July Fourth Ramblings

by Joan Houghton

July Fourth brings back memories of picnics, parades, patriotism, fireworks and reunions.

But this year the Fourth brought out another thought:  Our country is only 234 years old!!!  That number came as a shock when it made me realize that I, at 85, had lived over one-third of our nation’s history.  That seemed impossible; but I checked the figures from 1776 and found them correct.

Somehow, that knowledge made me feel more responsible for our nation’s problems.  It made me wonder if I could have helped more, even in a small way, to alleviate poverty, inequality, violence, war tendencies and more recently—lack of civility.

On the other hand, it seems even more incredible that in a total of 234 years, so much has been accomplished in science, technology, transportation, communication, health, agriculture,  and space exploration.

Whew!!!  We octogenarians must HURRY if we wish to make even small marks of improvement in the life of our young nation.


What? No Bathtub?

by Joan Houghton

It was in the 1950’s that my husband proposed that we  rent an old  charming cottage on the beautiful sand dunes of Lake Michigan for a  3-week family vacation…a family of 4 children, ages 11 to 2 .  It sounded great, till he mentioned that there was no running water, no bathroom, and no electricity.  My enthusiasm sank, ” Well, I have to have my daily bath. “   His first reply  was that he would arrange that; and first  of all he would go to the city dump and look for an old used bathtub.   Thank goodness, that was tongue-in-cheek and he did not mean that.

However, he did go shopping to the hardware store for a  huge galvanized farm feeding  tank and proudly presented it with the explanation he would bring buckets of cold water from the lake.  He would  heat them on the cook stove and shoo everyone out of the cottage.  Then  I could have my private bath.  Well, that worked pretty well and I was grateful.

For our drinking water, we drove into town to fill a  large Scotch Kooler with water obtained from a tavern’s outdoor water faucet.   We became rather adept with the cook stove and kerosene lamps.  Hardest adjustment of all was the outdoor privy, which we labeled “Uncle Henry”.  Naturally,  there were required nightly trips  with flashlights for various household members.  There would often be an encounter with raccoons, snakes or other undesired animals.

Things were going along “swimmingly” until one day I was left alone with the four children in the isolated cottage  while my husband did errands in town.   We were playing games and having a great time, when all of a sudden, I noticed a man who was outside the house.  He kept walking around, but did not come to the door.   Terrified,  I quickly locked it,  grabbed the children, told them to be very quiet and herded them to an upstairs small loft.  I could see him peering closely at the house and walking slowly around.  I was panicky, realizing I had  no telephone, no car and no weapon.

Finally,  he got into a car and drove off.  The  so-called crisis was over and we were shaky,  but fine.    I later learned that he was the COUNTY  ASSESSOR!!!!

This vacation (?) was repeated for one more summer when I insisted, “ENOUGH, and we advanced to a place with more amenities.

Teamwork at 85

by Joan Houghton

…And…it’s off to Water Aerobics at 9 A. M.   NEVER did I think it would be fun.  In fact, not being a swimmer or lover of bath houses or happy to get into a swimsuit, especially among strangers, I forced myself to participate.   Nevertheless, off I went (in a very skeptical mood).

Thankfully, I did find out we were all sizes and shapes and that was okay.  Most had a smile on their faces.  Our instructor on the side of the pool was a darling—full of energy and words of encouragement:  “Good Job”, she said;  “good effort,  take a little rest (one minute), now  we will do  the scissors kick for a minute and a half”.  When she announced we were halfway through, there were  audible groans.

It helped when she played old tapes from the  thirties, forties and fifties.  Ah, each participant had his/her own memories of every song and even felt like humming among the “big arm strokes”  and the “sidewise grapevine stroke, and the wooden soldier march through the water.”  Then, “let’s go backwards, increase your speed,  raise your arms over your heads; step over an imaginary log.  Now we will use the plastic dumbbells, pushing them  down through the water”.  Surely the biceps are growing by the minute.    In the midst of these activities we had opportunities to visit with each other while cavorting through the water (another plus).

Nearing the class-time end, we were encouraged to participate in a brief recreation.  Perhaps, it would be a modified volleyball, or even a pass-the-ball race or the hilarious tiny rubber ducky race.  You competed by pushing the waves to send the ducky across the pool—a relay with your partner.  The water was a-flurry as  we all tried our best to win for our partners.

Then came my favorite part:  stretching, in which you walked your feet up the wall and leaned back while hanging on to the railing.  Oh, the stretch and relaxation  felt marvelous;  and the music was playing  softly.

It was then that the word  “TEAM” popped into my mind.  I felt like a member of a team with a common goal.  In this case, it was to keep your muscles moving  and to stay  limber.  I took a sidewise look at my teammates and wondered if they felt the same.  There  were usually 9 to 12 participants—all facing different types of challenges, but right now we were  working out together and it was worthwhile, enjoyable; and I loved it.

