July 17, 1953

Life in the summer of 1953 in Ohio

It was summer. It was hot. It was Friday night in 1953. My friends and I boarded the bus downtown to our local YMCA and scampered down the outside stairs to the basement Swing Haven. It was the place to be. The rainbow-lit juke box would be blaring and swinging with Dean Martin, Perry Como, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Eddy Fisher and Hank Williams. We could count on it. Our teenage hearts were pounding with excitement as we entered the darkened abyss.

Duck-tailed boys on one side and poodle skirts and pony tails on the other. The biggest worry for us girls was that we would be left standing alone and not get picked to dance.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that, other than being rejected by the opposite sex, we had so few fears in those days. We rode the bus alone at night and walked home on dimly lit streets and came home to unlocked doors. No cell phones or alarms. My parents never worried that I would be anything but safe in Steubenville in 1953.

At the same time a world away in Berlin, my pen pal Ursula, was living an entirely different life.

July 1, 1953

Dear Sandra, Berlin, 7th Juli 1953

I have the letter from June 18th not can send to you. Here in the sovjet-sector from Berlin we had a big demonstration of all people here. I send now the letter from the west-sector (american-sector). I hope very, that you now became it. Escuse me, that is so a long time continues.

Please write me directly, therewith I wait that the post goes. The next letter send me please to my aunt in the west-sector of Berlin.

Sincerely yours,
from Ursula Thie

On June 16, 1953 construction workers on Stalinallee in East Berlin downed their tools and went on strike. The initial strike spread quickly: by the morning of June 17th 40,000 demonstrators were marching in East Berlin, with a wave of similar strikes and protests recorded in numerous cities.

Berlin, June 16, 1953

By the afternoon, the situation had escalated to such an extent that Soviet tanks had rolled out onto the streets of Berlin, the conflict leaving more than 40 dead and 400 injured. By the evening it was over. Seven hundred protestors were arrested for their involvement. The level of discontent took both the East German authorities and the Soviets by surprise. And people like Ursula were caught in the middle just because she lived in a sector given to the Soviets.

Ursula lived through the violent fall of Berlin in 1945, loosing her father. The Soviet Army held little interest in taking prisoners, which seemingly played well into the German mentality of “fighting to the last”.For her hard times were a well-etched part of her 17 year old life so far. She seemed to take it strangely in stride.

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The letter I received from her written during the uprising talks matter-of-factly about the mini-opera houses, cinemas and her life living in the heart of ‘the chief city’ of Germany. In closing, she notes that in Germany the modern music of bogies, bops, and other dances grows. Jazz has only found ‘some friends’. They like waltzes, fox trots, polkas and tangos.

Little did we both know that the world would in time become smaller and smaller with an internet click melding each civilization and one another.

Letters From Berlin

Glockenblume from 1953
It has always been my rule that if something has been hanging in my closet for a year or two and I haven’t worn it more than once, it goes to our local thrift shop. Clothes have always been easy to not become an attachment for me. But anything with memories, not so easy to toss.

Having lived in the same house for forty years one can just imagine how many memory-attached things I have. And bizarre as it may seem to you, I even have my mother’s purse I brought home from the hospital when she died with all her precious personal items still tucked inside. A real Grandma purse, a piece of her and who she was, with short handles and a snap closure that is still tucked away on my closet shelf. I even wrote a whole essay about that purse in Read Between My Lines.

All of this brings me to my efforts today to finally begin eliminating some ‘stuff’ among my personal things my mother, the guardian of her children’s memories, had saved for me.

In an old Balfour box (from my college jewelry days) I found a group of long-forgotten time weathered envelops addressed to me in Ohio and posted from Berlin, Germany. Letters that took me back into a world that was about to change, way beyond the innocent exchanges of my new pen pal, Ursula Thie and I. We became pen pals through a program at our Methodist Church.

The beginning year of our childhood correspondence was 1953. I had just turned 14 and was enjoying the freedoms of Junior High and life in a thriving Ohio Valley Steel town.

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Berlin, den 27.2.1953

Dear Sandra,

I thank you for your letter. You have it write in the december and I have became it now in february. With your letter together I have become three table of chocolate, about these I was very glad. My name is Ursula Thie.

We girls here in Germany are not how you Y-tem. Our name is young community of evangelist church. In our group we are girls between 14th and 20 years. I self am 17 years old…..

I live in Berlin with my mother and my brother. My father was falling in the contention 1945.

I am 1,70m great, have blond hairs and blue eyes. When you have a photo from you please send it me.

In the winter I am going several times into a teatre, In the summer I travel out of Berlin.

Please write me in your next letter many things from you and your live. I please you, to excuse my base english. The name of the flower at this letter is bell-flower-glickenblume.

Sincerely yours,
Ursula Thie
Berlin

In my world, we had just elected a new president, Dwight D. Eisenhower and my family in January was glued to our television set watching I Love Lucy give birth. In February our president refuses clemency for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and Walt Disney’s 14th animated film, Peter Pan, arrived at our local movie theater.

