LOIS GREENE STONE - NON-FICTION
Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
Have you heard? There’s herd-immunity. Seriously? Not cattle, although in the old-west they were usually called that in a bunch. Today we might say a flock, although we city dwellers are totally unfamiliar with ranchers. Maybe the “Oklahoma” gang, yeah, from the Broadway show, knew that ranchers and cowman can’t be friends. Wasn’t that a song from the musical?
As a verb, for you who so like grammar, it’s to assemble. But isn’t a group traveling together, the noun, also an assembly? English is sure a difficult language.
Okay. Heard and herd are homonyms. Pronounced the same, but totally not the same meaning, why did this confusing language even start having homonyms! Air and heir. Geez. No wonder the takers of the GED to get a high school diploma have problems passing the test. And that’s not even the prepositional phrases that sound too-wordy to them. Imagine if logic and a syllogism were put on the exam; lots of college grads are confused about syllogistic reasoning that may be valid or maybe invalid. So weird.
Well back to the summer 2020 statement: our community has ‘herd-immunity’. Hm. How come the whole world doesn’t yet know that. So I looked it up: “the immunity or resistance to a particular infection that occurs in a group of people or animals when a very high percentage of individuals have been vaccinated or previously exposed to the infection”. I thought that happened in the spring of 2020 as the planet Earth’s inhabitants, well, humans so far as we know, have been exposed. Shouldn’t everyone now be immune? Vaccine. Will take time as a virus is tricky, not like the bacteria I used to put in a Petri dish and find an E. Coli, or Staph Aureus. I remember that course with its long-long labs and having to check those dishes even on weekends to see if my unknowns could be ‘known’ by me; guess the professor knew. No one ever had a virus in a Petri dish back then.
All the spray disinfectant cleaners sitting around under bathroom sinks rid bacteria. Never saw one that said destroys virus stuff. Now that would be worth a lot of money to some manufacturer. “Here ye, here ye, get your virus ablation product here!” Oh, ablation is too-wordy. Okay, ‘here ye, here ye, get your virus removal wipes from us’. Much more accessible language. But not on the market yet.
Hate to do this but back to the peculiar word syllogism. It’s sort-of a deceptive argument. The conclusion is what you want, so you just build a case to support that. Conclusion first, facts or such subordinate. ‘We can gather in large groups, unmasked, share food from a buffet table, shake hands, hug or kiss one another as we specific people in this particular area have herd-immunity.’ So I asked how that happened. Was told that the old folks, who absolutely had underlying diseases as old folks always have, died already from the virus, and the rest in town are not sick nor dying so we are all immune. We can gather in private houses, and never need a mask around one another, and just get on with our lives as we are safe. Really safe.
This is what I heard. Is the herd correct? Maybe this bug that is country/race/religion blind is to cleanse the overcrowded Earth from old people? The meek won’t inherit but the young will. But how young is “young”. To a teen, old is anyone 30! Is maybe 60 called old to a person 40? Hm. Shall this be a bug to rid families of grandparents? Now that’s a thought, and no protester has caught that yet. Protestors are too busy damaging property, hurling bottles at law enforcement, pulling down historical monuments, and such; perhaps the next wave of harm can be challenging grandparents to life. Ha. What IF the grandparents, having built up decades of immune responses, didn’t die but the little children, not having lived long enough for some natural protection response from the body, developed Covid 19! Oh, no. We definitely don’t want a herd of geriatric people who don’t go to bars, hang-out on corners, stay up all night at parties, hug and kiss and dance with strangers around.
So I looked up cattle branding: “a long-handled metal rod with a stamp at one end, used for branding livestock, especially cattle, with a registered or recognized symbol or character to indicate ownership”. Society could do that! Yeah. Those who are branded, or done by tattoo, are the ones with absolute herd-immunity. I like that idea. Easy to recognize who you can hang with and not get sick. And proof that your skin is tough enough to handle the symbol that screams you’re safe. Go try that on a wrinkled and frail oldster!
Back to “Oklahoma”. “The cowman ropes a cow with ease, The farmer steals her butter and cheese, That's no reason why they cain't be friends”. Now I see another problem; in our unisex 21st century, ‘cowman’ cannot be used. Cowperson is politically correct. No more manhole cover for street sewers, it’s a sewer cover. No more fireman, it’s a fire person. No more single public bathrooms that say women or men, as now these must be gender neutral. So our Covid 19 really is totally modern, claiming lives or health wherever it chooses, doesn’t care if climate is hot or freezing, and is making a global statement. But, who is the ‘master’ of the ‘herd’?