However, getting out of the pool was a shock.  While feeling rather agile in the pool, now with every step, it felt like I must weigh 400 pounds.  Then it crossed my mind, I wonder if this is how the astronauts must feel when they come out of weightlessness.

At any rate, it was all worth it.  My afterthought, was, thank goodness, these days young girls have opportunities to be team members at all ages and in countless sports.  We have come a long way for women….there were no such female teams in the 1930’s.  We are greatly indebted to many trailblazers for their perseverance on behalf of all women.

The Sting and the Joy

by Joan Houghton

What a treat when my daughter’s daughter came to visit with HER two daughters. However, one must  learn to accept questions and barbs with grace and dignity and  exhibit no visible shock. 

Four-year-0ld Lydia came running down the long hall to greet me with a huge smile and hug, followed by her 2-year-old sister, Colette, scurrying as she tried to control dragging  her 3-foot-long “blankie” behind her on the floor.

Their conversation is HONEST , forthcoming, and BRUTALLY FRANK.   How refreshing!

Lydia: “Grandma, why is your hair so white?”

Great Grandma: “It’s because I’m old”.

Lydia: “ I don’t want to have white hair when I’m old.”

GG: “I didn’t either and in fact I tried to have it colored; but that did not work out well.  In fact, it came

out  in various colors: sort of greenish with an orange cast, so I gave up.  Now I am used to the white”.

Lydia: “Oh, I wouldn’t like that”.

GG.” Don’t worry. You won’t have to have white hair if you don’t want to.”

Lydia.  “Ok”.

Later, Colette entered the conversation as we were enjoying sandwiches.  She looked me square in the eye with  a mischievous  huge smile and  an impish look in her eyes and said, “ I’m mad at you!”  I was sort of taken aback, as I could think of nothing that had  provoked  her comment.……. almost immediately, she recanted.   Whew!!!

Still later after the toy box had been perused, including a few books, puzzles, ( and a ball—please do not throw  it in the house!) there was another question to answer.

Lydia, studying my face: “Grandma, is that lipstick on your mouth?”

I admitted that it was.  She liked that and thought that the next  time she came we should play with some lipstick.  I agreed—-at the same time I realized that her mother probably seldom wore lipstick since she needed no beauty enhancement.

As I walked the dear threesome out to their car,  I was just enveloped in love  and a great thankfulness for having the privilege to visit with great grandchildren.   Their forthright honesty, charm and innocence are a true blessing.  I wish those traits could continue forever.  Perhaps they will.

Then, as their car pulled away  amidst  a flurry of waves and kisses good-bye, I looked down and there was a puddle of cheerios in their wake.  Suddenly, that brought me back to the reality of the “everydayness”   and “neediness” of little children.  Parents are remarkable in their steadfast love  and care for their little ones.

Searching for Sea Glass

by Joan Houghton

One morning while vacationing on the shores and beaches of Lake Michigan, my son approached the family group and said this would be a good day for searching for sea- glass.  What in the world is sea- glass? 

Well, it is old pieces of glass which have been broken, sloshed, slashed, and bandied about in the water for months or years so that the edges are smooth and misshapen and delightful to fondle.  Their colors can vary, and it is a challenge to deduce from whence they came.  For instance, green ones may have come from Coca Cola bottles, brown from beer bottles, pink perhaps from a dainty perfume bottle, green might make you think of Seven-Up.  Some might be colorless and that could lead to no end of surmising.

Part of the fun is to use your imagination as to how old they might be. Could they have come from any of the other Great Lakes (Ontario maybe or Huron); or better yet, perhaps from a shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean and then found their way down the St. Lawrence Seaway to Lake Michigan.   There could be no end of possibilities.

Off we went to “especially ripe for success” areas of water carrying our plastic bags to receive the treasures.  Early morning is best before others find the new deposits. It wasn’t long before we realized that certain people had their favorite places which, like mushroom hunters, they were not quick to divulge.

It was slow-going for some who found nothing except reflections in the water which glistened like glass.  Every so often you would hear a “WHOOP”, and we all would gather around to see the latest acquisition and give our take on its glamorous history.

After  several days of trying for a couple of hours and still having an empty bag,  and even beginning to get a sore back from all that bending over, I felt a certain  dismay.  It was then, that all of a sudden, there appeared something bright blue shining in the water right by my feet.  I reached down, let out my “WHOOP” at such success.   Really, this appeared to be the best find of the entire vacation.  Oh, it was surely worth the wait.  The color was brilliant sapphire blue; its shape was triangular with sort of notches on its sides.  It was about the size of a small plum and smooth as silk. It seemed truly exotic!    From where had it come???  Possibly the Far East?   But, it WAS in pretty good condition.  Oh-Oh—could it possibly be too good to be true?  Somehow, it WAS TOO PERFECT.  Oh, RATS, do you think it was a “plant”?   Oh, yes, of course it was.  SOMEONE felt sorry for my non-production and supplied this beautiful little substitute.

