The past is past except when it isn’t

August 15, 2020

I’ve been asking myself lately, why, oh why, do I keeping thinking about things from my past–specifically from the 1960s and 70s? Especially, when I can’t remember what I ate for lunch or my neighbor’s last name?

I questioned does this happen to others and why? I Googled: why do older folks dream of the past?

Dreaming of the past and the world beyond

An article by Katy Waldman calls it the ‘reminiscence bump’. “The basic finding is this: We remember more events from late adolescence and early adulthood than from any other stage of our lives. This phenomenon is called the reminiscence bump.” A robust line of research shows that there really is something deeply, weirdly meaningful about this period. It plays an outsize role in how we structure our expectations, stories, and memories.”  Voile! That makes sense to me.

Kate Morton, a truly resplendent author, says this about memories in her book The Clockmaker’s Daughter. “Human beings are curators. Each polishes his or her own favored memories, arranging them in order to create a narrative that pleases. Some events are repaired and buffed for display; others are deemed unworthy and cast aside, shelved below ground in the overflowing storeroom of the mind. There, with any luck, they are promptly forgotten. The process is not dishonest: it is the only way that people can live with themselves and the weight of their experiences.”

I reached a moment of clarity when reading her comparison of sentimentality to nostalgia to “Sentimentality is mawkish and cloying, where nostalgia is acute and aching. It describes yearning of the most profound kind: an awareness that time’s passage could not be stopped and there was no going back to reclaim a moment or a person or to do things differently.” However, as I have previously stated, I have no deep regrets and I hardly ever say “if I had only…”

So out of my head and on to the stars for a moment as I embraced the cosmos with one of my favorite persons on twitter Sarafina Nance, who goes by the handle @starstrickenSF she is an Astrophysics PhD, a stargazer and an eternal optimist.  She greeted today with an out-of-this-world observation about the universe

…some stars explode, their light as bright as entire galaxies, while others collapse in on themselves, stuffing all their mass into a tiny yet supermassive blip in space-time. Some stars are so massive, and their photons so many, that the stellar surface simply floats away, forcing the star to disintegrate others are so small, barely larger than Jupiter, that they live on for trillions of years, bearing witness to the cosmos in a way nothing else can. 

She has also said all of us will be stardust someday, how cool is that?

 

 


A fade-to-gist

August 11, 2020

Maybe it’s retirement combined with #COVID-19 self semi-quarantine, but I find myself using some of my time to wander thru memories for whatever remains of my wild and crazy youth.

“Human memory is notoriously unreliable, especially when it comes to details. Scientists have found that prompting an eyewitness to remember more can generate details that are outright false but that feel just as correct to the witness as actual memories. In day-to-day life, this isn’t a bug; it’s a feature”

I like this psychedelic brain image.

“A key rule about memory change over time is what we call fade-to-gist,” so says Dr. Charles Brainerd, (real name) a professor of human development at Cornell University.

What set me down memory lane recently was Dirt Road to Psychedelia a documentary about the mid to late sixties music scene in Austin, TX including the Vulcan Gas Company

The Vulcan was the hippest, coolest place in Austin (maybe the world). The following are some things I dredged up in memories as a direct result of viewing the film. And, yes, I going to be name-dropping because…

I started going to the Vulcan when it opened in early ’68. Some of my college friends were musicians and we went often together, but not always.

I was introduced to marijuana by a musician friend who went on to play bass with the 13th Floor Elevators. So that got me thinking. During my junior year in college 67-68 I spent much time in the company of the previous drummer for the Elevators. John Ike had quit the band and his mother thought he ought to go to college. He was a fun person to be with.

In the summer of ’68 I spent a lot of time in the company of the band New Atlantis in their Austin rental house. New Atlantis played at the Vulcan often and there I was introduced to Johnny Winter. I was crazy about his blues guitar licks. We became friends. I went to all of his Austin shows and we’d hangout for hours afterward. He called me his ‘college girl’ as I was still attending at that time. He got famous from those Vulcan gigs, and the last time I visited with him was in the mid-70’s when he stopped by the Armadillo Beer Garden.

