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Kentucky Folks

Not a lot of people know it, but I was born in Kentucky and lived there for the first four years of my life. My father, who was very attached to his mother, took us to visit on school or government long weekends, and sometimes even regular weekends. Summer vacation invariably involved a trip to see Granny, Pete, and Willie; Uncle Sam and Aunt June and their kids, C.B. and Betty Sue; and Cousin Addie.

One object of all this travel and family bonding was to make sure we kids didn’t pick up “Northern” accents, which I did anyway through speech and debate classes and watching Walter Cronkite on the evening news. I could still pull out a Kentucky accent when needed, such as when trying to appall my sorority sisters in college.

I suppose I should start with Granny, Pete, and Willie, who lived in a small house in Lexington. Granny was my father’s mother, and Pete and Willie were dad’s siblings. Pete was actually named Edna Mae. As far as I know, the origins of the name Pete are lost in the mists of time, and no one ever called her Edna Mae unless they were mad at her.

She was, frankly, a homely woman with thick ankles, but we loved her dearly. She had a good heart and a sly sense of humor that seldom showed itself, except when we kids did something goofy, like when I go-go danced for Granny to “Winchester Cathedral.” Every year for Christmas she gave me and my sister identical presents, differing only in color. The gifts always included an Avon roll-on perfume and a box of stationery.

Granny’s house was wonderful. There was a magnolia tree and a peach tree in front, and a black walnut in back. There were touch-me-nots growing all along the front porch and we loved to pop the fuzzy little pods and scatter the seeds everywhere.

We kids had the run of the house and Granny would frequently open her coin purse and give us spare change so we could go down the street to the store to buy penny candy. Next door was a parking lot that connected to the back door of a laundromat. We would often take the shortcut to get to the Woolworth quicker for comic books and sundaes.

Granny had long, white hair – I doubt if she had ever cut it. I still remember her sitting in a chair, with her hair flowing down the back, and Pete brushing and braiding it for her, then wrapping it in a neat coil at the nape of her neck.

We kids loved the coal fire grates that heated the house for the longest time – they were replaced later with gas heaters, which weren’t nearly as much fun. Pete had one of those old popcorn poppers that was a rectangular basket with a sliding lid. We held it over the coal fire and shook it until it was full of popped corn, then emptied it into a bowl and start over.

Names are different in Kentucky. My dad, James Robert, was invariably known as Jim Bob. All names ending in A were pronounced “ie. I was surprised when I went on an ancestry site and found my grandmother listed there as Calla. We all knew her as Callie. There was also a Callie Jo in the family, who smoked cigarettes and had a questionable reputation. Naturally, I found her fascinating, as she was the only “bad girl” I had ever met up until that time.

When Pete died, I was chosen to represent the Ohio branch of the family as my father was bed-ridden with cancer at the time. When I returned, I described the funeral to him, including the car that followed the hearse and was filled with flowers. “A truck,” he insisted. I knew he was talking about what she deserved rather than my account of what actually happened. Apart from relatives, most of the people there were from the Greyhound Bus company, where she had worked all her life.

There’s lots more to tell about my other Kentucky relatives, but I think I’ll save that for another time.

Three Dads, One Person

My father had three names. No, I’m not talking about the three names that most people have, though he had those too: James Robert Coburn. But the names he went by were sometimes different.

He was born in Kentucky, the youngest son, so of course everyone referred to him as Jim-Bob. His relatives always called him that. In fact, when I went to his funeral service in Kentucky (he had one in Ohio, too), I had to remember to introduce myself to various mourners as “Jim-Bob’s daughter.”

When he went to work at a government job, people called him simply Jim or James. I still remember that when he went off to work, he wore a tie and shiny black shoes and smelled of Vitalis and Aqua Velva. This is the mental picture I still have of him when I was a child. When he drove us anywhere, my mother would say, “Home, James,” as if he were our chauffeur. (And since my mother didn’t drive, I guess he was.)

His straight-laced, government-approved persona changed when he retired on a medical disability. He struggled against multiple myeloma for nearly 15 years before he died. (I hope there are better treatments now.) He went back to his roots then, again taking on his Jim-Bob persona, though none of his relations were around to call him that. He started wearing jeans, plaid shirts, sneakers or boots, and often a cowboy hat. He wouldn’t shave for several days at a time. I think his spirit felt better then, even though his body kept on betraying him.

