and of course his relationship with Joe.  And hope my photographs do justice to the feelings I had about Joe when I met him.  The photos are shared on my Instagram page. Congratulations, and well done Mr. Schaffers.

The echo of injustice continues in the telling and retelling of the District Six story, ramifications of which are still to be dealt with today.  I suggest for anyone attempting to fathom something so awful, connect to your own pain and draw a map.

Please read and thank you ~ Jeanne

https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/tomslater/joeschaffersdoctorate/

Instagram@Ikeseye

District Six Museum