The Armadillo World Headquarters, an Austin Texas music venue, in September 1976 photo by SteveHopson

By the time the Vulcan closed, I had graduated and was living in Music Mecca aka Austin. The Armadillo opened in 1970 and I was a frequent visitor thru early 1980 when I moved to NM. It felt like I was there every time the doors opened, but that’s not true. I saw so many wonderful shows–Jerry Lee Lewis on New Year’s Eve. Taj Mahal, Bette Midler, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Zappa, Van Morrison, Ravi Shankar… I rented the downstairs room of my house to drummer Jerry Barnett who worked some at the ‘Dillo and played with Shiva’s Headband.  Jerry was kind enough to get me in the door for free many, many times.

A boyfriend once broke up with me while the Dylan song “Ramona’ played on the PA in between stage sets of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. He said, “Oh by the way, I’ve asked Ramona to move in with me, so this is our last date.” It was a rather apropos lead in, don’t you think?

Me and my brand new baby boy 1974

If you want to read more, try Race Relations, which I wrote about 10 years ago and recently updated.

As it all fades, the gist of it is–I had a really good time with little or no regrets. Because what would be the point of regrets?

Feel free to leave comment of your memories.

 


And we all shine on

March 8, 2020

Last night I attended the 22nd annual Townes Van Zandt Memorial Tribute in Austin, Texas

I knew Townes back in the middle-hippie ages in Austin. He was one of the persons who gravitated repeatedly to Uncle Seymour Washington’s home in the Clarksville section of Austin in the 70’s. read more here.

Another legendary Austin musician Butch Hancock was the host of this intimate event of just over 100 folks.

I sat next to two fellas in their 30’s (?) from Alberta, Canada. They had come all the way to Austin, in spite of the scary Coronavirus, to hear more of Townes’ music in one of the cities he regularly played. My brother and I proceeded to give them anecdotes and sidebars regarding Townes and other shenanigans in the Vulcan Gas Company/Armadillo days. I swear those two beautiful Canadians said they were “pleased and honored to have met us.”

The rest of the story is another old love of mine was one of the story-telling singers. Wally Stopher aka Oat Willie surprised me. This post is dedicated to him:

Dear friend, I saw you last night, and you saw me. But it seems we didn’t recognize each other. I was there with my brother for Townes’ tribute. I heard you sing for the first time in 40+ years. God dang! We’re still alive and well. Much love to you and many memories.

Then on the way home I heard John Lennon with some apropos lyrics

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love
What on earth you tryin’ to do
It’s up to you, yeah you

 


Memories–who you were, are and will be

March 2, 2019

What makes a memory anyway?  When people speak of ‘making memories’ I think they’re most likely alluding to a significant life event which will be remembered forever by the parties involved.  Sometimes I feel like my memory is a roll of the dice or maybe more like a pinball machine bouncing from bumper to bumper after each flip. It seems memories can be traumatic or trivial. My guess is it depends of the individual.

Scientifically speaking: One study at UCLA determined through research experimentsmemory-word-cloud “This link between reactivation of neurons in the hippocampus and conscious recall of past experience has been suspected and theorized for some time, but the study now provides direct evidence for such a link.  “In a way, then,” Dr. Fried said, “reliving past experience in our memory is the resurrection of neuronal activity from the past.” Seems rather unromantic, yes?

A How Stuff Works article says “Human memory is a complex, brain-wide process that is essential to who we are. Your “memory” is really made up of a group of systems that each play a different role in creating, storing, and recalling your memories.”

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Me and my brand new baby boy.

What have I forgotten? For many years I waxed nostalgic about my days during and after college when I lived in the great hippiedom of Austin, Texas.  Specific memories were apparent, but it was more a general recollection of a feeling of peace, freedom, music, and fun that carry these times around my brain.

Recently, I reconnected with two women friends from those years who lived in the same Austin neighborhood as I did on the outskirts of Clarksville. We were pregnant at the same time giving birth to babies, who through toddlerhood grew up as best friends.

In our reminiscing, I realized I had pushed a lot of memories from those days to the back of my mind. Because why? One explanation could be that I was no longer in touch with those folks with whom I could be remembering.  Also, because those were wild, unfettered times, it didn’t always seem like the best tales to tell.