Most popular; large crowds; long waits to get in validating its superior status. “Wall-to-wall people totally says this is the ‘in’ place!”
Was it only months ago that Black Friday Sales had people standing for hours just to have the stores open? Is it politically correct to say Black Friday now? Maybe Grey Friday would be a better choice. No skin tone that’s grey denotes anything except disease probably. At any rate, big-box became an important term vs. Mom and Pop places, and mostly only local supporters went shopping in the latter for some items patting themselves for helping out their own community’s small stores. But ‘the little guy’ (also no longer correct noun) was just that, ‘little’.
Madison Avenue ads push variety, price comparison, even customer service at popular venues much like clothing sewn by children in a foreign country that shows a ‘designer’ label is promoted as better made. Better-made ought to be banned or tell me better-than-what!
But Covid 19 and Pandemic have shifted more than just social distancing. A place that sells appliances, and has 24 locations, now advertises: “100x safer than the big box; be safe and shop at a low volume...” noting the large and familiar names have about 2,000 daily customers while this place only sees about 15-20 per day.
The Wall Street Journal, in a piece by John D. Stoll, July 31, 2020, spoke about a bike shop owner, ...”entrepreneur who has spent 10 years molding a business plan only to see it turned inside out overnight. His shops are jammed these days with beat-up Schwinns, Treks and Bianchis that need repairs. A line of people stand outside in the hot sun waiting for same-day remedies on bikes that are often older than the 37-year-old Mr. Hughes....” There are no new bikes to sell!
So, now, smaller and less familiar/popular’ is safer as life is navigated through the Pandemic, and some that used to sell new are getting more like the vanished shoe-repair place that once made a living with re-soles and re-heels. Are there even parts for bicycles almost forty years old? Is there trained-personnel for this, or mostly a sales-force that has nothing to offer a customer?
Neiman Marcus, long ago, had Christmas catalogues that featured costly electric-powered toddlers cars and even diamond-studded women’s undergarments. On May 7, 2020, it filed for bankruptcy. JC Penneys lasted about a hundred years, as probably Brooks Brothers, yet Penneys filed for Chapter 11 on May 15, 2020, and Brooks Brothers July 8, 2020. Even the incredible acrobatics of Cirque du Solei might vanish permanently as June 29, 2020 it, too, filed for bankruptcy. In 1882, Luchow’s, restaurant in New York City opened; it closed for good in 1984. Not from Pandemic, but it moved, in 1982 after a hundred years in one spot, to a different location and the geniality slowly disappeared. (Memory can be evoked by just a name, and the last lunch my dad had before his age 45 heart stopped was at Luchow’s.) It took 80 years for the famous Copacabana restaurant/nightclub in Manhattan to close; the 1947 movie, with the same name, filmed seven years after the dance-hall with live musicians opened, also gave Barry Manilow a hit song.
Popular has lost its popularity. Crowds are either protesters or those who believe they’ve some kind of magic immunity to the virus. Big box centers have online orders and curbside delivery service. The lyrics to A Bicycle Built for Two, “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true. I'm half crazy over the love of you” needs construction in China, perhaps.
Maybe that appliance place, that insists its small amount of customers make it a safe option, now, for selection, will change advertising for many more months; maybe even Chicken Little knew something when he yelled “Help, help the sky is falling!” Maybe if adherence to masks and distancing happen, lives may be saved and the virus that challenges us will burn up in the atmosphere and Chicken Little will be a hero.
Want to comfort a cold? A magazine article said that steaming the face can ease mild cold congestion especially when fragrant oils are added to the water. I smiled as I scanned this 'new' idea.
Before decongestants, and even antibiotics, my mother treated my colds, sinus infections, and any other head ailment the same way. Full circle. I can almost visualize a common incident:
"Whatever are you doing?" My mother passed by the bathroom, shook her head, smiled. "You're supposed to be inhaling vapors to get rid of your sinus congestion. Inhale. Stop singing." She pretended to say this as an order but it was playful.
"Chickory chick, cha la, cha la," I chanted and wiggled the towel that formed a tent over my head. "Cha la. Cha la." Then I sang, "What shall I do with my mother, mommy, ma?" I giggled at the rhyming.
My mother tapped my small behind. "Steam!"
The porcelain basin was filled to the drain-out hole. Hot water with chamomile leaves made the rising steam have a characteristic odor. I didn't think it was fragrant, but rather smelly. I'd had tea with chamomile leaves, de-tangled my hair with chamomile mixed with water, and now had to inhale its moist fumes.
