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Eyes So Kind

On the last day of the late great Paco’s life, I sat in the waiting room at the Cat Clinic, waiting for Dr. Rose to tell me what I already knew.

Paco BearPaco, some of you may recall, was my best buddy for more than 15 years, a feline friend who saw me through some of my toughest times. I was starting a new phase of my life, and I was at peace with the timing. More change would have been too hard on him. It was time to let go.

He had advanced kidney disease, so I’d known for some time this day was looming. But knowing, being at peace, none of that prepares for you the final good-bye.

As I sat waiting, I noticed a grey tabby mama cat in a kennel a couple of feet away from me. She had been rescued with four kittens, three of whom had already found good homes. It was her turn to be adopted, and the Cat Clinic had cleverly placed her in the waiting area for all to meet.

She was looking at me with such sweet and compassionate eyes, I knew she knew what was happening. I was losing my baby, and my heart was breaking.

“It’s okay,” I told her. “I’m okay.”

She didn’t break her gaze, but shifted closer to me.

“Thank you,” I whispered to her as the doctor called me into an exam room.

It was time, Dr. Rose told me. I would regret waiting any longer. I signed the papers and said good-bye to Paco.

As I walked out, I once again passed the little lady kitty. She looked at me, and I started to cry. I bent down and whispered, “I know you’ll find the best home ever.” She purred softly, her eyes so kind.

The best home ever for this one, I told the vet tech. She smiled and nodded agreement.

Good-bye, sweet Paco.


 

 

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Happy Birthday, Dame Olivia

If I live to see 100, make that 101, let me live it like Olivia de Havilland, with class, humor…and in Paris.

Just last week, days before her birthday, she was given a damehood by Queen Elizabeth II for her services to drama. She is the oldest woman to receive this honor.

Dame Olivia was one of the top actresses of her time, with a career that spanned decades. She gained the respect of audiences and colleagues alike. But she represented more than just glamour and success. Through the influence gained by her talent, she fought for others, those without a voice, and changed lives as a result.

Olivia  de Havilland 1945

Publicity photo, circa 1945

A working woman in a sexist environment, she held her own against those who would pull her down and managed one of the most successful long-term careers in Hollywood history.

I’m far from the only one to take note of Dame Olivia’s qualities, now and then. In February 2016, The Oldie magazine, a satirical publication from London fighting ageism, named her “Oldie of the Year.”

Her response to that honor was delight and delightful. Over the years, her wit has shown in so many of her personal appearances, with a smile and a wink at life.

My fascination with and appreciation of Dame Olivia de Havilland began when I was high school, at the same school she had graduated from in 1934, Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos, Calif.

The summer between my junior and senior years I had a job working in the school library, and my tasks included repairing older books. One of those was the school’s 1934 yearbook, and the librarians turned a blind eye as I spent a little too much time looking for all mention of her. Even then, she stood out from her peers in her poise and class in front of a camera.

Classic movie fans, indeed anybody familiar with her work,

will know her best for two roles, as Melanie in Gone With the Wind and as the dashing Errol Flynn’s most frequent leading lady.

Olivia de Havilland as Melanie

As Melanie in “Gone With the Wind”

She was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her work in Gone With the Wind in 1939, but it wasn’t until she starred in the phenomenal film To Each His Own in 1946 that she won her first Oscar, for Best Actress in a Leading Role. That was followed three years later by the same award for one of my favorite of her films, The Heiress.

In between those two wins, she received a Best Actress nomination for The Snake Pit, a ground-breaking film about the treatment of the mentally ill. Bringing those images to the screen created public awareness of the plight of millions, and those who suffer from mental illness today can be thankful for her work in what I hope & pray is now a long-outdated portrayal of institutionalization.

She had one sister, the late Joan Fontaine. Miss Fontaine was a year younger, and the two are the only sisters in Academy Award history to each win an Oscar for Best Actress.

