Doldrums

Uncategorized July 14, 2014

It’s an odd analogy to sailing, life in the desert, but as someone who lived on the New England coast where I learned to sail, it’s also the perfect metaphor. So much of our English language is tied to nautical expressions. A “cup of Joe” an oft-heard term used for grabbing a cup of coffee dates back to the US Navy when President Woodrow Wilson appointed Josephus Daniels in 1913 as Secretary of the Navy.   One of his first orders was to abolished the officers daily allowance of wine, replacing it with the next strongest drink aboard: coffee -hence the sarcastic: “cup of Joe”.

The nautical lexicon is full of every day terms: “head” for toilet, “learning the ropes”, “lay of the land”, “clear the deck” and so on.  There are some wonderful ones that seemingly had no connection to sailing.  “Feeling blue” refers to when a ship’s captain died onboard, a blue flag was flown in his honor.  “In the Doldrums”  we use to mean feeling down, lethargic.  In nautical terms, it refers to an area north and south of the equator where the winds were so light, ships could drift for days.

There are many humorous ones as well, like “keeling over” usually from the effects of alcohol.  A sailing ship moved through seas “keeled over”, the push of the wind on the sails.  “Hunky-dory” has no connection to a dory, a small rowing boat, but to a street in Yokomaha Japan, “Honki-dori” where sailors could find everything pleasurable.  Everything is “OK”.

This morning I was emailing a friend on Cape Cod Massachusetts, sailing vessels in sight.   In writing about the status of this journey, I accidently slipped into the metaphor of a sailing ship to describe my journey.  It’s ironic that I’m in the desert, ie “beached”.  I have many times described (my) life as a road traveled looking straight ahead.  But the intersections steer me away from that horizon, changing the attitude and perspective.  I wrote that trying to “steer” this tour is like sailing a small vessel where to make it move toward my side of the boat, I have to push the tiller away from me.  And vice versa.  That is life.  The more one tries to make something happen, the more likely it will go in the opposite direction.  As parents, we learned that trick early on.

Many of the tour plans, out of my control, brought it to a dead stop in Palm Springs which hasn’t been a bad thing at all.   Praise and kudos from the museum’s director on down, have been the validation that assures me this journey I’m on makes sense.  And the validation assures me I have a permanent place at the air museum.   But a journey requires movement.  Or does it?   That is what I’m left pondering.

On the one hand, this whole tour, now into it’s fifteenth month, has been an education on life and people and connections, something  I’d never have imagined while planted at the Women’s Memorial.   Over the year, venues changed, some cancelled, many queries never respond.  I am baffled by the lack of response and understanding of what this is about. But I can’t change their thinking.  If this tour is to succeed, in my original scheme, it does require motion, momentum.   Like the captain of a ship adrift in the Doldrums, there is little I can do.  What the currents below are doing, remain deep and dark.  The winds hint at the surface, scratching, tickling.  A puff of hot air gone just like that.

I am fortunate enough to have access to better “grog” than just coffee, albeit it is Starbucks.  A nightly allotment of alcohol is at my control -in moderation of course.   I also have some amazing deckhands who have given me such support that I know the vessel is sound, sails mended and stores full.  I can ride out the light winds and hot sun.   The charts remain weighted down, ready for that breeze to ripple the canvas.  From where it comes… that is not the question but the answer.  I scan the skies in 360 degrees, expecting that breeze to not hit me full in the face, but from behind.

My Father

Uncategorized July 8, 2014

My Father: Captain Robert Demarest USAAF

When I was born, my father was six years out of the service, having flown C-47s, the work horse of World War II.  The black and white photographs from his war-time scrapbook were difficult for me to relate to since my father was no longer a man in uniform piloting a military cargo plane.  The father I knew dressed in a suit and tie weekdays driving off daily selling televisions and radios to small ma and pa appliance stores in southern New England.  On weekends he donned blue jeans, old penny loafers and t-shirt to work in the yard.  And yet as a young boy, I played out the heroics of people who were like my father, all playing a part to win the war.  Television and movies reminded us how great America was and what it did to help save the world from all that was evil.  “Truth, justice and the American way”  rang the chant from the television series Superman.  The greatest generation had come together to free the world of tyranny and America was now on its way to prosperity and progress.  I was witness to and beneficiary of so many of these changes.  Ours was a nation of heroes, celebrating their achievement on a weekly basis.