In Ursula’s world, she was learning English, going to festivals where she was singing jolly songs and eating pancake, enjoying her girl’s group where they visited various denominational churches including the Russian Orthodox and the Naumburger Dom and planning ahead for a summer away from Berlin.

Little did we both know that on June 17 of that year things would change for her in East Germany.

Blogs and my correspondence with Ursula to be continued……

Google Me A Frog Please

Ok. I think I am really loosing it. At least that is what my 18 year old grandson chided when I told him of my latest animal- bonding adventure. You see, we have a frog in our pond. Just one. Where he came from beats me. He just is . Maybe came in with the plants or maybe some kind of amphibian immaculate conception. Anyway he is. He just is. Every day and night this guitar plunk of a sound, (if guitar strings were made of rubber bands), emits from our fish pond. Plunk. Plunk. Plunk.

For weeks now I have tried to find him without success. Looking under ledges. lifting vining plants, poking everywhere. No luck. Then yesterday I heard him as I was limping past the pond. Heard him inside the lavender flowering pond plant.

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His croak is loud and I was amazed that he was so small, this tiny green pond frog with such a strong sound.

Immediately, upon seeing his tiny form and sweet face, I felt his loneliness inside that big plant. Calling day after day into emptiness.

I quickly put my iPhone and Google to work, found a good green pond frog sound bite and held it up to the lavender pond plant. The rest is history.

We now have a happier frog who believes there is someone out there just like him to talk to. At least until I can find him a friend. Other than Sofi.

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Bite Your Tongue, Young Lady!

The Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia
Ok. I admit it. I am a news junky. Ever since my days as an anchor for a CBS affiliate, I can’t get enough about what is happening in the world around me. My favorite shows are slanted to all events that impact my life via those intrepid journalists that let us common folk know what is going on between the lines of political jibber-jabber. That is until recently. I am over-saturated. I am done!

In this presidential election I am so finished with the mean political attacks and mud-slinging by those leaders that should know better. Why can’t we just focus on the issues? The economy. Poverty. Jobs. Immigration. Or whatever ligitimate concerns we have as voters.

During my career as I was climbing up the other side of the mountain, I have been privileged to interview many presidential candidates. (I once had to meet Hubert Humphrey in a small airport far away from my home base at an ungodly hour just to get an interview about his presidential hopes). But the closest and most intimate presidential encounter was with President Gerald Ford in 1980. (I know. I AM that old!)

I used to be so conscious of ‘doing the right thing’. Afraid not to follow protocol and, in doing so, putting others needs and wants before mine. It took dinner with a president to set me straight.

My husband and I hosted a financial seminar at the Greenbrier, the famous West Virginia resort within the rolling hills of that bucolic area.

Not only is the Greenbrier famous for its elegance, exquisite accommodations and cuisine, but built in the bowels of this grand hotel was a secret bunker for emergency cold wartime use.

While dining with President Ford on the last
evening of our conference we spoke of things politic and personal. President Ford was handsome and quite knowledgeable on world affairs and the current state of our union. He was so charming and interesting and made me feel so comfortable that I began to think of him as I would a nice next door neighbor and momentarily almost forgot his credentials and powerful position.

In the meantime, the Secret Service who had been hovering in the background with their earpieces and lapel pins, began to nervously look at their watches and finally came and whispered in my ear that Mr. President had his plane waiting for him and it was time for him to leave.

Having my “obey” antennas well extended, I turned to President Ford and politely relayed the Secret Service’s message.

He abruptly turned toward me, looked me firmly in the eyes, then turned toward the Secret Service standing behind us and snapped in a voice of complete power, “I am the President and I haven’t had my desert yet!”

That embarrassing moment in time taught me a valuable lesson about Presidential Power. No matter how much they want you to think you are one of them, you are not! Even if they are considered a ‘good guy’. Presidential power is quite heady and, as we are experiencing today, all gloves are off when that office is up for grabs. What you see is not always what you get. Promises made are not always what will happen when in power. The candidate who takes the moral high ground, in my opinion, is the one I can trust to work for my best interests and be respected by world leaders. A great lesson I have always remembered when I go into the voting booth.

©Sandra Hart 2012

Jersey Pride

Great news this past week. Last season of the awful Jersey Shore series. I have never met anyone like them in the 40 years I have lived here. Nor The Jersey Housewives. Have I been living under a rock?

New Jersey has miles and miles of beautiful beaches, more horses here in Monmouth County than Texas with miles of great riding trails, farms and the best tomatoes in the world (after all we ARE the Garden State), and beautiful mountains for skiing in the winter. And the best of all we are 14 miles by water to New York City.

In addition Red Bank is the birthplace of Count Basie and this state has given us Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Emerson Hart, Tom Cruise, Queen Latifah, Susan Sarandon and the great genius Thomas Edison just to name a few. Not bad for a state the size of Israel. We hold our own. Just saying!
Things To Do In NJ

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The Plight and Flight Of A Snowbird

Martha Stewart go home please. I need a rest.

