Thursday, February 23, 2017

In Which She Reams Out a Fedex Employee

Editor’s note: this post has been sitting here for a couple of weeks, but I was too lazy to finish/edit it. I am now renaming it Part 1 and adding a happy ending in Part II.

At the end of my penultimate post I commented that I hoped I could find a passport photo a little more attractive than the last one. Didn’t work out that way.

I hadn’t actually got around to doing anything about renewing my passport, so I thought I needed to do some research and after entering various applicable terms into Google I came up with the official website. It informed me I had to fill out the form online, but as it was obvious I couldn’t actually apply on line because I had to send some new photographs, I thought I would push the "get started" button to figure out what was involved. But pretty soon I realized that I was actually filling out the form and I finally got to a place where I could “exit and save” and my data would remain for 72 hours. I didn’t want to give my Visa number at that stage, because I wasn’t sure whether they would void the payment if I didn’t print the form within 72 hours, or if they would pocket the cash and use it for their own nefarious purposes.

So I turned my attention to the photo and realized I didn’t know where I could get one taken these days. A few minutes with the phone and finally someone said, “Try FedEx.”

We went off to the FedEx store and a girl with a big camera couldn’t figure out how to get rid of the shadow. (It involved closing the window shade.) She disappeared for a few minutes and a guy took her place. Eric? I nervously asked if the photo would come out to the required dimensions. "Aren’t all passport photos the same size?" asked Eric, who proceeded to point the large camera at me and click. It wasn’t a bad photograph. He wandered off to the area where the photos are processed and came back with a 2x2 inch photo. I had been smart enough to print off the five pages of instructions about the photo as provided by Her Majesty’s Government, and I told him it wouldn’t do. "It is the only size I can print it, “ replied Eric. Me: "You mean to say that this nation wide business enterprise cannot help any one who wants a photo other than than one corresponding to the American specifications?” This all went on for a while and Eric’s best contribution was the remark that there used to be a photo studio down the street, but it had now closed down, followed by the mumbled acknowledgement that the drug store across the parking lot “might” be able to help me.

Walgreens to the rescue: a very friendly man with a tiny camera, took my photograph, then put it in a machine with a list at the side of various countries, pushed UK and within five minutes I had my photograph. I was still so mad from my dealings with Eric that I looked like an ancient bad tempered crone, but I had my photograph!

Part II: to be retitled “In which her Majesty’s Government does an awesome job.”

I hadn’t even attempted to track my package of documents winging its way from Detroit to Durham. Give it time. And then two days ago we came home and took ownership of two big yellow envelopes which my neighbor had signed for. One contained my old cancelled passport and one my new passport. The birds which graced the pages of my last passport have been replaced by a series of designs which I decided to call “Merrie Olde England”, but if you have nothing else to do you can admire the art work here.

Thanks for your offer of help, Tim. I am all set. Well done, your Majesty’s Home Office.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Another Teenager

Today Eleanor becomes thirteen. And just to keep the family oral tradition alive, I must report that when she was born (so it is said) neighbors cried. Nothing against Eleanor, but because everyone was so relieved to see a little girl after three boys. As you can see, Eleanor isn’t one for pink bows and frilly dresses—she’s more interested in soccer cleats, but it’s the principle of the thing! She excels at Math and inherited much of her parents’ musical accomplishments.

So today is turning out to be a good one. My breakfast oatmeal was cooked by the family sous chef, we went out to lunch while running tedious errands and we will be dinner guests tonight at Kate and Ron’s to celebrate Eleanor. My favorite kind of day!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

There’s Something to be said for being an Insomniac

Most nights I sleep well, but there are times when I can’t get off to sleep or I wake up in the middle of the night or both. I try not to let it concern me too much: I do not have to work any more and most days I take a restorative afternoon nap anyway. And as I lie in vacant or in pensive mood, my inward eye sees, not daffodils, but remembrances, thoughts, concerns and way too often, worries.