Appearing in the doorway again, my mother stated, "Now. Before the water gets cold."
"Okay. Okay." I whined. "Yuk." I bent over the sink, re-making a tent over my head with the terry towel, and inhaled. I wanted to keep my eyes closed so I wouldn't have to stare at the small cracks in the sink, the stains that stayed even after cleaners, the film that formed on the water's top. If I pressed my lids together too long, however, I felt dizzy then imagined my head plopping into porcelain and drowning in misty droplets.
"You sure look weird." My older sister, Carole, came up behind me. "I'm lucky I never get sinus infections."
I pulled myself straight, let the towel drop onto my shoulders, and answered, "I don't have Hay Fever, a-choo."
Carole noticed my face was red and puffy from both the position and the heat, began to laugh, then walked away.
Uncertain what Carole was laughing at, I felt angry. I released the lever and watched the water drain away. The mirror above the sink was steamy so I couldn't see my reflection. Using the towel, I wiped a small section. My silky hair was moist and matted. My cheeks were slightly swollen. "I'd rather be congested," I told my image.
"I'd rather not be up all night with you," my mother responded as she heard my words.
"Can't I even have a conversation with myself without being overheard!" I rolled up the towel and forced it into the metal laundry chute. I stuck my head near the chute to watch the towel flop into a wicker basket a floor below.
My mother laughed. "Come help me fix dinner. It's better than a mustard plaster when you get chest colds, isn't it?"
"Are you kidding! Breathing smelly vapors, bent over a sink. And it has been 'laugh at Lois day' and now you want my help?" Then with a dramatic gesture, I uttered, "Dahling. I am too sick with sinus trouble to peel potatoes. Ask your healthy older daughter. It isn't Hay Fever season."
My mother continued to chuckle, then called, "Carole?"
Now, so many-many decades later, for those people who don't want to take medication for congestion, combining hot water and oil fragrance then inhaling scented steam is being promoted. And chamomile tea is back. I wonder if mustard plasters will...nah.
published in hardcover book "Old-Time Home Remedies" ©1998 House of White Birches issued January 1998
of Epcot and Fairs
A rented car turned and settled into a space between two defined white lines; I put the transmission in Park and turned off the motor. Epcot. Orlando, Florida. 1994. I'd heard exclamations of 'space', 'don't miss', 'oh, the countries', 'foods'...and was excited about its newness for me.
A monorail moved silently high above me. I thought about New York's EL and the clanking of rails overhead: did windows in nearby buildings tremble when the subway soared into daylight and passed like a bridge atop of automobiles? No eel-like monorail with its slithering could shudder even the air's silence.
A sphere glistened in the Florida sunshine. Epcot's logo. Was this new to those dressed in casual clothing and rubber-soled sneakers who pushed collapsible baby strollers? I had a sense of place, lapse of time, feeling I'd been aware of this once before.
In my white Breton hat with its long blue streamers, a navy blue two-piece outfit, blue ankle socks and Mary Jane patent leather shoes, I climbed into my dad's unheated brown sedan. The wool car seats itched against my exposed little-girl thighs. We drove along Northern Boulevard and pulled into Flushing Meadow Park where the World's Fair was set up. My mother straightened out the seams in her silk stockings, pulled her cloche cap securely around her finger-wave hair-do, and stepped on the car's running board to help me out. My dad's double-breasted suit jacket got re-buttoned as he always unbuttoned it when he sat down; he creased the seam in his wool hat. We were ready to walk around.
What has lingered all these years about that Fair? What could any child remember with eyes that had not yet seen war, and belief that the tooth-fairy was a real person?
I met Mr. Pickle and he gave me a pickle-pin to wear. Honestly, it was Mr. Pickle, and I also ate the tiniest pickles I ever ate---free, too.
Men blew glass vases. I didn't know what kind of magic it was but holding a rod then giving a-huff-and puff a jar came out...kind of like bubble gum blowing I guess.
I had pictures taken of me sitting on a small perisphere; so did every other daddy sit children on it. And I got a coin bank shaped like the trylon and perisphere with the penny slot in the big circle; I didn't like the trylon as it was pointy and stuck my small hand. Why couldn't it have a flat top that couldn't stab my palm?
The movies where I wore green paper glasses really frightened me. An airplane flew right out of the screen and came right over my head.