My friend’s fathers were all veterans.  None of them, to my recollection, talked about their war experiences.  Only later did I learn of a friend’s father who spent two years as a prisoner of war in Japan.  Dickie’s dad, in spite of what he went through, was the funniest of all our dads.  As a young boy I asked my father basic questions about his war experiences.  I got few answers other than his love of flying.  I only recently learned from my sister that in high school, he pocketed bus fare and walked to school, saving the money for flying lessons -such was his passion to learn to fly.

Over the years I’ve learned that most WW II veterans rarely open up.  Even the women dismiss discussion of their roles though it had less to do with trauma and more about drawing any attention to themselves be it even remotely seen as self-centered or egotistical.  “We were only doing our job.”  They did their jobs and then moved on with their lives.   We didn’t know that in some cases, for both men and women, it was a way to push away the pain.

“Army” was the game my friends and I often played.  We emulated the heroes we saw on television, the troops who bravely conquered the Germans and the Japanese week after week.  We were boys in suburbia living in our fantasy world made safe by the sacrifices of our parents.  Toy manufacturers of the day provided an assortment of WW II era toy guns and accoutrement  (not to mention a few relics our fathers brought back from the war like my father’s canvas satchel).  With our realistic bolt-action rifles, battery operated machine guns and toy grenades, we fought the imaginary bad guys for that small piece of ground, usually the dirt pile in the empty lot next to my house.

We boys all wanted to be the hero.  Sometimes it meant  pretend dying.  We took turns getting shot and rolling to a lifeless stop at the bottom of the mound.  A hero, dead or alive, was still a hero.  But the safer world we were growing up in was a far cry from the bloody fields of war our parents had fought.  Television and movies depicting those actions sanitized it for all of us.   I now understand why my father couldn’t watch them.  It came nowhere near some of the situations he encountered I later found out.   For us, as kids, “dying” was simply a ten second count and we were right back in the mix.  And at the end of the day, we kids had hot baths,  home-cooked meals and warm, clean beds awaiting us.

When the movie Saving Private Ryan came out in 1998, audiences were shocked by the realism and horrors of war.   Many World War II veterans refused to see it for fear of reliving a past they’d long buried.  Had my father been alive, he’d have been one of those.  As one WW II veteran said to me after seeing the movie: “The only thing wrong with it was that the guy you shared a fox hole was not someone you knew.  We dove into any hole to escape death,” he said.”And if that guy next to you got killed, as horrible as it was, I couldn’t be sad for him.  I was just thankful it wasn’t me.”

My father, like all pilots going off to war, wanted to fly fighter planes. That’s where the imagined glory lay.  Instead he qualified to fly C-47s, the cargo version of the then popular DC-3 airline.  He was stationed in India where his squadron flew the dangerous missions over the Himalayan mountains into China referred to as “The Hump”.  It was also referred to as the “aluminum trail” for the scattered wreckage of crashed airplanes.  The ceiling for those planes was 17,000 feet.  The mountain peaks averaged over 20,000 feet.

Their job was ferrying supplies to the struggling Chinese Army and civilians.  He talked little of his missions except to tell me when I was then in high school, he’d returned to the base and upon exiting the plane, noticed the tail section had been shot up.  He never saw the Japanese fighter plane.  How many times did he escape death?  I will never know.  It was war after all.  People stopped counting.