Consequently, I became aware of meaningful parts of my life I had kept under my memory radar. I am grateful to those ‘historically significant’ friends who led me to recall and reembrace much of that part of my past.  I like to think all memories are intricately a part of your life-defining who you were, are and will be.

Of course, the Beatles said so many things the best.

There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends, I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all


Smokey vignettes from bygone days

October 12, 2018

Not sure what prompted me to dig into the old box of letters at the top of the closet. Yes, Virginia, people used to use pen and paper to write letters and mail them to their friends across the country, or the world for that matter.

Funny thing is–I found some of my short poems and musings which were written in the college and beyond–during the years of my life when I was still young and smokin’

As I read those fading penciled scribbles, I could still see quite clearly when and where, who and why I had taken the time to put pen to paper.

“My truly honest man-child. Your wild eyes read the dreams on my eyelids. Your lips take my breath away and your hand rent my soul from my body and caresses it.” That sounds sexy, doesn’t it? Yes, it was!

This one must have been a really intense trip. “I’m a grandmother trying to knit a bootie for my grandchild with knotted, tired fingers. The needles miss and stick the cat on the hearth and the blood seeps out of his body. It drips off his fur to stain the cement floor forever.” Interesting that I am now a grandmother of six and have never even attempted to knit a damn bootie.

I remember lying on the bed at my friend David’s house so stoned I couldn’t make it home.

“It was so hot, I gladly welcomed the small, cool breeze that tiptoed into the room. I softly asked it to stay, but it didn’t hear me, turned around and left to continue its journey down the street. Dogs were barking, calling to the dog in the yard. As he ran to meet them I could hear his paws click-clacking over the warm gravel in the driveway. The street light softly poured into the room like the moon. I feel the warmth from his body seeping from his pores and floating secretly to me. It meets with my bare skin in pulsating waves like breath.”

Sigh, I remember this like it was yesterday.

Have we lost that art of prose where we just take whatever piece of paper is handy and write down our observations or feelings? I say mostly. But if you are someone who has not lost that art, don’t throw those papers away.

Peace and love y’all.

 


Thanksgiving Remembrances

November 19, 2017

Lately, when I’m lying in bed waiting for sleep to come, I’ve try to remember pieces of my life–those memories I hold dear. Sometimes the unpleasant peeks around the corners of my mind trying to creep me out. But, all in all, it’s an exercise in remembering—about family, friends, great experiences, things I’ve done, places I’ve been…

Since it’s Thanksgiving, I dusted off the cobwebs surrounding holidays past and started thinking about the dinners I used to have with my family. It’s not possible to tell a lifetime of Thanksgiving stories in a small space. Even so, I can’t remember everything. And, on top of that, you just kind of had to be there to appreciate the traditions, the relationship with all their good and bad parts and the ubiquitous family jokes.

When I was a child, depending on where we were living, my family drove to Texas for Thanksgiving to eat dinner with my maternal grandparents. My aunt and her family would come as well. My Uncle John was the family comedian—albeit most of his jokes were somewhat abusive, racist or at someone else’s expense.  My favorite foods were (and still are) my grandmother’s and subsequently my mother’s Southern cornbread stuffing and pecan pie.

A succession of family dinners continued throughout the years. Participants and places varied, but the tone stayed relatively (pun) the same throughout the years. That is up until my parents were no longer in the picture. It never felt the same after that. My aunt and uncle and their kids were pretty much happy to get rid of the obligation of our company. My siblings and I had families of our own. Many variations of Thanksgiving happened.

My family in the mid-80’s L-R Dad, Mom brother Jack, me, sister Louise, her (then) hubby Steve and my son Jack Berry

Several years when I lived in Austin, and was eschewing my parents’ traditions, my young son and I had Thanksgiving at Uncle Seymour’s with the neighborhood hippies and others. I previously wrote a little story about those times.

One trip I did remember makes me laugh every time I think about it: My brother drove me, my adult son and teenage daughter to have dinner with our sister and her family of much younger children. All the way down to Houston from San Antonio, we talked in an exaggerated Southern drawl. I don’t know why, but it was hilarious. When we got down to my sister’s house, they all looked at us like we had gone crazy. Ah, but what fun we had.