Big auto tires were so big close up and they weren't even on any cars. Some make-believe fake rubber or something like that was going to one day be made. I didn't know about tires or cars except that I often needed the wool blanket that hung on the strap behind the seat where my daddy sat and drove; I got cold in winter or when I took a nap during a ride home from visiting relatives.
But my very favorite fair thing was being in Japan. I was too! It smelled different so I knew it really was Japan...perfume aroma but sweet and strong.
Epcot's space ride couldn't duplicate the fascination and wonder I felt when, on television, I saw American astronauts stand on the moon. The ride into the 'future' had been done weekly on television's "The Jetson's", and advertisers' sponsors' logos were reminiscent of the World's Fair. I guess I expected to be transported into magic not media.
The second time I went to that Fair, we parked by the Prospect Movie Theatre on Flushing Main Street and took the trolley. I loved the trolley. I also loved the dentist, hated haunted houses, and looked forward to Sunday drives to Brooklyn to Grandpa to see brides.
Grandpa had his own photo studio and let me see how he made white paper magically make a picture of a bride. He stuck his head under a sheet, stood in front of a wooden box that was propped up on tall wood legs, clicked, uncovered his head and then pulled out a big glass plate. Then we went into a room with no lights and abra-ca-dabra pictures! Grandpa's nails were always black; he said it was from the magic water. When I was bigger, he let me put pictures on the backs of real mirrors people can hold in their hands; I used a real machine. But I couldn't trim pictures on his cutter which looked like a tiny checkerboard; on one side, there was a knife I couldn't see unless I lifted the metal blade thing way up and saw the sharp edge.
Grandpa always had a nickel for a Charlotte Russe snack-treat of white cake topped with whipped cream all squished into a round paper cup, and free passes to the movies on the next street. But he didn't go to the World's Fair with us. Why?
Epcot's Japan didn't smell of incense. Seiko watches filled a display case, and Bonsai trees could be boxed and shipped via UPS to my New York address. But I can buy Seiko and Bonsai's a mile from my door, or have a jet fly them within a brief period of air time from any distributor. Epcot's England with its Royal Doulton china shop, and woolen dry goods, had the very same merchandise local department stores have...and British tea sits on my supermarket shelves. Since I smiled with pleasure at someone dressed as a Disney character, and related to a little girl who got a hug from Goofy and believed it truly was Goofy, why couldn't the exhibits convey the same sensation?
A robot drew my picture after I sat before a computer that made graphics of my face for the robot to copy. I missed the darkroom that Grandpa had invited me to share. Another concession, by Kodak, took snapshots that could be rapidly developed then made into postcards from a selection posted. Disney pictures were pressed into the fabric of tee-shirts. Where was the 'future' as seasonal greeting cards and tee-shirt iron-on's are available in my shopping mall?
A double-decker bus circled the area of 'worlds' and one could ride with the Florida sun bouncing off strands of hair. I used to ride a double-decker bus from Jackson Heights, in Queens County, to Fifth Avenue in New York; I loved it, and I loved the Epcot one also.
Epcot is for adults, I'd been told. Maybe I, who like walking barefoot on wet grass, still allow a sprinkler to shower me on a hot summer day, squat in a cardboard box while playing store with my grandchildren, wear macaroni shell necklaces when made for me, am not adult enough. I won't ever be. I want a ride to illuminate, or educate, or scare, or just be fun. I want a visit to a country to be more than eating and shopping; I want to smell and touch what fragrances, goods, and customs represent it.
In the rented car, I pushed the air conditioning lever to high speed, pressed the seek/scan radio button and exited the large parking lot. Overhead signs directed me back to the highway I needed. The sky was darkening but pink streaks glowed and left traces of a beautiful day. I'd been to a mini fair, but I missed cotton candy....
published November 1995 © Rochester Shorts Magazine
reprinted March 2019 Clear Mountain
The Zippered Bag
When does all this mothering stop, I wondered as I pulled out writing paper? Even grown children expect unconditional love and attention on their schedules. Didn't I, too, have enough to cope with since my father-in-law, living 1200 miles away, was hospitalized with a little pneumonia?
I felt irritable. My parents, unlike my husband's, didn't have the luxury of long life and I guess I resented having to be sympathetic. And our daughter daily visited his dad.
For a spunky girl who could manage alone when she moved to Miami, become a Registered Nurse after getting a Summa Cum Laude from an Ivy League university and then another Summa Cum Laude degree in nursing from a college in Florida, marry, have two children, why did she believe I could still wipe away baby tears and make bad stuff all-better?