When the idea to paint this tribute to World War II’s “greatest generation”, in my head, my father was instantly part of it.  I recalled a small framed black and white photo of him sitting on his desk in our den and knew of all war time photos of him, this was the one to paint.  In the tiny photo, my father sits in the cockpit, left hand seat, the pilot’s seat, sunglasses on, turning back to face the camera, smiling. It wasn’t a “look at me” expression, but a “let’s get this over with, we have a job to do” pose.   For a boy who snuck in flying lessons, my father was living his dream.  He talked lovingly of the C-47, the “Gooney Bird” the “Dakota”.  A small,hand-painted plastic model of a C-47 sat on his desk  next to this photograph until the day he died.

As I got older, my father talked a little more about his war experiences, but mostly they were anecdotal and funny.  He would laugh about the crazy things that happened like the fellow pilot who built a fire in his cockpit for warmth or the sniper living in his hut in India who spent most of his time drunk.  This man’s skill never abandoned him when one day in a drunken haze, he killed a cobra that had entered their hut, a single shot between its eyes.

And then one evening when I was a senior in high school, my father told us a story that had spooked and haunted him for years.   A fellow pilot and friend who had completed his mission quota and was awaiting orders to go home, filled in for a fellow pilot who’d become ill.  The flight was routine and without incident.  Upon landing, he parked the C-47 at the far end of the field but on the short ride to the hanger, a Japanese fighter plane strafed the runway, killing him and wounding several of his crew.   My father never spoke of the dark side of war after that.

In 2009- 2010, I visited Arlington National Cemetery on several occasions researching a book about its rich history.   I witnessed the daily procession of caissons rolling through the 600-plus acres of the mostly forested hills and valleys of the cemetery.  Laid to rest were the old veterans and the newly fallen.  Arlington National Cemetery, by it’s very existence, is all about remembering heroes, remembering the fallen.  They say it is always hardest for those left behind, so we find ways to honor those we’ve lost.  It is for those no longer with us we grieve.  But it is for ourselves, not the soldiers, sailors, marines or air force, we create the moniker: “heroes”.  The Tomb of the Unknowns honors all those who are ‘known but to god” -the heroes not to be forgotten for their ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.

My father was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in 1989 with full military honors.  Though he’d left the service right after the war, it was his wish to be remembered for it by having his final resting place be in those hallowed grounds.   He would never had called himself a hero.  He did what was asked of him, just like everybody else who’d participated in that war.

Remembrance

Uncategorized July 4, 2014

Yesterday saw the passing of an iconic figure from WW II: Louis Zamperini. 97 years old.  Lauren Hillenbrand wrote a painful, but wonderful tribute to this man’s courage, not under fire, but under many of life’s obstacles.  Growing up in an Italian family, barely speaking English and somehow, through the love of an older brother, channeling his running from the law as a teenager, to running track.   And then, his tale of surviving one of the most sadistic enemy soldiers in the war.  How ironic that he died one day shy of  July Fourth  It would have been iconic.

What is remarkable about life’s ironies, after sending birthday wishes today, July Fourth, to a young German boy I met fifteen years ago, I was reminded that today is also the birthday of a Japanese American woman who died a few years ago and one whose passing barely left a ripple.  Iva Toguri, also known as “Tokyo Rose” was born in Los Angeles California,  July 4, 1916.

Iva was a recent graduate of UCLA, leaning toward becoming a doctor when she was, as a graduation gift, sent to Japan -also to take care of a sick aunt.  That was July 1941.  The bombing of Pearl Harbor left her stranded and choosing not to embrace Emperor Hirohito, her aunt and uncle kicked her out onto the street.  The long story of survival ended with her broadcasting US scripted essays for Radio Tokyo’s “Zero Hour”  ironically much to the delight of the US troops.  Iva never considered renouncing her citizenship.  She was an American through and through.

The war ended but not for Iva.  Six years in prison on trumped-up charges forever changed her life. The country she grew up in, the country she loved, because of her race, cast her aside.  In 1976 President Gerald Ford pardoned her.  Iva died in 2006, having spent the rest of her life living quietly in Chicago, working for her father’s import business.  Now even “Toguri’s” no longer exists.

So today, amidst the parades and fireworks, cookouts and family gatherings, give thought to those who served our country well first and foremost.  But please remember those whose loved this country as much as the troops who fought for it.  Happy birthday Iva.