For those who aren’t aware,

in Hollywood’s early years what was known as the studio system reigned, in which actors and actresses were under contract and controlled by the strict standards and seeming whims of the studio executives. Dame Olivia took her studio, Columbia Pictures, to court in 1943 and won, and the resulting decision changed labor laws, greatly reduced studio power and began the decline of the contract system.

As a result it was almost impossible for her to find work for a couple of years, but at the end of that time she began a comeback that reduced that gap in her work to a non-entity in her overall career.

Perhaps there were times in those years when she wondered if she should have been the one to take that stand. Even if she never wavered in her pride in her decision, she likely cried or otherwise railed over the blacklisting of her talent. I don’t know enough about her to know what her reaction may have been, except it would have been human.

She has stood her ground again, and filed a lawsuit against the FX network, suing for infringement of common law right of publicity, invasion of privacy and unjust enrichment. Her claim is based on the “inherently untrue” portrayal of her as a bitchy gossip-monger, something records readily available to producers would show to be false.

She was, rather, known to be gracious and kind, a woman who refrained from gossip and treated all with respect and dignity.

Olivia de Havilland, National Medal of the Arts 2008

With President George W. Bush, receiving the National Medal of Arts

Although she is an American citizen, Dame Olivia has lived in Paris since 1960. She continued to act until the 1980s, and her last major public event was in 2008 when she was presented with the National Medal of Arts.

Our high school has an annual award, “The De Havilland Cup,” given to a student for a monologue performance.  That tradition has lasted more than 70 years, and I expect it will continue for many more to come. It is a fine tribute to her talent and dedication to her craft, for it takes both those qualities to win this award.

Dame Olivia de Havilland was a force in Hollywood, and remains a strong & gracious woman. She is one of the last living stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, that wonderful era from the 30s to 40s.*

Happy 101st birthday, Dame Olivia, and congratulations for a long and marvelous career, for your dignity and poise, for representing the best for working women everywhere.


*Those familiar with the “Golden Age of Hollywood” know that much of the work created during that time was a product of the studio system. It was a wonderful era for film, but not so much, perhaps, for many of the actors and actresses.

Header Image Credits, clockwise from top left: 1) With Errol Flynn in Captain Blood; 2) With Bette Davis in In This Our Life; 3) With George Brent in In This Our Life; 4) With Montgomery Clift in The Heiress; 5) With Jack Carson in The Male Animal; 6) In Princess O’Rourke. Reviews for these films can be found on Classic for a Reason.

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The Gift

Last summer I received an adoption announcement from a friend of mine, Brock. He and his partner, Dan, had a new little girl. Her name was Allison, but they called her Sunny.

I hadn’t heard from Brock in several years. We’d worked together ages ago, before he and Dan had met, but at a time when Brock was anxious to start his own family. It was a challenge, since he’s gay, and at the time, decidedly single.

The picture that came with the notice showed Brock standing next to a beaming Dan, cradling a baby I guessed to be about six months old. While Brock was smiling, there was a sadness in his eyes. Ever curious, I decided to call my one-time close friend. After all, he’d included his phone number in the announcement.

“HELLO!” He cried out when he heard my name. “I was hoping you’d call! I found your address, but couldn’t track down your phone number.”

In the background a baby was crying. “I hear sounds of a family,” I said. “I’ll keep this short.”

That call, however, was destined to be longer. While Dan comforted Sunny, Brock told me how she came into their lives.

Brock, you see, had an identical twin brother, Calvin. Calvin was straight, and like his twin, took his time settling down. Four years earlier he’d married a woman Brock was thrilled with, Anna.
Tiny Baby

Calvin and Anna had wanted children right away, but it took them several years to finally carry a baby to full-term. That baby was Allison, which, it turns out, is Anna’s middle name. As soon as she was born, Brock flew out to meet her, and he was the one who started calling her Sunny.