January 18th. I began the letter as ball point ink smudged my fingertips.
The phone. My daughter's voice... hysterical. "Stop crying. I can't hear you," I shouted into plastic holes transporting words from Rochester. I knew 'stop crying' was a stupid remark but it seemed to just automatically discharge from my mouth.
"I'm in Grandpa's hospital room. There's a body bag on the bed. No one called me that he died."
"It's not Grandpa," I insisted. "We also were not telephoned," I reasoned, "so he must be having further medical tests for his pneumonia and the bed has another's remains. You're a nurse, so open up the bag and you'll see it's not Grandpa." I jabbed the ball point onto a thick pad; it made dots not doodles. She stopped nursing for full-time mothering but was still a nurse, right?
"Oh. Oh." Sobbing sounds seemed like background noise. "It's him. The toe tag. And I looked. It's Grandpa. Oh. No one called me. No one stopped me from going into his room. He's cold. He's been dead at least two hours."
More stupid words like 'calm down' came out of me. I felt helpless and rambled ridiculous phrases. Cupping the mouthpiece, I told my husband that our daughter found his father in a body bag, and, thankfully, our grandchildren were in the hospital lobby with their dad as they'd seen him previous visit.
I crumpled the stationery. Why hadn't I allowed myself to be sensitive to this painful situation and people I loved? I blacked-out the vision of my child going to the lobby, facing her children, and I told her to go home I'd phone later. Then I called the airlines.
Burial was January 20th in New York; my husband and I flew to Miami the 21st. He'd sort through his father's personal items and terminate an apartment lease; I'd help our daughter cope with an anticipated recurring nightmare.
My superstitious grandmother had believed bad luck comes in threes; my daughter's agony wasn't over. She related that the recession had claimed her husband's job, and health benefits would terminate January 31st. Was I calm on the outside? Inwardly I started feeling overwhelmed. Well, tomorrow there'd be some joy; she was hoping to be pregnant again, and an ultrasound was scheduled. Oh. No health insurance. I realized, that's a big “oh”.
Blow three came Tuesday the 22nd when the ultrasound showed a growing uterine fibroid not a fetus. How can she believe I'm able to kiss away boo-boos when I'm helpless to even comfort! Why can't I tape a Care Bear Band-Aid to these enormous wounds?
As a choo-choo train rails a rhythmic pattern, so did a beat chug through my mind: think before speaking, think before speaking. I didn't want a repeat of careless and seemingly thoughtless words I'd transmitted as she stood beside her dead grandfather. I took cues from her body movements: when to embrace, when to give space. I grandma'd her children yet insisted she keep a semblance of routine requesting she prepare lunch. She went through the motions.
I allowed her necessity of self-pity, grief, bewilderment. She exposed fears. I had to be wise with words and never say 'you've got a boy and girl child so what's the difference' re uterine growth, or 'your husband will get another job', or 'time will take care of the horror scene' re her grandfather. I wouldn't have believed those even if my lips had spewed them. Was I growing up, finally? Weren't my telephone thoughtless-phrases a cover-up for my own weakness and lack of knowing how to help in a long-distance and futile situation?
Wanting more than three children myself, and knowing a medical problem prevented it, I really understood that pain.
I embraced her, ran my fingers over her smooth hair, and told her she shouldn't downplay the hospital sight for I knew she'd carry that as long as she lived. I couldn't advise concerning the specialized job her husband had lost, and saw embarrassment when I offered money. I felt as if I were on a balance wire trying to control my steadiness in boots rather than ballet slippers.
What could I do? What would my own mother have done if it were me? I shook my head as if my mother had dropped down special information from the clouds: I could remind my daughter of strengths and courage she showed even as a child. I could praise her sensitivity, minimize frustration with emotional support not criticism or advice, let her know parents' money for continued health-care coverage isn't paying her bills nor will make her mate feel less manly. I said sharing love with her grandpa the eight years she'd been in Miami should bring tears of missing, and to allow them to fall. Did she notice that I, too, was learning how to live and be a better person? Maybe not, but, I confess, I wondered what had taken me so long.
On the Rochester return January 23rd, my eyes spilled drops which wet my cheeks and dripped into my blouse collar. My own mother, a widow for 32 years, had been strong and supplied me with unconditional love until she died; I could learn to muster up my own resources and do the same for my offspring. I reached over the armrest of the narrow plane seat and touched my husband's arm.
published June 1997 Rochester Shorts