“Til Death Do Us Part”

Uncategorized July 3, 2014

A subtitle to this blog should be “perceptions”.  I have now been at the Palm Springs Air Museum over six months, two more than planned.  But events and circumstances being what they are, I remain stranded.  What I could perceive as a failure for moving on, is mitigated  by outside circumstances and new opportunities.

One opportunity has been to get to know some of the docents better.  With the summer season upon us and visitor traffic down, there’s time to talk more at length.  This morning, a distinguished USAF retired Colonel who works  a couple days a week in the B-17 hangar, was seated alone, the three other docents in the area, seated in the nearby cafe.

I always took Dean as someone a bit aloof, not so much in attitude but my perception. That word “perception” throws people for a number of reasons but over the years, I’ve learned that what we sometimes see (read: mostly) about someone else is usually false.  Our own insecurities can trip us up.

A few weeks ago, the woman docent, in whose house  I’ve been boarding, bought and read Dean’s self-published book about his experiences in wartime Korea and Vietnam.   Several days she read tidbits from Dean’s book.  One morning  I used that as an opportunity to initiate a conversation with him about publishing.   The barrier dissolved.

Today, seeing Dean sitting by himself, I approached him and asked how he was.  It was not a platitude.  I meant it.  “How are you?” I asked looking him squarely in his eyes.   Little did I know where his response would take us.

“I’m so tired.  I was ready to leave here and go home about fifteen minutes ago,” he said.  I asked why.  What I heard caught me off-guard.  Dean described a wife who among other physical ailments, suffers from dementia.  I was surprised and asked him how old he was.  Shocked at the number “83”, I told him his youthfulness belied that.  I couldn’t imagine his wife being anything but  similarly buoyant.  It was hard to imagine such a vital man, shackled by a life at home that’s eating away at him.  “How do you cope?” I brazenly asked.  “It must be hard.”  This former Air Force Colonel who dealt with blood and guts multiple times in service, was sinking into his office-style chair, defeated.   Dean went on to describe the pain and frustration of coping with someone he’s lived with for over fifty years, turning into a stranger.  “I get so angry and frustrated when our conversations go round and round.  I say something and she asks about it five minutes later.  I know I shouldn’t get mad, but some times I can’t help it,” he said.  The vision most young married couples have at the alter of gracefully aging together, in reality, is more like the battle-scarred plains of war long left behind.

Aging was a theme I was recently hearing from other docents.  Talk of home life comes up in the most unusual ways.  Bob, another octogenarian, told me how he used to do volunteer work a few evenings a week.  “I had to stop that recently,” he began. “I can’t leave my wife alone anymore. She’s bed-ridden and the nightly desert winds scare her.”   Asking how long this has been going on, he replied “Eight years.”  No complaints.  It was just the way it was.  Again, here was a man, youthful in attitude and life perspective, now coping with a spouse who was demanding more and more of his time and mental energy.

Someone once said “Aging is not for the faint of heart”.  I am witnessing this all around me.  I realized that for some of these people volunteering their time at the air museum, is time away from the reality at home and a reminder of a time when their vitality was as strong as the warbirds some of them flew.  War for many of the older generation was about good vs evil, saving freedom and protecting the innocent.  It was dirty and messy but their youth kept them hopeful.  Now they face a war of a different kind and for many, it’s scarier than anything they’ve faced before.

A wife and docent whose husband also volunteers time at the museum, told me matter-of-factly that she was diagnosed with Alzheimers.  What upset her most were the number of doors of former friends, shutting her out.  Their  ignorant fear of somehow contracting it abruptly ended years of friendship.

“Til death do us part”, that abstract concept when young people marry, has now, in some of these lives, returned to collect on that vow.  Dean, wearily admitted that hospice may be a next step, sooner than planned her doctor had told him. “That to me is even scarier than this,” he said sadly.  “I don’t know how I will handle that.”  Death will, at some point, come to collect all of us.  What is it like to be at that stage?    A man I once felt resistance from, shared a bit of his heart and soul with me today.  “How are you?” is a question that will always carry weight.