Today we are in the middle of packing up for the summer and traveling North for the snowbird flight we have been making for the last ten years. My wings are getting rather weary of leaving one nest for the other. I am longing to simplify my life and roost in only one nest and start living with the things that really matter.

Earlier this year we flew to in Los Angeles to visit with a male friend of my husband’s whose wife has decorated their home in museum-quality style. Now I
really love this woman. She is kind and intelligent and very generous with her time in helping others. But when it comes to her house, she becomes a
different sort all together.

So it was no surprise as we all showered that evening to go out when I heard a scream that rang from her cathedral ceilings and back again as she ran
down the hall.

“What! How could he! Arthur is using the guest bathroom!? Nobody uses the guest bathroom!”

As I opened the door, draped in an ordinary towel I found in the under-guest-guest bathroom, I saw my husband standing there like a sheep-faced child,
caught in a dastardly deed.

Our hostess quickly went into the coveted-never-used guest bathroom and proceeded to wipe the faucets spotless and clean up the chaos my husband
made of her perfect-to-look-at room.

That experience started me thinking about what type of person I was and forced me to look in the mirror at my own idiosyncrasies. I learned valuable lessons in Los Angeles. Mainly the most important was to be a more forgiving wife. And better yet, how to be a more compassionate wife. I had forgotten in my quest to be Martha Stewart, that hugging a mop is not as much fun as hugging a husband.

When I came home I threw out all of our old ratty towels with strings fraying at the ends and bought big fluffy premiere guest towels for Arthur. Who cares if our bathroom floor becomes the Nile River when he showers, or if I slip into the commode in the middle of the night because he forgets to put down the lid.

Now, instead of having a post-menopausal fit if I can’t find the new ten dollar herbal soap I just put at the basin, I forgivingly retrieve it in the shower from a cache of soap he constantly steals, because he forgets what he did yesterday. Today I found on our foyer floor a crumpled baggie carrying a bar he had stolen for the beach. I know Karma slipped it from his bag just for me.

I have even learned not to straighten up and fluff the couch pillows each time he or the dogs have rearranged them. I leave my grandchild’s handprints for a bit longer than usual on my mirrors. And now and then, when I am really feeling frisky, I tilt a candle in the candelabra just a bit to remind myself life isn’t perfect and human feeling and comfort are worth more than material things with esthetic balance.

My New Meaning of Supplements

My cousin Carolyn and her friend Grace Kelly in their 50’s mink stoles

How did this happen so soon?! My ‘over fifty’ meaning of supplement. It now means anything that I think will help me live longer in a healthy way. Yoga, walking, using my mind. All these supplements added to my day are more important now to me than an awesome bracelet or a new pair of shoes. Webmd.com is my favorite website instead of jjill.com. I faithfully swallow daily CoQ10 capsules, Krill oil tablets, eat a vegan diet, stifle my anger that Jane Fonda looks so great. How can I slow the aging process? How do I supplement my life to achieve that? I never thought I would care so much about being over fifty and the other side of young.

It used to be when I talked about supplementing I referred to adding to my wardrobe, accessories that I needed to get the look that I saw in Vogue that would make my department store off-the-rack ‘couture’ more attractive. Bracelet, shoes, scarf, or lapel pin, anything to set me apart from everyone else who also had the same outfit and my good taste. But humor me and allow me digress a minute before I get back to the point of my story. (I find at my age one positive is that a wandering mind is excused)

Anyway, the first accessory I bought with my third paycheck from my first job when I moved to New York City (the first and second went to feed me and pay my rent) was something from Lane Bryant. That’s right. The ‘big girl’s’ store that was and still is known for plus sized women’s fashions. In spite of the fact that I was a trim 120 pounds in a 5’8′ frame, the window display I passed everyday on my way to and from work in the design district on 32nd Street made me quiver with the excitement of ‘wanting, needing and feeling rich’ because I had a paycheck and wanted what I saw in the Lane Bryant window.

By the third week of passing that window I couldn’t stand it any longer. Crossing over the threshold of Lane Bryant I made a beeline to the fur section and bought the mink stole that had been draped glamorously on the slim mannequin I had been coveting from the lowly sidewalk on Fifth Avenue. Never thinking that accessorizing ourselves with animal skins someday in the future would be long gone out and in and out fashion, I couldn’t have been happier with my new supplement to my wardrobe.

I sold my soul for that wrap. I believe it was a whopping $199 that, with a small downpayment, I put on a payment plan. That choice for trying to be over-my-head glamourous would wind up forcing me to eat peanut butter sandwiches and Dannon yogurt for a long long time.

Somehow I am reluctant to let go of the memories of my first ‘I really can’t afford this, but I want it’ purchase. My first big accessory. The over-the-top supplement choice that made me feel grown up and on my own.

Now to get back to my ‘over fifty’ meaning of supplement. I have to admit my dictionary and thesaurus have changed. ‘I really can not afford’ to not afford this new meaning of living my best life now.