Don’t Bette on It

I fell in love with Bette Midler when I first heard her, shortly after I arrived in the USA in 1979. Her face had too much personality to be beautiful and she was too buxom for the fashions of the day, but she didn’t care. Actually, she seemed to revel in her own Bette’ness.  I played a tape of her songs over and over in the car, and my daughter, Helenka, became a real fan too. Years later, in homage, she nicknamed her daughter, Madelyn, the Divine Miss M.

bmWe pored over articles and photos of her as a mermaid in a wheelchair, or as a uniformed member of a 1940’s singing group harmonizing over The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B. For birthdays, my daughter would give me the latest CD, or a kind-of memoir, half-invented, of the Divine Miss M’s life. We went to the movies she starred in, and wept or laughed as the screenplay demanded. We even watched her doomed sitcom.

But we never got to see her live.

So, when, in 2003, Helenka managed to get tickets Continue reading

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Give someone a Tangerine for the holidays: 1

As my regular readers know, some of my personal essays and a poem were published recently in a great little book. Great, because the writing is good, and little, because, well, it’s small. A perfect size, in fact, for a holiday gift for a hostess, mother, stocking stuffer or just for fun. (Only $8.35!)

To give you some idea of the kind of book it is, I thought I’d share some of the pieces with you between now and Christmas. The book’s available at Amazon in either paper or digital form. Here’s a sample of writing from the editor, Lisa K. Winkler, my internet friend. Here you go.

Lisa Winkler and I – good fun!

There’s nothing like an ice cream cone.  And this summer, there are more flavors than ever to choose from. Creative expression has pervaded ice cream, exposing our palates to culinary experiences akin to dining in ethnic restaurants.

Cheeses- feta, goat, ricotta or blue can be found mixed with fruits and vegetables. Savory spices such as paprika, basil, rosemary, curry, pepper and even garlic are offered next to traditional chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.  In New Jersey, the Garden State, I’ve seen “Fresh Corn.”  For those who skipped breakfast, maple syrup and bacon flavors abound, and for those thinking salad, there’s olive oil.

Then there are the flavors invented by creative vendors whose names tell the customer nothing. Why don’t the stores tape an explanation of these flavors to the front of the case? Instead, customers have to ask what each is, wasting the scooper’s time and annoying the impatient Little League team waiting in line.

One stand offers a flavor named for the town’s zip code.  And “Special Flavor,” which changes all the time. Last visit, it was peach.  And the imaginative names, like Dirty Diaper, Elephants Never Forget, and Kong. 

GC: Wow – buy the book to read the rest – which includes a recipe for chocolate fudge sauce. Yum.

You can find Lisa on her website, on Facebook and on her blog

Weddings…

The only people who were really happy about our August 6th, 1983 wedding were Jay and I, my mother, my sister Susan, and Jay’s best man, Carl. That’s why, on our wedding photos, we are the only ones smiling with our eyes. My son and daughter are scowling at the camera, as much as to say “You made us come from Chicago to live in Connecticut for this?” Jay’s two girls are smiling, but their eyes look sad. They’re pretty sure they’ve lost their father. Jay’s mother and her second husband are trying to look gracious, but there’s a hint of disapproval there.

It’s 29 years later and things have changed. We acquired two extra sons along the way when my sister Susan died 16 years ago. Then we were presented with two sons-in-law, one daughter-in-law and six grandchildren. Our six children look amazed when we remind them we’ve been married so long – it makes them feel old. Our six grandchildren have never known us as anyone other than Grampa and Grandmama.

Remembering our wedding days, it’s a miracle we got married at all. Yes, days, because we were married twice. We’d married first on a cool Spring day in May, without telling anyone. I wore a chain store dress, and our witnesses were two people we rounded up on the day: Jay’s landlady and her gardener.  I was living in Chicago, Jay lived in Connecticut, and my Chicago immigration lawyer told me that I needed to get married because my US work visa was running out. It seemed like a terrible reason at the time, but I didn’t really mind, so long as, at some point, we had an actual wedding, for our family to attend.