Chasing Heroes

Uncategorized June 17, 2014

CHASING HEROES

A World War Two Portrait Journey

By Chris Demarest

Introduction:

As a child growing up in the post-war 1950’s, television entered our living rooms on a daily basis.  And like all young kids who find themselves admiring someone, my own bit of worship began on Saturday mornings where a little cartoon mouse, dressed in cape and tights, saved the mouse world from the evil-doings of the feline population.  In an operatic voice Mighty Mouse boomed:  “Here I come to save the day” streaked downward, red cape flashing and delivered numerous knockout blows to the bad guys.   I would grab a towel, tie it around my neck and run around the living room in search of my own imaginary bad guys.

My friends and I played “army” in the our backyards and with toy bolt action rifles made of real wood and metal that felt like the real deal, not to mention various leftover garments borrowed from our veteran dads, the “enemy” was doomed.   Movies like The Longest Day, programs like Twelve O’clock High and Combat, to name but a few, played into my fantasy hero world well into my teens.

As an adult, in my forties having recently moved to a small Vermont town, I had the opportunity to join a volunteer fire department and for the first time in my life, got a sense of what a real hero does.  From that experience came a book called Firefighters A to Z which led to the literary path of more so-called heroes, the men and women of the United States Coast Guard,  Hurricane Hunters and eventually to the Persian Gulf where I went to document, in art, the further work of the USCG as well as the U.S. Navy.

Of course the idea of labeling someone a hero is the public’s way of honoring good, noble and selfless deeds.  It is a way for us to single out exceptional behavior and actions.  A real hero would deny that moniker.  When I began the project of painting World War Two portraits, I wasn’t looking to paint heroic actions by individuals or groups.  I didn’t want to capture the horrors of battle.  What attracted me to this idea was capturing the quiet moments in what was the largest scale war in our planet’s history.  Many of the portraits I started with were of deceased parents of friends from my home town, painting their images as they looked in the war.  They were but kids who took on tasks beyond imagination.  They took on evils from two separate war fronts, eager to right the wrongs foisted upon them like the little mouse of my youth.

What I was choosing to do was show the average every day man and woman who took up the call to arms to defend our freedom, from not only the war front, but the homefront as well.  As I began taking the exhibit on tour, it was with the genuine love of meeting people connected to the war, be they participants or as young kids then or offspring and spouses.

The choice to travel and paint on-site was to continue giving me this opportuinty. As I tell people constantly, the portraits are conduits for conversation.  Pointing my car north for the start of the first leg, I began chasing heroes again. My heroes.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Crayola Guy

Uncategorized May 21, 2014

That moniker: Crayola Guy came from a USCG crew whose cutter I’d visited for a few days in the Persian Gulf back in 2006.  “CG” one of the guys first called me.  I quickly thought “Coast Guard” but when prompted, he said with a chuckle: “Crayola Guy”.  I had been sent overseas by USCG Headquarters to cover the US Coast Guard’s role in the Middle East, eventually turning in nine pieces of art depicting everything from down time to onboard training to vessel boarding.  That trip began a few years before while researching a children’s picture book project on Coast Guard rescue and learning of and getting accepted into their art program.   I’d been transitioning from humorous picture  books to non-fiction adventure for a few years.  Three years ago I began another journey exploring the images of World War Two people.  I essentially stopped working in publishing (and making money) to focus solely on this project.

Two years of building the exhibit, I took it on the road in May 2013, starting in my hometown of Amherst MA where six portraits of people from the town were now hanging in the town’s main library, the Jones Library, smack in the center of town.  My father’s portrait as a young pilot was in the mix.

Someone the other day, while visiting family and friends in the DC area, said to me “You know, most people wouldn’t do what you’re doing.”   I was reminded of the novel I’d read just before embarking on my journey: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce in which a man who, after being contacted by a former colleague from her death bed, decides on his way to posting an innocuous get-well note, to instead walk the 600 miles to try to save her.  The book is about Harold’s self-discovery.

