Tuesday, September 8, 2020
by Libby James
My Favorite Uncle
George, my mother’s younger brother, was a tool-loving kid. He was so attached to his hammer that he named it his boodle-do and took it to bed with him every night.
The youngest of four children, his dad died when he was only four and he soon became the fix-it man in his family.
My mom loved to describe the image of George’s leg poking through a hole in the kitchen ceiling. He had been making some repairs in the bathroom above which culminated in a rather large hole in the bathroom floor. Big enough for George’s leg to dangle through. Eventually, he would become an engineer.
He was born in 1910 in Harold Wood, Essex, a suburb of London, and lived an extraordinary life.
As a young man, he joined the army and was sent to France during World War II. He survived the battle of Dunkirk and swam into the English Channel where he was picked up by one of the British pleasure boats on rescue missions in those choppy waters.
He arrived on British soil with a pair of trousers, a pair of socks, a towel, and nothing else. In the pocket of his trousers was a water-soaked 10-pound note which he gave me.
He spent the rest of the war with the British troops in Burma and India. He came home with a nasty case of malaria and a big khaki hat with a turned-up brim that my brother and I thought was the coolest hat we’d ever seen. We called it his Burma Hat.
It took him several months to recover enough from malaria so that he could return to his work as an engineer. In the meantime, he became interested in genealogy. He created a family tree going back to 1712, recording information in his precise printing on a big role of blueprint paper. It is a treasured record of our family and I have it still.
When he served in India, his commanding officer tired of writing letters home to his wife. He asked George to begin writing to her. He more than obeyed those orders, to the point where he and Peggy became more than just pen pals.
When the war was over and he was sent home, George went immediately to see her, and before very long she was “in a family way.” My cousin Georgina was nine months old before Peggy’s divorce was finalized and she and George were able to marry.
After Peggy died, George fell into a depression he could not shake. Finally, Georgina insisted that he embark on a cruise to the West Indies. It was to change his life.
Aboard ship he met Joanna Rodriguez, a widow and a travel agent based in Mexico City. She agreed to visit him in England. He ended up returning to Mexico with her where they intended to marry. The ceremony almost didn’t take place because George could not provide the necessary documentation—Peggy’s death certificate.
“Ah, time is short, we must marry,” Joanna insisted. The authorities relented and the ceremony took place before they returned to England.
Even though she found herself a long way from home and in a very different culture, Joanna came to love England and found joy in making George happy.
About to turn 61, George announced his retirement explaining, “Being married to Joanna is going to be a full-time job.”
I inherited my lousy sense of direction from him. When he got lost on the way to his life-long home from the London’s Heathrow Airport, he breathed a sigh when he spotted Big Ben. “Ah, now I know where I am,” he declared.
George wore an old necktie around his waist instead of a belt. When the temperature got to 80 degrees, he slept in a little summer house at the end of his garden.
He played golf until he was 86, taking great pleasure from the friends he played with. He died in 2001 at the age of 91 with Joanna, his wife of 30 years, by his side.
I feel fortunate to have had such an uncle.
by Libby James
Two hundred and fifty-one days of the year 2020 AD are gone. One hundred and fourteen days remain. On this dreary, unseasonably-cold day in September, I am inclined to wish that this year would simply hurry up and get gone.
What a silly thought! Every day, especially as one gets older, is to be treasured, savored, and enjoyed. Yet maintaining an authentic and lasting positive outlook has become a challenge during this year of a world-wide pandemic caused by a sneaky virus that we don’t understand very well and that has flown the whole world for a loop.
The pandemic is impossible to ignore. We mask up before we go anywhere outside our homes. Many of us don’t leave home at all, choosing to order groceries online and have them delivered, and giving up any opportunity for human interaction.
When we are out and about, we work hard to remember to stay six feet apart which makes us appear to be unfriendly when in reality we’d like nothing more than to give a friend a hug or to simply engage in some chit-chat with a stranger we encounter on a walk.
More and more frequently, we meet, and take classes, and share our thoughts and concerns online. It’s better than nothing, but communication via an electronic device can’t hold a candle to all that we gain during an animated, in-person interaction.
And yet, as long as we are still present in this old world, vertical and capable of taking nourishment, we gotta hang in there, do our best to be in touch with each other, keep smiling, and looking toward a day when Covid-19 has faded into a disconcerting memory.
As 2020 draws closer to a close, perhaps we’ll find new ways to appreciate each new day. It won’t be easy, but there’s no doubt that it will be beneficial to each of us and to those around us.
Saturday, August 29, 2020
Friday, August 21, 2020
Friday, July 31, 2020
Dump the Slump
I just walked myself out of a slump—at least most of the way. I don’t get out of sorts easily, and I don’t like it one bit when I do. It’s boring, unproductive, and leads nowhere.
My recent slump occurred for several understandable reasons; a pandemic, the general state of the world, especially in the political arena, and the fact that I’m temporarily looking pretty freaky because of some bad skin issues. (There will be no photo to accompany this piece!)
It was hot out this morning and my search for shady places to walk was only minimally successful. Nevertheless I plugged along for an hour and 48 minutes, time enough to create an improvement in my general outlook.
People often accuse me of being an introvert and while I do lean in that direction, the Myers Briggs personality indicator puts me right in the middle between extrovert and introvert and I think that is where I belong. I know that 75 percent of Americans are extroverts so that puts me a bit out of sinc with the majority. My mate of many years and my four offspring are all solidly part of the majority, some more so than others. The four children have produced an even dozen grandchildren ranging in age from 15 to 31, six boys and six girls, outspoken, vivacious human beings that thrive on interaction with the world around them. To my great delight, these cousins get a huge charge out of interacting with one another.
I’ve lived alone for more than a quarter century and done so happily, enjoying my independence. But with the onset of coronavirus restrictions, my need to interact with my fellow human beings has become ever more obvious to me.
One of the reasons for this feeling has to do with the fact that I have less that I have to do and more time on my hands. I love to grow things and pull weeds, but you can’t do that eight hours a day. I love to mess with the written word, but right now I don’t have an engaging project underway. Daily runs have deteriorated into daily walks. On occasion I can break into a run but I miss working up a really good sweat.
I talked to myself as I walked this morning, pointing out that it was time to “shape up or ship out.” Time to broaden my horizons, time to realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have family and friends nearby even if it is not as easy to spend time with them these days.
Here’s what I think: When things look glum, step out the front door, head out into the world, be thankful to be alive, and talk kindly to yourself.