Sunny, however, was anything but a happy baby. She cried constantly, and while doctors initially dismissed it as first-time parental concern, a nurse finally took note and convinced Sunny’s pediatrician to run some tests. They discovered a heart defect and immediately took her in for surgery.

The surgery was successful and Sunny’s recovery was complete, but Calvin and Anna had a hard time leaving her side. Finally, when she was four months old (and by this time, a truly sunny baby), they left her in the care of Anna’s sister, who herself has four children.

It was a terribly windy night, and Calvin and Anna cut their evening short, concerned the weather was going to get worse. Three miles from their home, their sporty little Miata swerved or was blown across the median, and was hit by a semi. Both Calvin and Anna were dead at the scene.

Brock got the call, and flew out immediately. He desperately wanted to adopt Sunny, and after all, he was the godfather, but Anna’s sister was the godmother, and he was certain if there were a legal battle, he would lose.

Anna’s sister, however, liked Brock, and told him while she would happily adopt Sunny, she felt strongly he was meant to be her father. Sunny, you see, looks just like Calvin and Brock did at that age.

More than that, Anna’s sister knew this was perhaps the best opportunity for Brock and Dan to become parents. She only asked that she remain Sunny’s godmother. Brock eagerly agreed, and adoption proceedings were nearly immediate.

But there remains sadness in Brock’s eyes. He lost his brother, his closest friend, his twin. He is overjoyed at having a baby, and one who carries his DNA, no less, but is working through the pain.

I told him Sunny is a lucky little girl to have so many people who love her. I told him I was sorry for his loss, and I knew his emotions would be complicated.

Every day is a gift, Brock told me. Growing up, he had Calvin.

Today his gift is Sunny.


Sunny

Image Credit: Header © Bigstock; Baby Feet © Zbyszek Nowak – Fotolia

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The Ideal(istic) Adult

Being thirty was about the best thing that ever happened to me.

I’d set goals and achieved them, and the world seemed like a welcome place, with manifold glorious destinations. My mind was likely at its sharpest (although admittedly, I still had much to learn), Me c 1989I’ve probably never looked better, before or since, and I’d started to make some money. Not a lot, but more than ever before, and it seemed like a fortune.

If I could live forever in that magical world, that’s where I’d be. Has my life gone downhill since? No, not really. I’ve had ups and downs — that’s the way life is — but I’ve never regained that sense of optimism, my belief in the future and my own potential.

That glory must have been more than reaching my goals, because I’ve set goals and achieved them since that time, goals that were further out of reach and potentially more rewarding.

The problem with that sort of idealism is the world is more complex and more ordinary than our dreams. Jobs don’t deliver, people disappoint us, relationships fail. Of course then we find better work, more rewarding and lasting, we discover friends who stand beside us through thick & thin, and new relationships begin, with all the hope they hold at the start. But it’s the first time the world looks good that we’re happiest, because we don’t have the cynicism of experience.

Yet the wisdom we gain over the years benefits us, too. We see that hard times end, and impossible situations are resolved through perseverance and yes, some luck. Pain beats at us persistently, but in the end we overcome it, newly girded with the wisdom of survival.

Looking in the mirror can be discouraging. Our looks fade. It costs more money to maintain a lesser appearance. It’s hard sometimes to remember you’re 55 and not 35, who your peers actually are and what you can & can’t do anymore.

Given the choice, I’d always prefer to be an adult, but can I specify a few things? I’d like to have the physical and physiological benefits of being 30, with the wisdom and maturity that comes from living.

Of course we’re not given any such choice, or anything like it, and I’m aware many have the same thoughts as they get older. Makes me wonder what I need to appreciate about being the age I am now, and what I’ll miss about it 20 or 30 years from now.


Image Credit:  © justdd — Bigstock

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The Foggy Path

Science, it turns out, is sometimes just an illusion.

I was listening to a well-respected scientist speak to that issue today, telling his listeners that in previous years, what seemed to be truth rooted in science, the irrefutable, undeniable truth of science, was in fact a fatal error based on the technology used to obtain the facts.