Once in Amherst, I very quickly realized my own pilgrimage was just beginning starting with the suggestion to the woman cutting my hair, that maybe (after learning she’d been recently dumped) she should walk out her door some day and explore life.  “Harold” had been on my mind.  When I mentioned the book title, this woman exclaimed: “That’s his name, my ex.  His name was Fry.”  My journey was just warming up.

I wasn’t looking for unusual encounters.  They seemed to come to me. That was the beauty of working in public.  That was why the blogs started.  I needed to remember the people, the stories with the hope of one day publishing them in book form.  There are many people whose names have not met the blog.  It’s not to say they are less significant.  Maybe upon reflection some will make it like the cowboy I met in Boerne Texas named “Rico”.  A bona fide cowboy if I’d ever seen one.  Handlebar mustache, sweat-stained hat, kerchief and weathered skin and calloused hands right out of Lonesome Dove.  It turns out Rico was originally from Puerto Rico via the Bronx.  But no matter. He’d found his way to where he needed to be.

As I sit in the living room of a friend’s house in Bethesda Maryland, taking a couple of weeks off from the tour, I’m finding myself adrift.  The road that has become my touchstone is not there.  I will also return to, for the first time in three years, uncertainty.  Schedule changes, venue postponements have left a hole in my calender.  And yet, that seems more comfortingly familiar than being idle in old familiar surroundings.

Where is home?  I don’t know.  The other day on facebook a friend posted a link to a young Japanese photographer’s images of herself “floating” around the world. The startling photograph to the story showed Natsume Hayashi floating through a sewing shop in Vietnam, eighteen inches off the floor, young women her age undistracted working away on their machines.  I felt an immediate connection.  Here was another person on her own pilgrimage.  And most people would say too that on some level she too is taking a risk.  She had an idea and needed to explore it.  That’s all I know. There is some internal compass that compels  her,  Harold Fry and the Crayola Guy’s of the world to walk out the door and keep going.  Someone said that it’s not the end that matters but the journey.  Amen.natsumi-hayashi-8

http://www.spoon-tamago.com/2014/05/19/natsumi-hayashi-levitates-around-the-world/

Pork and Beans

Uncategorized May 13, 2014

Last summer when I was wrapping up my exhibit at the Jones Library in Amherst MA, one of the staff with whom I’d become friends asked: “Aren’t you afraid?”  She was referring to my heading off into the unknown, the next stop Texas.   I looked at her and asked: “Afraid of what?”   My point was that life is an adventure and yet realizing most people wouldn’t tackle such a thing, I thought it a telling question on her part.  Life was safe for her.  No risks, no worries. But in fact she had many worries particularly with trouble at home.  Fear had trapped her into a routine that made happiness rare.

There had been a time in my life when the thought of doing what I’m doing would’ve scared me too.  What this project did from the very beginning simply by painting in public, was to open my eyes to the rest of the world and see people as fellow voyagers each of us on some life path.

Now a year into this journey, I have a few weeks to reflect on the past as I look forward.  What does lie ahead?  The time in Palm Springs has been wonderful by both the acceptance of the director and staff as well as many of the docents.

I was raised by a father who, I later puzzled out, was afraid of life in so many ways that anger became it’s by-product.  We grew apart all through my teens and early twenties.  Eventually we came to understand our weaknesses and fears and he eventually told me how proud he was of my accomplishments by the time he died.  I learned that fear had kept him from trying to become a professional pianist.  As a fifth grader I remember him sitting down to play on our first piano and hearing Rachmaninoff piano suites roll from his finger tips.  I was astounded by how beautifully he played.

That insight into fear became a tool as I’d traveled the country.  No longer worried about what people thought about me, I was free to be myself.  I’d seen a lot of intolerance toward others who were outwardly different from those standing in judgement.  Where did this fear materialize?  As a teenager, I kept waiting for a time when one magically reached that age of adulthood.  It took decades to realize not everyone gets there.