A couple of weeks ago, for no good reason whatsoever—it was before last week’s news hit—the word “Passport” came to mind. Next day I checked, and although my passport expires in March, not February as I had somehow thought, I had better get moving. I had scanned the inside of my passport, but as I wrote this I had a thought and looked at the outside which is emblazoned with gold print “European Union, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” What is going to happen here? What will my new one say? I wrote about the whole performance ten years ago. I have not yet checked, but I bet the cost has gone up. Considerably. (I do not have to renew my “green card” until next year, but that will be a whole new story.)

Will I embark on any foreign travel? I don’t know because in spite of the surgery which seems to have cured me, at least for the time being, from painful attacks, I know there is the constant chance of a recurring flare. Maybe I will take my neurosurgeon’s advice and carry in my wallet an explanatory note.

I found this rather technicolored one, but the idea of wandering around Heathrow waving a sheet of paper like a twenty-first century leper with a bell does not appeal to me. Besides, the real problem would be getting medical attention.

Still, one thing at a time. Let’s see if I can find a passport photo a little more attractive than the last.

Friday, January 27, 2017

What a Celebration!

On Wednesday we went to a special birthday party. A one hundredth and third (yes, 103) birthday party. A special birthday party for a special woman.

Betty and her son Clarence
Some time ago our friend Caroll introduced us to Betty Banton. Here are some excerpts of the Press Release sent to our local paper by the president of the Woman’s Historical Club of Detroit, of which Betty is a beloved member,

“ . . . It is anticipated that Betty will receive birthday greetings from former President Obama, Dr. Paula Johnson, President of Wellesley College, the Dunbar Alumni Federation, Dunbar High School, Washington D.C. and others.

Betty was born in 1914 and grew up in Washington D.C. She is a proud graduate of Dunbar High School in N.W. Betty has often recalled how W.E.B. Dubois visited her home when she was a young girl. As a result she was invited to enroll in Wellesley College where she studied the Classics and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. At last year’s installation as President of Wellesley College, Dr. Paula A Johnson, MD, MPH acknowledged Betty as Wellesley’s oldest living alumna.

Betty is the widow of Clarence Banton of Detroit, proudly acknowledged as one of Michigan’s 155 Tuskeegee Airmen. Following WWII, the Bantons established Michigan as home. Clarence was employed as an engineer in the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant, Warren, Michigan.

Betty was a talented and beloved English and Latin (you can see why she and Ernie get on so well, editor’s note) teacher a Highland Park High School for many years. She was highly respected by her colleagues and frequently recognized by the Classics Department of Wayne State University. Her former students, colleagues and others continue to visit her regularly, always enjoying her great kindness and strong wit.

Betty’s body may be frail, but her thinking is intact. She is an avid reader and intently follows current events. She followed the recent election earnestly, proud to be a “Wellesley Woman for Hillary.” She often shares that one of her proudest achievements was being able to vote for Barack Obama not once but twice!

Betty is the mother of Clarence and James (deceased.) She is a member of the Woman’s Historical Club of Detroit and Christ Episcopal Church.”

Eloquent words, but any one with knowledge of the times in which she lived (or anyone who has seen Hidden Figures) can see how groundbreaking her life was. Here we see Wellesley’s oldest alumna showing her support for Hillary Clinton, arguably Wellesley’s best known alumna.

And here is where this post fits in seamlessly with the quasi movie review I wrote in my last post. When I walked into the small party, there was a man I didn’t recognize. He introduced himself as Chauncey Spencer, the son of a deceased Tuskeegee Airman. Caroll had met him at a Martin Luther King commemoration and invited him to the party as a link to the distinguished military unit in which Betty’s husband served. Chauncey honors his father by keeping memories of the airmen alive.  The subject of Hidden Figures came up, because Katherine Johnson's husband had also been a Tuskeegee Airman. I asked Chauncey if he had seen the movie. “Yes” he said. “I know Katherine.”