We decided on August 6th, because it was a Saturday, not realizing that it was the 37th anniversary of the day the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. We found out that morning when the radio news reminded us. It was a hot sticky day, and we had no air conditioning in the small cottage we’d managed to afford. We switched on the fans, but were glad to go out on the deck for the wedding itself. The sun had disappeared, and the Justice of the Peace (who’d married us in May and kindly agreed to do it again) was casting worried glances at the lowering clouds.

We read our vows, which we’d written ourselves, and as the JP said “I now pronounce you man and wife,” the heavens opened with an almighty clap of thunder. We made a dash for the French doors, piling into the dining room in disarray.

After Jay’s family had left, we newly-weds, with Adam, Helenka, my mother, Susan and Carl, sat around, exhausted by the heat and the emotions of the day. Sweat dripped slowly down the back of my neck. We had fans on, but it was still humid, and wasn’t due to cool down ‘til later. I can’t remember who suggested it, but we all agreed with alacrity – we would go down to the beach for a moonlight swim. There was a moon by now, because the skies were clearing and we knew there’d be a breeze by the shore. We had the beach to ourselves – until a night watchman came up to demand what we were doing.

After we’d explained, he decided to turn a blind eye. He even wished us luck. We returned home, cooler and happier.

Our marriage has been like that. Sunshine and thunderstorms, family and friends, time alone and  time together, cool days and hot days. And through it all there’s been love, to keep us hanging in there.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. But now I’d do it somewhere air-conditioned.

The Mouse that Roared

 Nancy Wake – you’ve probably never heard of this heroine (the hell with p.c. heroes – she’d prefer to be called a heroine). She was a member of the French Resistance during the War (That’s World War II to those of you too young to know), and she died five days ago, aged 98. She was an incredible person – apparently she completely lacked the fear gene. Born in New Zealand in 1912, she grew up in Australia. At 16 she left for London, passed herself off as an Egyptian-speaking journalist, and ended up on journalistic assignment in Paris. (Can you imagine getting a job without credentials these days, by simply bluffing your way into it?) While there, she met and married a French industrialist, Henri Fiocca, and by 1938 was living in Marseilles, and speaking fluent French.

When the war broke out, she started helping allied pilots who’d been shot down to escape over the Pyrenees to Spain and thence to England. It was the escape route she eventually had to use herself, when the Gestapo was within hours of arresting her. It was the Germans who called her the White Mouse – they could never quite catch her. Maybe it was to do with her glamorous appearance – she used her bright red lipstick and flirtatious eyes to talk her way out of trouble more than once.

You can read her full obituary here, and I encourage you to do it – it reads more like fiction than fact, and in fact Nancy Wake was reportedly the model for Sebastian Faulks’ novel Charlotte Grey.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/nancy-wake-white-mouse-of-world-war-ii-dies-at-98/2011/08/08/gIQABvPT5I_story.html

The reasons she interests me are twofold: One, she lived the sort of life during the war that no woman could ever live now. Her initiative, resourcefulness and audacity made her a successful commander of a group of Maquis (resistance fighters). I don’t know how many women command male forces these days, but it can’t be many.

The second reason is my mother.  Nancy Wake belonged to a small elite corps of women, the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), as did my mother. I chose the photo above because I remember the same uniform hanging in my mother’s wardrobe when I was little. The FANY sent many of its members for training to the Special Operations Executive (precursor to MI5), and 39 of them were dropped by parachute into Europe as spies and Resistance members. 28 came back.

My mother worked in a different area, liaising with the Polish Army in Scotland, and then working for UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). What all FANY members had in common was that none of them were paid. They had to show that they had enough money of their own to be able to buy their own uniforms and provide for themselves. This meant that many of them were also better educated than the average Englishwoman of the time. They were better travelled, and many spoke foreign languages fluently. Ideal spy material.

I have no idea whether I’d have the courage to do what these women did. And I don’t think I really want to find out, either.