When I was in my teens, he acquired his third name, and it was my doing. There was one room in our house called “the sewing room,” where my mother kept her sewing machine, piles of fabric, and jars of buttons. I suppose these days it would be called a “craft room,” as my father often set up a card table there and went about his hobby, reloading spent brass, using a hand-operated device to resize the cartridges and seat the lead and primer. I think he enjoyed the process more than the idea of being thrifty. (He made the bullets himself by melting lead and squeezing them in a mold. My mother made him do that part outside. But I digress.)

Those were the days when a house had only one telephone, and ours was located in the sewing room. This provided little privacy when I was talking on the phone with one of my friends, as teens are wont to do. My father would often kibitz, making little remarks based on the one side of the conversation that he could hear. Every so often, I would say, “Melvin, you keep out of this,” which was an oft-repeated phrase on some TV show or other.

The name stuck among me and my friends. I introduced him that way so often, some people were surprised when they learned he was ever called anything else. (I suppose this was part of my maturing process, when I wanted something to call my parents other than Dad and Mom. My mother acquired the nickname Muzz, for equally obscure reasons.)

Far from getting upset or claiming we were disrespectful, he embraced the name Melvin. (Once he had a leather keychain made, and the name was forever after spelled Melvyn.) It was even included (in parentheses) in his obituary just so my friends could figure out who died. This mightily pissed off my sister, who never acknowledged the nickname.

There were a lot of things I didn’t know about my father, especially his service in the Army in WWII, but this I do know: His Melvyn persona was the one I liked best, the one with which I was able to connect more deeply, and the version I carry with me to this day.

(The picture that heads this post isn’t a very good one, but it’s as good a way as any to remember him. It was taken at my wedding reception, after he had shed his much-loathed tie, which at least he wore for the actual wedding ceremony.)

Missing My Friend

Last week I received an answer to a query. An agent I had contacted about my mystery novel had asked to review my complete manuscript.

My first thought was, “I have to tell Robbin about this!” But I couldn’t.

No, Robbin doesn’t have COVID and she isn’t dead. But she had a severe stroke last month and is in a nursing home. I can’t visit her or even call her on the phone. 

Robbin has a limited range of motion on one side of her body. With the other hand, she keeps trying to pull out her trache tube, which has made her life a tennis match between hospital and nursing home. Hospital to insert the tube, and back to the nursing home until she pulls it out again. Evidently, the nursing home does not have personnel able to put in a trache.

Robbin’s daughter and husband have had “window visits” with her, and now Stu is allowed to visit her in person. Stu and Kelly phone me frequently to give me updates on her condition, though there isn’t really much to tell, except transfers to and from the hospital and occasional infections and fevers. The latest update was that they’re now treating her for pneumonia. None of it is in the least encouraging.

I fear I will never have my friend back again.

Robbin and I met when she applied for a temporary job at a publishing company where I was working. I remember seeing her credentials and editing test and thinking, “We’ve got a live one here!” She only worked at the company for a few months, but it was enough to bond us.

Robbin has been my partner in crime, my commiseration buddy, my writing cheerleader, and my test audience. We have compared notes on our mental and emotional states, bitched about our husbands, given each other gifts, talked for hours about everything or nothing much. We have crashed parties together. We have made rum balls together. (My contribution was to taste them and advise, “Needs more rum.”)

She has taken me shopping and dressed me up like her own personal Barbie. Until she came along, I didn’t know there were any colors other than beige, olive drab, and camo. She took my husband shopping too, when he needed a suit for his class reunion.

When a tornado destroyed our house and my husband and I were stuck in a Red Cross shelter, Robbin and Stu gave us a lift and the use of their credit card to get us into a motel, where we stayed for a number of weeks.

I gave Robbin the first cat she ever had (Norman), thus starting her on a long career as the local Crazy Cat Lady. We’ve supported each other and cried our way through many a feline illness and death, and reminisced about our little friends afterward. I know her cats and her little chihuahua Moochie are missing her too. (This cat would surely remind her of Sandy, or one of the many others she opened her heart and house to.)

Robbin has never been good at diplomacy. She says what she thinks and doesn’t sugarcoat it for anyone. You always know where you stand with her. She has a generous heart and a raucous laugh that I fear I will never hear again. Her absence is a hole in my life that no one else can fill.

I know that the odds are not good for her to recover from this, the second stroke she’s had. I know I will likely never get my friend back the way I knew her. And I know my feelings are as nothing compared to those of her husband and daughter.