The last month before heading east (I no longer call Virginia my home), I stayed in a bedroom of a house belonging to one of the docents at the air museum.  It was free but as I’ve learned, nothing is free.  It meant co-existing with this 80 year old woman and her 84 year old live-in partner.  I called them Lucy and Archie – named after the characters from the sitcoms I grew up with: I Love Lucy and All In The Family.  “Lucy” is a non-stop talker whose train of thought is hard to track.  I mentioned to her about the great pickup her car has, to which she veered onto a discussion of why she didn’t think it was right for girls to own pickups.  It took me a minute to track that one.

“Archie’s” favorite saying is: “Never had it. Don’t like it” typically referring to his epicurean challenges.  His favorite restaurant is Denny’s.  “Love the food, love the service and the people are great,” this said to me seated at a booth in said establishment, my having been commandeered thinking it was another eating establishment we were headed for.  “Favorite” is not the usual tribute I’d imagined applied to any establishment of the like.   I’m rolling my eyes as forty minutes have elapsed and the two of them are just halfway through their meal.  I’d finished long before.   “Archie” counts each bite twenty-five to twenty-eight times. Silently. So there’s no conversation from him.  I watch one of the servers vacuum the wall-to-wall carpet around our booth.  Perfect atmosphere I chuckle to myself.

At their place, dinner is always a battleground.  One night after returning from dinner out with a friend, I returned to find the two of them in the living room.  ” ‘Lucy’ didn’t make me the big can of pork and beans,” Archie grumbled in front of her.  “She only made the small one.”  She’s told me in the past her list of beans she likes “but I don’t like pork and beans,” she concludes.  I’d noticed from so many of their actions and statements that fear, on some level, runs their lives.  “Archie” can’t seem to come to terms with how to deal with his estranged kids and “Lucy” lives in her past life with her late husband.  Asking for what they want from each other in respectful terms rarely shows itself. Instead it’s a “he said, she said” daily routine in which they try to put me in the center.  Pleasing one another seems to not be part of their master plan.  Is it fear of being alone that keeps them together?  “I only have a couple of more years anyway,” Archie likes to state on a regular basis.  “Lucy” wants to publish four books written by her late husband.  Life clearly was better for both of them before they decided to live together.

One evening I decided to make something special for the evening meal.  Both of them wandered toward the stove for a look.  As Lucy’s food preparation is more of the heat and serve kind and Archie can’t tell a can opener from a socket wrench, what I was performing was piquing their interest.  On the counter sat a package of tortellini.  “What’s that?” Archie asked.”Never had it. Don’t like it,” he finished.  To his credit, when dinner was ready, he ate everything on his plate albeit in a good forty minutes.  The crowning jewel of the meal was a side dish of pork and beans I’d heated for him.  When he sat down at the table and spotted them, joy erupted.  “For me?” he asked.

I made dinner the next night and again served a bowl of pork and beans. This went on for three consecutive nights.  Lucy finally saw what little it took to make Archie happy.  Looking at me across the table she uttered: “I guess I should serve him  pork and beans more often.”

There was a lot of sadness watching them try to integrate their patterns.  This apparently has been going on for six years.  A puzzle Lucy recently bought for Archie became a battle ground when they worked on it together.  He sorts by shapes.  She sorts by color.  The storm clouds in the puzzle artwork reflected the growing anger and frustration between the two of them.

A friend of mine often emails or calls, asking:”What’s going on today?”  I always tell her that I don’t know. It’s a mystery.  I never know who will walk in and start a conversation.  That is the joy I feel.  “Joy” not “fear”.  That has to apply to relationships as well.

Maybe when I’m eighty and single, I’ll feel differently about sharing a home with someone.  It will be about companionship with a companion, not merely a boarder.  There’s not a fear of being alone either.   The one true thing I’ve learned from visiting the set of I Love Lucy and All In The Family is that it also won’t hurt to keep a can of pork and beans in the larder.