Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Anniversary

I'm three days late with this week’s blog, but it is by design. I wanted to blog on this Memorial Day holiday because for me it is not only a time to reflect on the servicemen and women who have fought and died for our freedom, it is also a day for Joe and I to reflect on our personal journey.

After weeks of trying to figure out where and when we could get married when he returned from his ten-month cruise on the Kittyhawk, we had come to the conclusion that if everyone couldn't be at the wedding, then no one would. His family was in Pennsylvania; my friends and family were in Georgia and Florida; our mutual friends were in San Diego. We planned on being married in Hong Kong, but the inport period was cancelled just hours before I was going to board a flight. A week later he called while I was on a layover in Santa Monica and said, "I'm in Sasebo, soon can you get here?"

Forty-one years ago today, I stood at the door to a Quonset hut/chapel in Sasebo, Japan. I was thousands of miles from home. I had no bridesmaids. There was no father of the bride (Lcdr. Bob Browning stood in). There was a corsage bought by friends Richie and “Doo-doo”. As the doors opened, I looked in on 40 men who could have been “extras” in any Blues Brothers movie (they had celebrated a day early). All I could think at that moment was, “What have I done?” If there was a movie about my wedding, it would be called "Forty Men and Me"...except one of our bachelors brought a "date"; the wife of a sailor who had deployed from Sasebo the day before.

I wouldn’t have been there had it not been for Delta Airlines (kind of like a guardian angel with wings of steel). Many of the best moments in our life together have been possible because of Delta. Before meeting Joe on a layover (described in an earlier post), I also met my father because of Delta. I had been taken to America from Scotland when I was five and my mother returned all mail and packages that came from my father. When she remarried, I was lost to him. Later, when I was sixteen, my grandfather helped me find him. He had been in the RAF and stationed in Egypt; he met and married my step-mother Audrey and they had two daughters. I met them all the year after I was hired by Delta.

I loved every minute of the 4-1/2 years I spent with Delta. It was during the Vietnam War and there were many opportunities to honor the young men who were serving our country at a time when it wasn’t very popular to be doing so. I remember a mother who came up to me at the foot of the stairs in Dallas and handed me a cardboard box with a plastic window on top. Inside was a birthday cake that said “Happy Birthday Jimmy”. She asked if I would please take it to the APO post office in San Francisco as she was afraid to have it go in the cargo hold. Well, of course I said "yes" and then the other three flight attendants and I put on dark red lipstick and put “kisses” on the box and wrote our own messages to Jimmy.

About two months later, I was called into the office of one of the VP’s of Delta and was admonished for “tampering with the US mail”. I acted appropriately contrite, but I think we both knew that I wasn’t at all sorry for what I’d done. (Jimmy had written to Delta to say the cake arrived crumbled, but he was “king for a day” because of our additions to his package.) Every Memorial Day I think of Jimmy and of all the young men in those jungles in Southeast Asia; I remember the pilots and RIO’s who didn’t return, including Mike Doyle (“Doo-Doo”) who was a POW but didn’t come home with all the others (his remains were returned 14 years later).

When our daughters were in high school, I said to them, “Don’t do what your mother did. Get your college degree. Then, if you want to become a flight attendant or anything else, you’ll have your degree to fall back on.” It was another of those “famous last words” moments but I didn’t realize it at the time.

During her senior year at Loyola Marymount, our youngest daughter called one day and said, “Remember what you said, Mom? Well, I was hired by Delta today.” So began another chapter in our lives that has been nothing short of miraculous. Because we are parents, we have flight privileges which enabled Joe and I to visit my English family several times. It also means we continue to see Michelle often even though she is based in New York.

When Joe retired, Michelle told him about an industry travel agency and said we would qualify for industry discounts on some cruises. I never believed that Joe would consider the word “cruise” in the same sentence with “vacation”. From his experience cruise meant months at sea in cramped quarters in the bowels of an aircraft carrier and days and nights being catapulted into the sky and landing on a moving runway the size of a postage stamp when viewed from above. I couldn’t believe my ears when he asked, “How would you like to cruise through the Panama Canal?” (Our year of cruising will be the subject of my next blog.)

Rule #6 – Honor your past (and those who touched your lives); cherish the present; and embrace the future. And thank God for being with you through it all.

Friday, May 21, 2010

"He Can't Go Out To Play"

I was going to stay with my chronological suggestions for surviving retirement, but this week has provided me with too many instances where my own rules and suggestions just flew out the window.