But I wish I had the Robbin I knew back, even for just another phone call.

Gravity Is Not My Friend

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “Gravity is not just a good idea; it’s the law.” That may be true, but I am seriously considering a career as a lawbreaker, an avocation as a scofflaw. I might even argue the point as a lawyer.

Gravity, while one of the most powerful forces in the universe, is not nice to those of us living on Earth. Oh, I know that gravity keeps the moon in place and creates tides and other really neat things. But for the creatures living here, it has its disadvantages. And by creatures, I mean people. You and me. Particularly me.

First, let’s take weight. It’s that darn gravity that causes us to weigh what we do. The moon’s gravity is only 1/6 of Earth’s. Therefore, on the moon, we would weigh 1/6 of what we do now. That’s why astronauts get to jump and bounce on the moon and give the illusion of floating. The moon still has gravity, but it’s not nearly as annoying.

It is possible to achieve zero gravity on Earth, but you have to ride the “Vomit Comet” to do it, which I, for one, am not willing to do, even if they would let me. (It’s an airplane that makes steep inclines and steep drops that leave the humans inside suspended in midair for a few moments, just long enough to see their breakfast also suspended in midair.)

(Incidentally, there’s been a lot of speculation about what zero-g sex would be like. From my extensive research in science fiction novels, I gather it would be awkward, difficult, and counterintuitive. If I ever have the chance to find out for certain, I’ll be sure to let you know right away. It’ll be the first thing I do, after.  But I digress.)

No, the problems with gravity are for we, the Earth-bound. Aside from the weight issue, there are the aging issues. Gravity pulls on our no-longer-so-firm tissues and causes them to elongate. This is noticeable in the skin (particularly on the upper arms and neck) and, need I say, in the boobs. You wonder why your chest is starting to migrate to near your belly-button when you take off your bra? It’s gravity’s fault you’re not perky anymore.

In my case, it’s also gravity’s fault that I’m as beat up as I am. My childhood nickname was “SuperKlutz” (this was in the days before self-esteem had been invented) because of my ability to accomplish such feats as falling out of the car with both feet still in the car. I also managed to fall off the monkey bars, landing on my head on what was then considered to be reasonable playground surfacing, i.e., asphalt. Some people say this explains lots, but never mind that now.

At my age, gravity takes my least little misstep and turns it into a trauma. Just the other week, I wiped out on a short flight of concrete steps, despite using a cane at the time, and bruised my leg, skinned my scalp (which bled like an SOB), and produced a massive goose egg on my forearm. The goose egg has ebbed some, but it left a hideous bruise that has still not resolved to a proper skin tone. I glance down and think, “Wait! I don’t have a huge birthmark there!” And even if I did, it likely would not be turning entertaining but appalling shades of dried ketchup, soot, teen hair-color, and pea soup as I wait for it to dissipate. It resembles either a tornado sky or a very overripe, much-abused eggplant.

To add to the indignity, when I do fall, that mean ol’ gravity keeps me stuck there on the ground. I need to strengthen my leg muscles, I guess, so I can regain a standing position if my husband isn’t there to swoop in and hoist me back to vertical. (Actually, sometimes I can do it and sometimes I can’t, and I’ve never been able to figure out what makes the difference.)

A cane I have gotten used to. Riding scooters in large home improvement stores with concrete floors is also acceptable. But, so far, I’m resisting using a walker, though I suspect it will eventually come to that, sometime in the distant future when I’m truly old.

Unless some clever scientist figures out how to dial back gravity just a wee bit or my next house is on the moon, of course.

Looking at the People of Walmart

Yes, I know. We’ve all seen the pictures. Fat people. Poor people. Poorly dressed people. Disabled people. Photos taken secretly at unflattering angles and then posted on the Internet for others to share and mock.

Doesn’t sound so funny when you say it like that, does it? Don’t try to tell me it’s all in fun. It’s not fun for people who see their own pictures being posted. If you wouldn’t point and comment and laugh at a person IRL – and I’d like to think no one over the mental age of 13 would – why is it okay to do it online?

It’s not that I’m a fan of Walmart. I’m not. I won’t shop there myself, and not just because I’m afraid of seeing a picture of my ass when I bend over to get something off the bottom shelf displayed on my Facebook feed.

