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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If I Were Only Eighteen Again

I’m in love with the guy who is painting my house. Well, not in a ‘Love’ love way, but in a sort of “if I were only 18 again” way. When I saw my painter balancing two stories high on a ladder with a paint can held by one finger, I was convinced painting houses was just his hobby. There was no doubt in my mind that on his ‘real work’ days he was in the ring giving a slam dunk to his WWF opponent.

Three men could inhabit his muscular body and there would still be extra room. His biceps are bigger than my husband’s waist and the dark hair on his head is even bigger. And the most attractive asset of all, he is young. What more could a woman want I fantasized while loading the dishwasher for the millionth time, my B-12 pill melting on my tongue without water because the dishwasher hose was still attached to the sink faucet. And never mind the herbal conditioner that was aimlessly dripping down the side of my neck from underneath my shower cap and onto my robe. The Rock, or whatever his name, was painting my house.

What caused me to begin to lose my Sassoned white head, you ask? Well, it all started when my husband sourly suggested he was becoming unnerved by listening to my classical music all day long and immediately put on a couple of rock CD’s by his favorite artist, my son. Emerson does create great music, but the soothing sounds of violins and cellos somehow help carry me through mundane tasks of the day.

I’ve always categorized my life in music phases: The Four Aces, Bill Haley and Elvis represent my adolescent memories; Johnny Mathis, Montavonni, and Peter, Paul and Mary my baby-raising years: Kiss, Springsteen, Buffalo Springfield and anything else my three teenagers played at mega-decibel levels represent my ‘whatever’ years.

And now, this seemingly useless information I’ve just shared with you about music tastes, segues us back to The Rock who is painting my house. I really didn’t fall in “love, not really “LOVE” with The Rock. I fell in love with the dichotomy between his physical age and appearance and his taste in music.

All day long, The Rock listens to his portable radio he never has more than five feet away from his ladder. And the music that filters through my windows brings me back to my teenage life. To my amazement, music of the 50’s is the music that makes Rock’s heart beat. It is his taste in music that I love.

And it is his music that makes me feel alive again by sparking anew the excitement of finding teenage love in a time once lived.

When his work is done and The Rock and his radio drive down the road, I’ll miss the journey his music has provided. So in the end, I guess it’s not all about youth and muscles or The Rock’s plentiful hair. And it’s not about painting either. It’s about comfortable memories and the ability to dream in your fuzzy slippers.
©Sandra Hart 2012

OMG!

Still Can’t Believe I Did It!
A younger friend of mine, I hate to tell you how younger-younger she is, but she could be my daughter, suggested that I join her in a Lance Armstrong 5K race. I thought she had either lost her marbles or secretly had a death-wish for me.

Now, I haven’t told you yet because I am a fairly new blogger here, but I have been a vegan for over 30 years and I have always pushed myself to exercise and keep my body moving beyond the daily routine of living and working, but by gosh I am….well, well over the other side of fifty – kinda’ reluctantly doing the down hill slide. But, I admit even when I don’t feel like it, which is honestly most of the time, I drag myself outdoors and always wind up feeling better for it. And for these last 40 years I have been lucky to live in an area with scenic paths along the ocean and green hills to climb. A great thing that kept me motivated in my pre-ipod years.

My young friend finally convinced me it would be fun and maybe the primary benefit to me would be a reality check on how fit I really was (or not) at my age. She wasn’t crazy enough to consider my placing, she knew I just would be grateful to cross the finish line without the paramedics waiting for me. My husband joked that he would take no odds on me, unless it was to be the ultimate loser.

With that cheerful send-off packed full of confidence building some husbands are able to endow their wives in times of need, I walked to the sign-up area in the park near the starting line, got my blue T-shirt and nervously made small talk with the mostly younger, younger men and women there. The majority with their glistening South Beach tans and flawless laminated smiles. I pulled my geezer Cunard Cruise Line ball cap lower to disguise my white hair and even though by now I was really having second thoughts, I would drag myself forward, knowing the show must go on.

The whistle blew and away we all went up Ocean Drive in South Beach and around the course that curved back to the initial starting line at South Pointe Park. Like a seasoned thoroughbred, I surprised myself at my steady pace. Surely, I didn’t want to drop dead on Ocean Drive and have the humiliation of people stepping over me. Just keep going and you’ll finally either have a stroke and will be on the evening local news, or just maybe you will be able to at least finish this thing, I kept telling myself. My pride was driving me more than anything. I am such a sick-thinking person, I would have murmured under my breath, but by that time I could hardly catch it.