Or the time we drove to my sister’s and I got horrible diarrhea on the way back and had to stop at every gas station, and even construction portable potty, on the way home. Yeah, sorry, but that was an unforgettable trip and the last one down there, I think.

And more recently, the year hubby had a major seizure the day before Thanksgiving and was in a coma. I had to hand off the turkey to my son for cooking and I scrambled to fix everything else. I was very moved when my totally unreligious grandchildren prayed for their G-pa before the meal.

This year, it’s just the two of us. We have family in Colorado, Austin, and the frozen north of Minnesota. My brother and wife are going to Wimberly. The sis is still in Houston. It’s all good!

So, whatever your Thanksgiving looks like, I hope it is pleasant, tasty and memorable.

 

 

 

 


Moving Experiences

May 12, 2017

A recent conversation with a journalist friend and a couple of “moving” articles got me thinking. I have some mixed feelings about gentrification and the ‘forcing’ of people out of their homes and their comfort zones to make way for new development—whether it be private or government backed. I am not unsympathetic towards these persons’ situations. I am also not above being influenced by my own personal experiences of voluntary and involuntary home moves, both as a child and as an adult. Sometimes, these were good experiences, sometimes, not so much.

Having grown up an Army brat, I think I moved about 17 times before I even went to college. These moves were easy in a way as we always had housing options provided, moving companies to pack and ship all our belongings, and the places we went were good. Even if we were in the same town, we sometimes had to move from off-base to base housing. New schools, new friends, new environments. All these made me, and most likely all service brats, very resilient. Some I know even developed a wanderlust of sorts.

When I was in my twenties and living in Austin, I lived for almost 8 years in one of my favorite houses. That was my first experience of living more than about two years in the same place. I was so attached to that house I dream about it sometimes still. Though it has become distorted over the years.

When I was somewhat forced to come back to my parents’ home–from yet another city–due to an abusive situation,  I disliked San Antonio. It took some years to really feel like this is my home for good. I’ve been here almost half my life now, though I’ve moved domiciles about a dozen time.

Our House is a very fine house.

When my husband and I bought the house we are in now, he said, “It had better have a nice ceiling because that the last thing I want to see before I die.” Meaning he was sick and tired of packing, moving and the expenses it entailed. There still may be some moves in our future.  Probably not the ones either of us would like.

And, then I think of the millions of families in the Middle East and so many other places who are forced to leave their homes with practically nothing. They face starvation, disease, displacement camps, death. The girls and women are often beaten and raped. My heart goes out to them. And, I’m sorry the US is trying so hard to close its doors to refugees. But that’s a whole other conversation.

Perhaps, there is a better way to transition people who are being displaced in our city. I understand not everyone has the experience, knowledge or again, resilience, to handle being told, out of the blue, they have to move. Being more thoughtful about the process before and during, instead of just afterwards, might be a way to proceed.

Peace and Love Y’all


Healthy Eating Redux

May 29, 2016

First let me say, my mother was a superior cook. Every night she cooked a family meal and we all gathered around the kitchen table eating and talking. Many of our family favorites were from the Southern cooking repertoire she learned from her mother. Cornbread dressing, black eyed peas, pecan pie, tomato aspic, etc. She made the best fried chicken ever. So good that when she included a leftover piece in my lunch box the next day, it still tasted awesome. I remember she had a special container on the stove to strain the drippings from the breakfast bacon with which she used to flavor many of her dishes. What horror that sounds now, right? Her Red Velvet cake recipe is what the hubby uses to great raves.

chinese cook book

Lula Belle’s original Chinese cook book

Mom also made it a point to learn how to cook cultural food dishes from wherever we lived with Dad on his Army assignments. In Hawaii, she learned to cook Asian food including wontons and spring rolls and delicious rice dishes. When my dad was stationed in Pakistan, and we couldn’t go, she still learned how to create Pakistani dishes to serve my father when he got home so we could share the food culture.

Another component of my foodie upbringing was through my dad. Everywhere we lived, he had a garden. He loved tilling the dirt and learning the plants that would grow well in whatever climate we were in.