But some people have no other realistic choices. People who live in rural areas, for example. Walmart may be the only grocery store/department store within miles of where they live. It’s the same for people in small towns (once Walmart has run all the Mom-n-Pop shops away). I live in a nice suburban area with lots of shopping choices, but I know people who don’t. For them, making a monthly or weekly trip to “Wally World” is a necessity.

Other people shop at Walmart simply because they can’t afford to shop anywhere else. Walmart may not be known for high-quality products or an appealing selection, but they are known for low prices.

Do these people really need to add potential humiliation to the struggles of their everyday lives? Or do they deserve respect like other human beings?

It’s also worth giving a thought to the people who work at Walmart, which is not known as a kind and sensitive, or high-paying, employer. Many a Walmart worker gets so little income from their labor that they are receiving SNAP benefits (as food stamps are now called). It’s been pointed out that when employees have to rely on food stamps and the employers don’t pay a living wage – and get government tax breaks – it is actually corporate welfare.

Finding reasons to hate Walmart is easy enough. Marketwatch once published a story, “Four Reasons Walmart Is the Most Hated Retailer in America.” AlterNet reported that Walmart and its managers treat workers “like dirt, including low wages, no benefits, irregular schedules, and unreliable hours,” as well as disrespect such as forcing workers to do heavy-duty work despite medical conditions and pregnancies. Recently Walmart took a hit when it reclassified a disabled greeter’s job so it required him to be able to lift 40 pounds. (Public outcry caused them to walk back the decision.) Walmart also has a bad record with regard to settling employee grievances and labor organizing.

So as far as I’m concerned, say what you will about Walmart the company. Bitch all you want to about their merchandise, their checkout lines, and their corporate management. But leave their greeters and other employees out of it. They have it rough enough. They deserve respect, too.

And before you post a picture titled “People of Walmart,” think twice. The fact that the photos are taken and shared without the subjects’ permission may mean they are technically legal since they are taken in a public place. But honestly, don’t we have better things to do than appearance-shaming people who shop there – or any people, for that matter? Show some class, people. Don’t share the photos.

Facebook, What Have You Done Now?

We all remember going to an amusement park or a store and seeing a rack of hats or keyrings emblazoned with people’s names. What a thrill it was for kids to find their own names, and how disappointing when your name didn’t appear or was spelled another way! (Now, of course, parents are wary of putting children’s names on their clothing because of potential kidnappers. But I digress.)

Custom printing can be a wonderful thing. It meant that I was able to order two t-shirts for my husband and me featuring the cover of my new book. (Shameless plug: Bipolar Me, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and in bookstores.) Friends of mine have ordered multiple copies of shirts with screen prints of albums or book covers or business logos to give or sell as promotional “merch.”

But custom printing is also getting a little bit creepy. I’ve seen ads on my Facebook timeline recently for t-shirts that say: I May Live in Ohio But My Story Began in Kentucky. Now, this is true: I was born in Lexington, KY, and I now live in Ohio. But I can’t believe that some company has t-shirts that feature every combination of states in America and sells them to anyone who finds them appropriate. It would take 99 sets of shirts to account for former or current Ohioans alone. If my math is right (which I don’t guarantee), that would mean nearly 5000 shirts for every combination of possibilities. And I can’t believe that a t-shirt company routinely stocks thousands of differently worded shirts against the hope that someone will buy one.

No, these are targeted t-shirts. I’m guessing that Facebook has sold my birthplace and current address info to some company who has a template they fill in with Ohio and Kentucky, if I should be so inclined to buy one. Until or unless I do, that shirt may never actually exist.

But with all the brou-ha-ha about Facebook selling people’s information, I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised. After all, I was silly enough to tell people where I was actually born and now live, just in case, ya know, someone wanted to make sure that I was the right Janet Coburn they wanted to contact, rather than the one born in Hawaii who now lives in Minnesota.

I don’t really mind when Facebook sends me ads for shirts featuring my favorite singers with a list of all their songs. I can believe that John Prine and Emmylou Harris have enough fans that might want t-shirts but can’t get to concerts. Someone could actually have pre-printed those shirts. But again, the fact that I liked them on Facebook sure seems as though the fact’s been plucked from my favorites listing and sold. I never get ads for shirts featuring Metallica’s greatest hits or songs by Justin Bieber.