After a four day fishing trip last weekend, Joe came home with a sore throat. It was clear by Sunday night that he wouldn’t be playing golf on Monday. Not only that, he lost his voice completely. The picture at the left pretty much says it all “I’m mad and I can’t go out and play and I don’t want you to talk to me because it hurts to talk back.” A trip to the doctor brought good news/bad news. Good news, it wasn’t serious; bad news, the only cure is lots of rest and plenty of liquids.

Need I say more? The “…in sickness and in health” part of the vows are not so hard when you’re faced with a major medical challenge. Joe had to have an aortic valve replacement over seven years ago and I “hung in there" for that. How could I not? It’s the little sicknesses that seem to chip away at the harmony of marriage. Men revert to six-year-olds when they can’t “go out and play”.

Creating this blog site is an outcropping of my own “confinement” because of foot surgery on March 24th. If I hadn’t had to lie on the couch with my foot elevated for three weeks, it might never have been hatched. While mentioning that I have to say Joe didn’t get an A+ when it came to taking care of me. Example: the day of my surgery…I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and I had bought a big jar of Jelly Belly jellybeans (a favorite of ours) as my “feel better treat”. I was only able to walk short distances for “necessities” (i.e., to the bathroom and back). That evening after dinner when Joe got up from his recliner, walked to the kitchen and I heard the unmistakable rattling sound of a hand grabbing jelly bellies, I thought, “How nice, he’s bringing me a treat.” Wrong! He sat back down in his recliner and I glared as I watched his clenched fist rise to as he prepared to toss a few multi-flavored egg-shaped treats into his mouth. Definitely not a shining moment! I just looked at him and held up the little bowl on the coffee table I was using to count out my 35 jelly bellies that equals 140 calories. Sheepishly he came over and emptied his fistful into my dish. (I know; that should be the worst thing he ever does….it wasn’t a “deal-breaker”.) Yes; then he walked back and replenished the fist.

Back to this week: no golf on Monday; no Rotary on Tuesday; no Old Bold Pilots on Wednesday. By Wednesday night I was ready to run away from home. Joe couldn’t go out to play.

Thankfully he woke Thursday morning and felt well enough to play golf. However, his day didn’t end as well as it began. His habit is to back into our garage because if he pulled forward he wouldn’t be able to open the driver side door because of a support pillar. As he comes around the corner where we live, he reaches up to the remote and opens the garage door. He did that and he saw the door start up as he was backing into the driveway, but then he stayed in the driveway while he completed a phone call to a fishing buddy. (He loses his wireless connection once he’s in the garage when he uses his new Ford’s Bluetooth feature.) Well, he hung up and hit the gas pedal…and then hit the garage door!

Seems the door stopped about a foot short of fully opening so the left upper corner of his SUV caught the unopened portion (lower panel) of the garage door. Neither the car nor the door came out of it unscathed. But here I have to give Joe credit for being a much better version than the Joe I was married to when he was working and stressed. He came into the kitchen and found me preparing dinner. I asked how his golf game had gone, he said, “ok, but now you have to slap me on the wrist.” He held out his hand and of course I complied but then asked, “Why?” I felt so bad for him. His beautiful new SUV was no longer “pristine”. 

The next two hours were spent a) pounding out the dent in the door in hopes of getting it to close so our incredibly cluttered garage (definitely the topic of a future blog) wouldn’t be visible to the entire neighborhood; and b) calling garage door repairmen. Seems that our door was made by Stanley and they are no longer in business (of course). So Joe was able to get the door to close….we moved my car out first in case we couldn’t open it again. But once the door is open tomorrow, it has to be manually lowered because the dent crosses the light that is a “safety feature” in case a child or animal is crossing under the door. Two garage door companies are coming tomorrow. In a perfect world, they will have a similar door for replacement so that we don’t have to replace the separate one-car bay door to the right of the main two-car door.

At the end of the day, this new “retired” version of my husband said, “Pick a nice restaurant and I’ll take you out after we get this fixed.”

“I’m sorry” can be said without the use of those particular two words. I think I like that as Rule #5.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Become a "Senior" Senior

So, for a little diversion from the pattern of my blog, I’m focusing on me today. Today’s post actually fits the subject of surviving retirement, but from another angle. If, like many retirees, being retired is enough to send you running for the “Help Wanted” section of the newspaper, you might consider going back to school instead.

All of my life I felt “less than” those who had completed college. I had the opportunity to attend a Teacher’s College in New Jersey with the help of scholarships, but my mother moved out of the state and I became ineligible. Then, circumstances forced me to have to work. As luck would have it, though, my last full-time employment was at a community college. I started taking classes to improve my skill set. Then, I added a few more and got my associate’s degree. By the time I retired, I had 72 units and decided to apply to the closest California State University at San Marcos to complete my bachelor’s degree.