I really didn’t pay attention to any of the other runners. I just kept running and the more I ran my energy grew. Wow. Not bad. Okay. I’m still alive. Surely the finish line is up here somewhere. My heart was pounding and I felt flushed as I gave one final sprint of energy over the finish line that was just ahead, finally in sight.

I saw the paramedic truck there, probably waiting for me,I thought, but my quivering lips just managed a shaky smile as I passed by. This senior has gotcha this time, fellas!

Well, I hung around to go home with my friend and what do you know, I got a nice little trophy to take home. Third Place. OMG. I couldn’t believe it. Now I REALLY am going to have a stroke! Wow! Not bad for an old gal. I sooooo even surprised myself! Way to go girl, I told myself.

I was feeling pretty heady for a few weeks until I got an email from an old high school class mate who is biking with her husband through Europe and loving the daily challenge of miles and miles of valleys and hills and mountains! Oh well, short lived glory is better than none at all!
©Sandra Hart 2012

The Rewards Of Prison Life

Sofi, My Prison Dog
She was running. Running from what she could never reveal. Running to go home, sorry she ever left? Running for her life? We’ll never know because the authorities picked her up before her end game could unfold. If she even had one.

She must have decided her escape route would be the backroads of Oldham, a small town north of Lexington in Kentucky. Safer, or maybe a better way home. The county sheriff apprehended her. Ended her plans. Picked her up with her hair all askew, her primitive tattoo obscured by the unwashed skin on her stomach. She was a mess in more ways than one. Nothing else to do but throw her in prison. Lock her up safely behind bars to keep her from running again.

Well actually it was the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, the first security institution to be built in Kentucky since the Kentucky State reformatory in 1937. The mission there is to prepare incarcerated felons to be capable of contributing to society in a positive manner upon release through the use of constructive classification, program and work assignment opportunities. What better place for her.

It was during her eight week incarceration there, that I first heard about Frannie through my daughter, Alison. She has always been active in rescuing those in need and when she met with Frannie, she immediately realized that her mother and Frannie would be able to help one another. Kindred souls, so to speak.

Frannie was in Camp Canine at the correctional complex, a joint venture between The Humane Society, Animal Control and Dr. Phil Heye LaGrange Animal Hospital. The program has 14 inmates and 12 dogs. Twelve trainers,one clerk and one janitor to take care of the messes. The inmates are responsible for the dogs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Frannie was assigned to one of those inmate handlers. During the course of this program the dogs are trained in basic obedience commands, so they will be more adoption friendly. Each dog must pass the AKC “Canine Good Citizens Test”.

I was on pins and needles during Frannie’s jail time. I was accepted as her adoptive mother, so that hurdle was jumped, but would she pass her tests and graduate? With my three children (none of whom have ever been in jail, thankfully) I had already been there and done that, so I was not too keen at my ‘over fifty’ age on going through this one more time. I was in love with my new little girl and did not want to be heartbroken if she had to stay longer or, as in some cases, not graduate at all.

Finally, the call came and I boarded a Continental flight to Cincinnati where Alison drove me to the Correctional Complex. Without phone or anything that would ‘bling’ I passed through the metal detectors and my Frannie was brought out with a bright yellow lead around her neck. She was beautiful and, for me, it was love at first sight. She was a year old cream-colored Lhasa Apso with a flowing plumed tail curled over her back. I cried. The administrator cried. I was told Frannie’s handler (we are both anonymous to one another) also cried as he handed her over for her jail walk to meet her new mother.

My husband’s late mother was named Frannie, so it was rather awkward calling our new dog the same name. Frannie quickly became Sofi (we live in Sofi in South Beach, Florida) and she has been a wonderful part of our family for four years now. Each Christmas Sofi sends a card to the folks at Camp Canine with a request to hand it over to her handler. And every time she curls next to me or looks up at me with that sweet face, I am so glad that she got in trouble and wound up in prison. Sometimes prison can be a good thing under certain circumstances. Incarceration in her case gave both of us a second chance for a new and better life.*

*My husband and I had been mourning the death in the months prior to finding Sofi our six year old Harley, a Shih Tzu.