So what else does Facebook apparently know about me? That I’m a science and science fiction geek and a literature lover and a word nerd and crazy cat lady. That info could easily be generated by the pass-alongs I pass along. So, of course, I get ads for Star Trek items and book-themed gifts and shirts about the Grammar Police and anything connected with cats.  I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I just saw an ad for cat book shoes. And I guess I’m fine with that too, although I wonder how much such companies pay Facebook for the use of their algorithms.

But the home state/current state shirts have me a little spooked. Am I going to start seeing ads with my high school’s name? My favorite quotations? My political associations (if I had been bold enough to list them)?

Frankly, I’d prefer to remain a little anonymous and just wear nightshirts that say I ❤ My Bed.

 

I Have a Thing for Older Men

cousteau.jpg (483×357)Settle down, now. That thing isn’t sexual attraction, though that now that I’m getting older myself, a mad crush might not be inappropriate.

No, the thing I have for older men is admiration. There are just some men who strike me as Cool Old Dudes. That “Most Interesting Man in the World” from the Dos Equis commercials would be one if he were only real.

What are the qualifications for making my list of Cool Old Dudes? They don’t have to be hunky or even distinguished looking. But they do have to have had interesting lives. Done things. Gone the distance. Remained relevant. They are men who have impressed me with their depth and special qualities that count far more than looks.

Probably the first man who ever made my Cool Old Dudes list was Jacques Cousteau. The man invented SCUBA gear, for God’s sake, and then used it to explore “The Undersea World” and make all those extremely cool documentaries that I watched as a kid. As he got older, he just kept getting cooler, sailing the Calypso to somewhere new where there was something to discover. Long after you’d have thought he would have given it up, he kept strapping on the tanks and out-diving men half his age.

Patrick Stewart makes my list, too. From the time he played Jean-Luc Picard while eschewing a wig, he seemed cool to me. How many actors portraying leadership, non-comedic roles are willing to take that leap? Then he became even cooler when he championed causes like domestic violence, women’s rights, Amnesty International, and PTSD. There’s nothing like using your fame to support righteous works to make my list.

There’s also his friendship with Ian McKellan. It’s Cool to see Old Dudes just goofing around like that. Stewart’s Totally Cool video of him singing country and western songs for charity shows that though he’s an actor with numerous Shakespearean roles under his belt, he’s not so stuck up that he can’t be silly on occasion.

One of my personal heroes, Willie Nelson is a Cool Old Dude. Starting at a time when Nashville just didn’t understand his kind of music, he kept doing it his way until finally the rest of the world caught up with him. One of the Coolest things about him is that he’ll sing and play with literally anyone, from Keb’ Mo to Julio Iglesias. Over the years he’s put out albums of blues, reggae, old standards, and tributes to everyone from Lefty Frizzell to Frank Sinatra.

Add to that his work for Farm Aid, even after all these years; his movie and TV career; his appearance on Steven Colbert’s Christmas special; and his membership in the country supergroup The Highwaymen, and you’ve got a non-stop Cool Old Dude who’s also known in Democratic circles for his liberal politics.

Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama, also makes my list, not just because he is a religious leader, but because of his world travels, his many appearances promoting peace, his support for Tibet, and his beautiful smile. He lives as a refugee in India and promotes the welfare of Tibetans,  as well as speaking about the environment, economics, women’s rights, non-violence, interfaith dialogue, physics, astronomy, Buddhism and science, cognitive neuroscience, reproductive health, and sexuality. Hardly anyone, young or old, is that completely Cool.

Bob Keeshan, perhaps better known as Captain Kangaroo, was also a Cool Old Dude. Nearly everyone (at least those my age) remembers him from his children’s show, which offered nonviolent, engaging content for youngsters. Outside of his show, Keeshan was a tireless and passionate supporter of and speaker on children’s causes, including abused and neglected children and violent ads shown during children’s programming. He’s also one of my Cool Old Dudes that I met in person, when I interviewed him for Early Childhood News.

And no list of Cool Old Dudes would be complete without former president Jimmy Carter. As a president, he gave up control of his peanut farm to avoid conflict of interest. As a former president, he is still living his faith and working – actual physical work into his 90s – building homes with Habitat for Humanity. He continues to speak out on issues such as torture, women’s rights, and reform within the Southern Baptist Church.

There are other Cool Old Dudes out there, in private life as well as in public. Do you have someone to add to the list?

 

Do You Know a King Baby?

I’ll bet you do. Almost everyone knows a grown-up in their life who has to be right all the time, has to be catered to, and blames everyone else for failures or unpleasant events.