(One more reason to go back to school: according to Susan Kemper, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky who worked with Dr. David Snowden, author of The Nun Study, “…stimulating the brain with continuous intellectual activity keeps neurons healthy and live.” The study examined nuns in Minnesota who donated their brains to advance research in Alzheimer’s Disease. To read more:,9171,999867-5,00.html. )

Because I no longer sought education for employment, I had the luxury of being able to choose my major based on passion rather than necessity. I became a Literature & Writing major, with an emphasis in Writing. And so I entered two of the most enjoyable years of my life. I was unprepared for the bonuses I received that went far beyond the “book learning”.

When I first considered full-time school, I was terrified of walking into a classroom of teenagers and early 20-somethings. I expected whispered comments and perhaps giggles as this overweight 60-year-old walked in and was NOT the instructor, but a fellow-student. With the exception of one badly-brought-up girl who unfortunately was in two of my classes, that was not the case.

On Orientation Day, I was approached by a smiling young woman who had been a student at MiraCosta and who remembered me for having helped her. Her name was Michelle and she asked if she could join me for lunch. That began a friendship that continues to this day. We were classmates and soon became dear friends. I sometimes felt like a surrogate “Mom” when she was having difficulty and she often reminded me of my daughters and gave me a hug when I was stressed (read: every time I had a French test).

I figured out how to navigate the very large campus (they refer to it as “Stairmaster U” because of the hundreds of stairs between levels) and I had classes on all three levels. I quickly discovered every elevator and the nearest alternative elevator in the event the primary was out of order (that was necessary more times than I care to remember). If you ask today’s college student how you know when a senior citizen student is approaching, they will undoubtedly say “by the sound of their rolling cart bouncing over the walkways”.  If you consider going back to school, the first thing you want to buy is a rolling backpack or computer case. I would not have survived without it. As a LTWR major, I had as many as 35 books per semester.

And now for the “bonuses” I referred to. I became many students’ new “best friend”. Not actually, but you would have thought so as they seemed to appear daily at my desk at the end of class or in the hallways before class. After introductions often followed by a compliment or two about something I’d written, they would get to the heart of the matter, “Cathie, could you do me a favor? I see you taking notes on your computer in class. I have a _____________ (fill in the blank: doctor, dentist, etc.) appointment, could you send me the notes after the next class?” The simple action of attaching a file and hitting “send” garnered me dozens of new acquaintances who not only didn’t mind my being in their classes, but probably gained something because of it. Those same students always wanted to be in my “group” if we worked on projects. The word got out quickly and I remember laughing as I watched six students try to fill the four seats to my right in a class that the professor broke up into groups of five based on your seat the first day. Funny, but touching too…I know, I know; it wasn’t my dazzling personality, but my avid note-taking and refusal to get anything less than an “A”. The grades were assigned “as a group”.

I should mention here that many colleges and universities offer “incentives” for non-traditional (academia’s way of saying “old”) students. It seems there are people in administration who do see a value in having someone in, for instance a history class, who lived through many of the events the younger students know only from books. We add a voice that says, for example: “Yes, I remember that. I was on the ground in Atlanta waiting to fly to Miami when the captain opened the microphone to let us hear the radio message that said ‘that’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind’.” Life experience is of value. Even though I didn’t have a degree, I knew a lot. Without sounding boastful, I think I was smart, but I always felt I had to have that piece of paper to be validated.

I have one last bit of advice if you decide to go back to school. Find the Disabled Students office and offer to volunteer as a note-taker. This is especially easy if you take your notes on a laptop because all you have to do is attach the file (as mentioned earlier). Bonus for you: you get first-day registration at many institutions as a “thank you” for helping. And, more importantly, you meet some wonderful students who are grateful for your help and if you’re lucky, as I was, become friends you keep in touch with. One such student was paralyzed in a car accident when she was 18. She had such a wonderful spirit and such a vivid imagination and her writing never failed to touch my heart. She wrote one story that literally brought me to tears in class. It was about a fairy whose wings didn’t work and she couldn’t fly. She became friends with a caterpillar and at the end of the story the caterpillar-turned-butterfly carried her to the sky. Beautiful! Kim gave me a CD with her story, beautifully illustrated by her sister, and narrated by her friend. (You can see it at I treasure it. You can order this lovely story at: It is available for a nominal cost as a download or, for a little more, as a paperback.