People suffered, some died, because of that erroneous science. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in science. I’m fascinated by it, in fact, and of course science covers a myriad of sub-topics, some of which are less susceptible to the follies of technology than others.

Some place their faith in science, others place their faith in religion. I place my faith in God, believing that no one organized religion has all the facts, and ultimately we must accept the limitations of our own finite selves.

I know of some people who don’t believe in God because they don’t believe any being can be omniscient, omnipresent and all the rest that comes with the essence of the Almighty. I believe in God for somewhat the opposite reason — I believe the truth must be found somewhere, and that truth is God.

Is it possible all truth bears the possibility of being an illusion? Probably not all, but much of does. If two sides in a battle each believe they are fighting on the side of truth, they can’t both be right. Truth is a foggy path at times.

I could lie awake with eyes wide open each night if I thought too deeply about truth and illusion. There are societal norms, cultural standards and an innate understanding of how we must live our lives to guide us, as well as faith, hope and love.

And as the good book says, the greatest of these is love.


Image Credit: © denbelitsky — Bigstock

Illusion

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So Onward

I have an idea of what I want to do with my life, where I want to go and how I want to be in this world, but getting there is hard.

I’ve had these thoughts before, and pursued my dream. While I may have achieved my goals, that didn’t ultimately bring me happiness. Still, time has taught me so much. It’s possible this time I could find success.

Today I have a better understanding of what holds me back, what I do to myself that leads to failure, or at the very least, failed expectations. I understand my mental health issues (well, still learning there) as well as the source of my insecurities — and the reality of others’.

The bottom line is, I won’t be happy if I compromise my future. So onward — commit to the future, commit to myself.

Take a deep breath and dive in.


Photo Credit: © Dan Nikonov — Fotolia

Commit

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Knit one, then knit another…

Nearly 40 years ago, I was watching television with my dad and getting a little agitated.

It had nothing to do with my dad, who clearly saw the source of my problem, even if I didn’t yet. “This is such a waste of time,” I moaned. “I feel like I should be doing something productive.”

My dad suggested doing something creative. “Like what??” I wailed. “I need to relax. I just don’t want to waste time while I’m winding down.”

His suggestion stayed with me, however, and somehow, I landed on knitting. I found a yarn store with an owner who would teach you to knit if you bought yarn and supplies from her, and my journey began.

I still have that first sweater, one of the few I made from acrylic yarn. After that I decided if I was going to spend the time knitting a project, it was going to be with quality yarn. The highest quality I could afford.

Over the years I’ve made some close friends through my knitting, many of them the owners of the yarn stores I frequent. Eventually I began to knit store samples — for store credit — to supplement my yarn budget.

the-kids-first-sweater-ii

My niece at nine months wearing that special sweater. She’s almost (gulp!) 18 now!

When my niece and nephew were little, I made them dozens of sweaters. In fact, I had just finished what turned out to be everyone’s favorite baby sweater when we learned my niece was on the way. I’d started that project months earlier because I thought it was special, knowing the right baby for it would come along someday.

I don’t typically make anything on spec, although I usually have a few things lying around for gifts. Last year, a young friend of mine moved from Little Rock to Appleton, Wisc., and obviously she was going to need a hat. I had the perfect toque for her, just calling her name.

Kim's Slippers CF blue

The slippers I designed for my mom — when one pair wears out, I make her another…and another…

My mom has so many hand knit pieces in her tiny apartment she doesn’t know what to do with all of them. That includes a half dozen pairs of slippers made from a pattern I designed and named for her. (You can purchase the pattern for Kim’s Slippers at Ravelry.com.)

The only drawback to all of us? Ironically, the creative endeavor I started so I’d be productive while watching television has resulted in me watching more TV than before. If I’m knitting — and I’m always working on something — that damn set is on.


Loop

Image Credits: (yarn background) © timonko — Fotolia; (red retro tv set) © dmstudio — Bigstock

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