Saddest of all, we have learned that sea-glass will become rare.  Guess why…Now most bottles are made of plastic instead of glass.  But my special blue gem has a spot on my kitchen counter as a reminder of delightful days with family on Lake Michigan beaches.


by Joan Houghton

The deliverymen had just brought her new recliner, and she was exuding in her wise choice even though it had cost more than she had figured.  But the winey-brown-colored texture seemed perfect.  When she tried it out, it fit her beautifully and the reclining position was sublime.  She was very proud that all was working out so well.

Perhaps she had better consult with the limited directions to be sure she understood the various gear positions.  Several quotes completely puzzled her; “Bring  the back upright and close the legrest”.   “Do not stand or sit on the legrest (lee-grest).”  “Never attempt to   open the legrest by pulling it.”     What in the heck was the legrest?  She had never heard that word before.   It must be a very important and complicated  cog of the intricate  elements of the entire design.  She looked all over the chair and could find nothing unless perhaps they meant the handle on the side of the chair.   She studied the diagram, there was no legrest pictured.

Well, she decided to relax and enjoy its luxury.  Her daughter appeared later in the day and had to see it for herself.  She sat in it and gave her approval.  Then the directions  were once again  brought out   and  she was just beginning to read the puzzler to her daughter and then  VOILA!!  She saw the word legrest  with new eyes:  For Heaven’s sake!  What a dummy she had been!  Of course,  it was not  a leegrest; it was a LEG-REST.   What an utter fool she had been!  She and her daughter went into peals of laughter, and in fact, could not stop screaming out loud at her dense-ness.

Well, in her defense, why is there not a hyphen  in the word to help us out.  In defiance, she looked it up in the dictionary and there it was: legrest.  She also checked on legwork and legroom.  No hyphen needed there.  So she had to admit that it was something between her eyes and brain that just still saw legrest as LEEGREST.  Anyway, it may turn out to be her favorite word of all time because it takes her down several pegs and also gives her another delightful period of laughter.

The Human Touch

by Joan Houghton

Where Has it Gone?

The Human Touch?

Will it be back or are we content with a robot voice?

Is there no such thing as a smile, a nudge, a frown and a lovely human voice?

Or are we going to live by push-button-this and push-button that?…not just for communication, but even for fun? What has become of the old-fashioned neighborhood where people sit  on front porches instead of enclosed in homes looking at their private back yards?

Old-time sandlot baseball has given way to highly organized competitive games or Wiis, or watching pro league ball, or batting against a cartoon figure on a TV screen.

Where is the old-fashioned romance—hearts skipping a beat at the sight of a certain girl or boy  at school –which now becomes a jump into the sheets or a car for a “quickie”, an act of sex, instead of a lovely committed expression of love.

Is the satisfaction of accomplishment the same when you cook your own meal, as when you push the microwave buttons?  These conveniences  are terrific, just so we don’t lose ourselves in keeping up with the latest technology.

Has the “me” generation morphed into the “instant gratification generation” where we want what we want when we want it?’

How about entertaining ourselves with a ball, a book or gardening, or a walk in the woods.

Do you know a child who would choose to play “I Spy”, “Hide and Seek  or other simple imaginative games like “pretend” school or store or hotel devised from yardsticks or blackboards or closets, or do they need a myriad of plastic, colorful, talking toys??

What happened to “tag, you’re it” or jacks, skipping rope and Red Rover, even hula hoops, for the FUN of playing instead of fierce competition? Don’t get me wrong. I am a lover of the microwave, TV and email, but have they become all-consuming to the detriment and exclusion of the warm human voice?

It’s possible now to order everything in life by machine without having to see or speak to a human being; or you can even contact your family members in another room by cellphone instead of  face to face.

Are we too busy for civility?

Is it now out of vogue to make fun just by being together and using imagination and visiting or—do we have a constant need for the latest “pretend” or robot toy?

I miss the days of the milkman, the mailman, the corner candy store or bakery.

I deplore the constant bombardment of cheap, vulgar nudity and sex on TV and magazines.

It IS fabulous to have a 2-inch gadget that will bring you news, sports, music, movies and contact with others by texting without the warmth of even a human voice….but have we lost something?

Is there ever a time to just sit and ponder life’s meaning, or just exercise in some way without a machine or a need to compete…or can we still just ENJOY “being” with a HUMAN BEING who has feelings, and cares, and problems and love and friendship to give—who has THE HUMAN TOUCH, A HUMAN VOICE, and a HOST OF HUMAN CARING WAYS?

The preceding was written in 2007 and now it is 2011 and technology has been busy and the media have kept us informed about  remarkable Skype, Face Book, I-Pad, I-Pod, Nook, Blackberry, Twitter, and Kindles.  The list goes on and on and it is all wonderful.  In fact, I am a devoted TV fan, and am busily typing away  on one of those technological gadgets that I love.   But I still ask the question, “ARE WE LOSING THE HUMAN TOUCH”?

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