I attended her 102nd birthday party and hope to be at number 104.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Now That Was a Surprise

A couple of nights ago we went to see the movie Hidden Figures, which we both enjoyed. It was one of those “talk about it later” movies, centering around the contribution of three Afro-American women to the space industry. I read my share of non-fiction books, but I had never heard of this trio, and I can’t imagine why. In the last two days the Internet has yielded so much information on them and their work that I can be kept busy for the next several weeks.

I was not surprised that they had to fight because of their color to achieve their success. This was the beginning of the American space program, the early sixties, still a period of racial discrimination. I arrived in America in 1963, but Los Angeles was not a city of overt racial tension, though I suppose the Watts riots of 1965 put pay to that idea. If I saw George Wallace and his dogs and water hoses on TV, it was rather like seeing the huge snowfalls in the mid-west—not quite real. This movie, by showing the everyday discrimination which these women faced with quiet courage, highlighted their dilemma. There is a wonderful scene where Katherine Goble comes running back to her work station dripping wet after having had to run half a mile in torrential rain from the “colored bathroom” because she was precluded from using the bathrooms in her building. When her supervisor wonders why she is late back from her break her response is moving—and for once effectual. It had not occurred to me that even libraries were segregated, though Dorothy found a way to get her hands on a necessary book on programming with Fortran.

I was not surprised that the protagonists had to fight because they were women. That was the excuse they were given for their failure to earn a promotion or for being unable to attend meetings where information vital to their jobs was being disseminated. And the dress code. Simple strand of pearls! Katherine addressed that one too.

But what did surprise me was that the calculations for the first manned flights were done “by hand.” Alan Shepard and John Glenn were sent skidding off in space with their flight trajectories and even the calculations to get them back to earth figured out on little bits of paper in a blue binder. It was not too far into the program when IBM machines were introduced (hence Dorothy’s need to learn Fortran), but early on huge blackboards were covered with equations and symbols and then checked and rechecked. At the time I don’t think I ever thought about it and of late I just assumed everything was calculated by computer. I have become a denizen of the computer age.

There are so many reasons to go see this film (when the Oscars roll around you will be glad you did) and until then Google is your friend and you can meet and see photographs of three outstanding women, Katherine Noble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Noteworthy Day.

No, not for the reason you think. But since we spent ages trying to remember the date we were in Washington for an inauguration, it might be worth while to note that this year, 2017, the inauguration fell on January 20th.

January 20th also happens to be the birthday of our granddaughter Blake. She celebrated her 12th birthday today. She is a wonderful big sister to little Joe and can make life a little easier for Lucy and Peter by reading to him while they take care of little Gigi. In this photo she is at school and taking her turn to be “Principal for a Day.” I just love the outfit and I think she could pass for Principal of St. Clare of Montefalco. A year to go before becoming a teenager, so keep on being your sweet self, Blake.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

MLK Weekend: as Usual

As usual Andrew took advantage of the extra day off school to come and visit us. This time he brought all six of his children. As a birthday present he had bought a ticket for Linus, son number two, to see a hockey game at the Joe Louis arena, one of the last before the Redwings move to a new home. And, as usual, I worrited (wasn’t it a character in Dickens who used that lovely word?) all evening as they drove the 500 miles to Detroit on the Thursday evening after leaving school at mid-afternoon. It was close to mid-night when they arrived—but in spite of their late arrival, they were all up before me in the morning.

As usual, Andrew’s siblings wanted to spend every possible moment with him and their children wanted to spend every possible moment with their cousins, so there was a lot of toing and froing. Fortunately the weather cooperated so there were a couple of excursions to the park to let off steam.

This is the group on Sunday night before Andrew and his family left to spend the night with the five “Canton cousins.” The day before there had been another grandson here, but he left to return to college for a new semester. The third boy down on the right is the birthday boy. Can you believe the smart, talkative and altogether adorable little girl in the striped shirt is the granddaughter who had such a rocky start in life? It really wasn’t fair for Ernie to tell her there was an alligator at the bottom of our laundry chute and that he needed to be fed. I retrieved a lot of oranges from the dirty sheets.

Note to self: this is not an attractive photo. Figure out how to use your new camera. Fast.