Who is a King Baby? (Not to be sexist. There is also Queen Baby.) Someone who never grew up, at least not emotionally. King baby expects everyone to love him, take care of him, and solve all his problems for him.

Reference.com says that a King Baby: “is typically selfish, rejects criticism, complains, is obsessed with money and belongings and doesn’t feel like rules should apply to him. In short, he is someone who refuses to mature.” Tom Cunningham wrote the book (well, the 28-page pamphlet) on King Baby Syndrome in 1986. It’s still available from Hazelden, which is good because King Babies haven’t gone away, nor are they likely to.

King Babies view the world as their plaything and other people as someone whose only function is to meet their needs. Physically they are adults, but emotionally they are still infants. Typical King Baby remarks are, “That’s not fair,” “This is what I want,” “That’s not how I do it,” “Do this for me,” and “I’m the best at everything.”

Needless to say, King Babies are very trying to be around.

I learned about King Baby syndrome from my husband. Not that he has King Baby syndrome. But he used to work as a counselor with various therapy groups. One thing he told me was that when someone was trying to pull King Baby shit, one of the others might call him on it by saying, “Wah!”

King Baby goes by other names as well. Probably best known is the Peter Pan Syndrome, from an 80s pop psych book of the same name. Years before that hit the bookshelves, though, writer Aldous Huxley produced a novel called Island, which talks about “dangerous delinquents” and “power-loving troublemakers” who are “Peter Pans.” In addition, he said, they are “boys who can’t read, won’t learn, don’t get on with anyone, and finally turn to the more violent forms of delinquency.” Huxley cited Adolf Hitler as an example.

King Baby syndrome is not an actual psychological thing. It is not covered in the DSM, the psychiatrists’ bible of mental illnesses and like conditions. But the DSM does include Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which shares some of the same characteristics:

  • exaggeration of accomplishments
  • saying they have done things they haven’t really done
  • acting or feeling more important than others
  • believing they are special and unique
  • having a need to be admired all the time
  • expecting to be treated differently, with more status than others
  • exploiting others to get what they want or need
  • pretending concern towards others or lacking empathy
  • being jealous and competitive with others
  • thinking that others are jealous of them
  • acting arrogant and superior

So what do you do with a King Baby? My advice is to avoid him or her if possible. You can, like the people in my husband’s therapy groups, call the person out for such behavior, but it is not likely to do any good. Often it’s best just to cut King Baby out of your life. If you do, though, expect anger, blaming, and recriminations.

If you do have to live with a King Baby, perhaps the best thing you can do is to recognize the behavior when you see it happening and not fall into the trap of trying to meet King Baby’s every need. This won’t make any difference in King Baby’s behavior, of course. You’ll have to deal with pouting, sulking, poor-me talk, and even retaliation.

Because just as vampires never grow older, King Babies never grow up. They can’t and they won’t. So there.

Long-Distance Love Can Work

We met under the most unlikely of circumstances: in front of the food tent at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, introduced by mutual friends. Dan was from the Philly area, but I was living in Ithaca, NY, and scheduled to relocate to Ohio within two weeks. Unlikely as it may seem, we fell in love.

Not right away, you understand. It took us at least the two weeks that intervened before I moved. I invited Dan to a house party in Ithaca. He drove all the way there to see me despite having spent only the long weekend of the Festival with me. At the party we were inseparable. By the time I left for Ohio, we were in love.

No one figured that we had a chance to make it work. Long-distance relationships never succeed, especially those that start with such a brief acquaintance. But no one had considered the stubbornness of either him or me.

At first, things went about as you’d expect. I rented a four-room apartment in a small house in Ohio and Dan continued to live with his parents and work at a nearby hospital. We resolved to keep in touch.

This was in the days before texting, IMs, and the Internet existed, so we kept in touch via actual physical letters. In those letters we opened up to each other, getting to know each other’s most personal feelings the way we never could have just by dating. I typed my letters on my brand-new portable electric typewriter. Dan wrote his longhand in the breakroom at his job. Since he worked third shift, his letters often became long, funny, surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness rambles created in the wee hours of the morning. There’s nothing like stream-of-consciousness for getting inside someone’s head and learning all about him.

Neither one of us had much money for phone calls or visits, but we managed to work in some of each. And in the February after our August meeting, I was startled to receive flowers, the first Valentine’s Day bouquet that anyone had ever sent me. I took a Polaroid picture of them, which I still have.