I specifically remember the garden in Hawaii. It was a rather large garden on a hill on one side of the house in which we lived while waiting for base housing. Much to his chagrin, there were many types of tiny beasties that will infect and eat your produce in that climate. While our native Hawaiian landlord gave him some advice, Dad managed to invent a tomato saver using my mom’s old stockings. The result of all this gardening is that we were privy to fresh seasonal veggies on the table most of our growing-up lives. He continued to garden until his last year on this earth.

When I began my life in Austin as a hippie babe, I too became a darn good gardener. In both homes I had there, I maintained a large, prolific garden. I grew squash, potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, beans (scarlet runner were my favorites) melons and more. Our resident neighborhood food guru, Clay, was already a vegan and among other dietary examples, fed his twin baby daughters almond milk after they got too big for nursing. We ate a lot of good fresh produce, turkey eggs, raw milk and other healthy foods. We shopped at Good Foods, the store which was actually the precursor to Whole Foods, and then at Whole Foods original store on Lamar Blvd. I made healthful cookies and other baked goods and stayed away from white sugar.

Somewhere along the way of life, I deterred from this path. Smallish incomes and three kids led the family to make the unhealthy mistakes many people in the same financial situation make—beans, potatoes, bread, pasta are cheap, fresh or organic produce not so much. If your teenager works at Church’s Chicken, you love the free leftovers every night.

Oh and did I mention I married a pastry chef? Most the weight I gained from this era is still with me.

Little by little I got back on the right path. I just started saying “no” to the pastry, cookie, cake stuff. I began eating gluten-free for my intestines’ sake and there went the pasta, crackers etc. The hubby and I shopped at Central Market for the great assortment of fresh and tasty produce.

Delivery produce box

For a year or so we had a weekly box of local, seasonal produce delivered to our door. It stretched our ideas of what exactly is eatable Yes! to beet greens and strange sprouts and big black radishes. We finally cancelled, feeling it was not economically in our favor to continue.

On our back patio, we created a small, but productive, container garden. We’ve had good luck with tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, peppers, chard, herbs and even okra. Plus, the house came with two tangerine trees that keep us in fresh tangerines for about 6 weeks every fall.

tomatoes

Container garden tomatoes

We tried shopping at some of the latest wave in ‘new’ farmer’s market offerings. I confess we slipped some.

What got me back on track is reading a non-fiction book by Barbara Kingsolver, a terrific fiction writer–Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The author and her family enter a life-changing adventure by moving full time to their farm in Virginia. They committed to eating only local, seasonal, organic, homegrown, homespun…well you get the idea. Albeit, they have a large growing area, already producing fruit and nut trees and a farming communityavm icon that grows, raises or makes all products which fit in the parameters of this foodie life. It’s an interesting and inspiring tale.

Granted, our budget is limited, but we are trying to eat better and cook with more healthy ingredients. So, it’s back to the farmers markets for us for fresh, local, seasonal produce, eggs and other products. Last week, I got some wonderful beets and blackberries. This week a sweet, sweet watermelon and a jar of honey. Semi-retirement is a boon for time to search for healthy, economical food options and hubby is excellent at cooking them into delicious, interesting dishes.

Garden eggplant, pepper, herbs stew/sauce

Garden eggplant, pepper, herbs stew/sauce

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A chard frittata with pear from CM


British Invasion Redux

September 23, 2014

Last night I went to a great music concert/fundraiser in Austin courtesy of my sister-in-law who works for Health Alliance for Austin Musicians or HAAM.

The British Invasion of the 60’s was revisited by an eclectic procession of Austin/Texas/British musicians. It was a very entertaining musical history lesson and a whole bunch of fun!

allatx playbill

Click for full list of performers

The Zombies (in the flesh!) sang this old Kinks tune. It really it made an impression on me, so I decided to share.


The Dangers of Facebook–next chapter

June 25, 2013

Please read this news story about my grandson’s plight and sign the petition.

Please watch the video news story and share.

Justin has actually been in jail since February 14. He is now in solitary for his own protection. We are able to phone and I visit. He is also being visited by a Chaplain in the Prison Ministry.

Here is a link to a t-shirt “Free Justin”. Proceeds benefit a legal fund set up by the manufacturer.

My family and I appreciate any help you are willing to give.