When I graduated in May of 2006, I had a loving family in the stands. Because the university had no auditorium or stadium to hold the ceremony, they rented the Del Mar racetrack. My warped sense of humor wanted me to find someone to rent a horse costume with me, put a mortarboard on it, and prance down walkway from the paddock where we congregated to the track where we sat for the ceremony. But I engaged my serious side for that never-to-be-forgotten day. When they announced my name and “magna cum laude”, I swear I heard my daughters and husband cheering and they were joined by all of those “friends” whose lives I had touched and who had touched mine in return.

Rule #4 – don’t let fear keep you from doing anything…even becoming a “senior Senior

Friday, May 7, 2010

Rule #3 - Fill His Calendar

This is the most important aspect of the first year of retirement.

When I looked at Joe’s calendar for the first two months after he retired, it was glaringly empty. I was faced with two choices: a) spend my days making breakfast, lunch, and dinner and providing entertainment to fill the hours in-between; or, b) suggest (hint at) possible alternatives to “a” that would appeal to him. Needless-to-say I chose “b”. A dear friend once gave me the following advice about marriage and retirement: "It's for better or worse but not for lunch."

For my last couple of years at work and during my time as a full-time student, I had either every Friday or every other Friday off and we always went to breakfast and a movie or a movie and then lunch depending on what time the movie was. That was a pleasant preview of what retirement would be like. But – you can’t go to the movies Monday through Friday.

I also didn’t want Joe to think I was kicking him out so I knew I’d have to deal with this problem one day at a time. Monday I knew would be the hardest to fill. If he was going to have any “withdrawal” from his life as a worker-bee, it would be on Mondays. I had spoken with other wives who said they first noticed their husbands’ depression on Mondays. (Back to that “men are what they do” statement – if they wake up on Monday and are doing "nothing"…well, you get what I mean.)

Monday was taken care of by a good friend named Jerry. He retired and moved back to California after years of living in Japan and Hawaii. Jerry had been in the Navy with Joe and kept in touch with a lot of former naval aviators that Joe hadn’t seen in years. There was a group of about 20 who met every Monday to play golf at MCAS Miramar (formerly NAS Miramar…in Joe’s mind it still is). Jerry invited Joe to join the group. Thank you, Jerry!

Tuesday was a little trickier. Joe had been a member of Rotary when he worked in the North County in the 1980’s. He enjoyed the people and remained friends with many Rotarians but didn’t want to be “tied down” by weekly meetings. Rotary is very strict about making up missed meetings or attending an out of town meeting if you’re on vacation. He worried about taking fishing trips or vacations and the meeting commitment. But, he attended a couple of meetings and decided he could handle making up meetings or paying the fine if he couldn’t make them up. Tuesday: done!

Wednesday was an even bigger challenge. The activity that presented itself had a meeting time of 7 a.m. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it yet, but the one thing Joe really, really looked forward to was “sleeping in”. Unlike me, he can wake up and then turn over, go back to sleep, and stay in bed for hours. But I knew if I could “suggest” he try this group, he’d be sold. The name of the group is Old Bold Pilots. I would link them, but they don’t have a web page. (I wish they did.) They are over 200 strong. They are former Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine, and even Luftwaffe pilots. There are members who never flew, but love talking about aviation. They meet at our local Denny’s every Wednesday morning at 7 and they never have an agenda. They welcome new members (so they can tell their “war stories” to new ears). On any given Wednesday there are 50 or 60 “Old Bolds” sharing their memories of dogfights, carrier landings, bombings, first flights, etc. The overarching theme of their get-togethers is patriotism. Wednesdays are a special day; he never complains about getting up early.

Thursday was empty for quite awhile. Then he was invited to fill in with a group of golfers (two were also in Rotary) when someone couldn’t play. Eventually, he became a “regular” with the group. In addition, he started taking “fly-tying” classes on Thursday evenings and he added a Monday evening twice a month for two fly-fishing clubs.

All of a sudden I realized that I might have created a monster. He had a full calendar. He wasn’t depressed. He had dozens of new friends. And he was never home. What had I done? I looked into the future and wondered, "what happens at the end of the moratorium on 'honey-do'?" I remember thinking, “He’s not going to have time to do anything on my list when I finally give it to him.”

And, like Scarlett O’Hara, I said, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

Next post I'm going to give Joe a break and devote some space to what it was like to return to college as a senior citizen. There may be some of you out there who think you can't "fit in" or are reluctant to enter academia when it's been decades since you took notes or worried about test results (other than the kind the doctor orders).