As the months went on and our letters became more infused with growing love, we began to talk about the possibility of actually living in the same state. I went back to college and settled in to wait. I figured Dan would eventually get tired of living with his parents and make the move.

And so he did, arriving in an orange Pontiac Ventura with a U-Haul trailer of his belongings. He found a small apartment just down the street and around the corner from mine, and we began getting to know each other in person and seriously planning our lives together. At last he proposed and I said yes.

It wasn’t all smooth and steady, of course. We were both young and had problems we hadn’t worked out. Some of mine involved the bad relationship I was in when we met. Some of his involved his family, who didn’t want to see their son settle so far from the family home as his brother had. Both of us had emotional baggage that seemed as though it might drive us apart.

That’s where the stubbornness came in. After all the time apart, the soul-baring letters, and then the luxury of living within walking distance of each other, we were determined to make this relationship work. We worked on our problems, separately and together, until we achieved liveable compromises with our pasts.

Now, 35+ years later, we are still together. Not that we have been solidly joined and happy the entire time. I remember at least once when I called around looking for an apartment that would take a woman with two cats. He once worked on a budget to see if he could live on just his own salary. We fought. We sought counseling. We made it through.

I can’t advise that anyone begin a long-distance relationship. More often than not, they don’t work. But when they do, it’s magical.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find out What It Means to Everyone

“Hello, Marvin,” I said, as I stepped to the front of the line at the polling place.

“Hello,” he said, looking puzzled. “Let’s see if I can remember your name.” He thought a minute.

“Janet,” I said. No light went on in his eyes. “Coburn,” I added.

“I know I must have seen you around somewhere.”

“Actually, no. I just read your name off your name tag and wanted to be friendly.”

“I forgot I was even wearing it,” he said.

* * *

My husband was working in the electronics department of the store. He saw a customer looking at the merchandise. She was apparently transexual, or in transition, or perhaps a transvestite.

“Hello,” Dan said, with a friendly expression on his face. “Is there something I can help you with?”

The woman seemed taken aback.

* * *

Dan also sees many customers from Arabic-speaking countries. He greets them the same way, then helps them as best he can, holding up items and doing his best at understanding heavily accented English.

Those customers always come back. Sometimes, late at night, they talk to Dan, compliment him on his full, lush beard, and introduce him to their friends.

* * *

I was walking through the university’s Student Union building, leaning on my cane. Tired, I tried to take a seat on a convenient chair, but missed my landing and fell to the floor.

Instantly, a group of young women appeared at my side, expertly hoisted me into the chair, and offered to get me juice or a hot, comforting beverage. (I was a bit shaky after my tumble.)

When I assured them I was fine, they returned to the juice bar or went off to class, with no fuss or fussing. It was a big deal to me, but seemed just another event to them.

* * *

Not so long ago, there was a vogue for “random acts of kindness” – helping unknown recipients by putting a coin in an expiring parking meter or paying for the next person in line at the toll booth. And these were indeed nice things to do. They did add a little kindness to the world. Largely, they were anonymous.

What I would like to see in the world, however, are random acts of respect – using a person’s name, waiting on all customers with an attentive expression and welcoming word, helping a fallen stranger.

In fact, these shouldn’t be random acts of respect. Ideally, they should be everyday occurrences, practiced by everyone. We know that’s not going to happen, or at least not anytime soon.

So for now, let’s concentrate on “random.” Just try it whenever you think about it, or once a day. Use a person’s name – even if it annoys you when a server tells you hers, don’t summon her by saying, “Hey, waitress!” Say “Thank you” to the baggage attendant that just lifted your 50-lb. suitcase, even if you’re furious that you had to pay extra for it. Smile and nod at the worker who cleans your hotel room as you pass her in the hall. Shake hands when you’re introduced to the young person with blue hair and sleeve tats.

Do it because it will surprise someone. Do it because it will make someone feel good. Do it because you’re a good person. Do it because your mother told you to be polite. Do it because it’s the only lift a person may get all day. Do it because the people you meet every day deserve respect and too often don’t get it. Do it because we’re all human beings, sharing the planet.

And say “thanks” or nod and smile when someone shows respect to you. You deserve it too. Then keep the chain going.

Practice won’t make perfect. But it will make better. Help. Greet. Smile. Thank. Look at someone when you talk to him. To quote a different song, “Little things mean a lot.”