This piece was published in the Los Angeles Times on July 10, 2000.
On my father’s eightieth birthday I will drive to Arizona with a sheet cake in the trunk big enough to feed 80 people. I can’t help but draw a comparison with the times my mom sent me off to school on my birthday with a treat for all the children in my class. It seems the circle is complete.
We baby boomers are watching our children grow up and move away to start families of their own. Amid our relief at the end of that responsibility, we look back and see our parents- aged, frail and in need. Having parents who are octogenarians is becoming the norm, not the exception.
My 80-plus parents now reside in a lovely retirement community where the staff is available 24 hours a day to help when needed. They went there kicking and screaming, but they went. Although I cannot imagine what it is like to give up a home and all it stands for, I can understand how an adult child feels when the world stands on its head and the parent becomes, not a child, but a dependent.
When my siblings and I were growing up, Dad said that the house was his castle and he was the king. He was a 1950’s dad and his word was law. No one dared question his authority. He paid the bills and we towed the line. How, I ask, can a man like that accept help from his daughter?
After they retired, my parents moved to Arizona to be closer to my sister and me. We thought at the time that that they were ensuring that they would be cared for in their old age. Now that we have gained some wisdom and a better perspective, we know that they moved closer to make it easier for us.
My parents were born and lived in the Midwest. They raised five children and lived in the same house for 30 years. After pulling up stakes, they built their dream house in Arizona with a spectacular view of the mountains. They shed their winter clothes and enjoyed warm, dry weather all year. Dad took to wearing bolo ties and Mom wore turquoise jewelry. They traveled extensively and loved every minute of it.
After my dad’s cancer diagnosis and my mother’s decision to stop driving, my sister and I began to worry. After one harrowing night when my dad’s temperature spiked, and my mother didn’t have a thermometer and had to go to a neighbor’s house for help, we really worried.
To our great relief, a state-of-the-art retirement community was built in their little mountain town. Instead of being as delighted as we were, they stalled and stalled and couldn’t bring themselves to plunk down the $1,000 deposit. “It’s so much money,” they complained. A small price for our piece of mind, my sister and I replied, if only to each other.
There is no worry like the worry of a parent for a small child. Terror is the province of the newly minted parent, standing helplessly by a crib and praying. There also is no worry like the worry of a child for an aged parent, standing helplessly by a hospital bed and praying. The desperation and fear of loss for the new parent are, for the most part, unfounded. For the adult child, it is very real.
I will drive with at trunkful of birthday cake for everyone at the retirement community with a grateful heart. I give thanks for my elderly, dependent parents who lived well into old age and accepted their final season. They let our roles reverse with grace. I will wish my dad well and silently thank God for the many blessings, often hidden in the midst of pain and frustration, that his 80 years have bestowed. I will carry the lessons his aging taught me and hope my children will learn them from me.
This piece was was published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on June13, 2002.
“I did it, Mom, I’m married,” my normally reticent son was uncharacteristically buoyant.
He called me on his new bride’s cell phone from the courthouse in Manhattan, minutes
after the ceremony, on August 28, 2001. It was sudden, it was unexpected, it was a
As I spoke to him I recalled many moments from my son’s childhood – times we were linked by understanding, not by words. I remembered the time he got lost, at age six,
just three days after we moved to Los Angeles. I had not yet taught him his new address and phone number. The Missing Children Unit of the LAPD went looking for him. I was scared out of my mind, but on an intuitive level knew he was okay.
He didn’t learn to walk, he ran. The trips to the emergency room grew less frequent
as I learned to cope. I didn’t flinch as I watched him jump gracefully from trees and walls. He always landed on his feet. He fought forest fires with the National Forest Service,
departed for Australia with the California Conservation Corps and then moved to New
I watched with fascination and anticipation, not worry and regret. The lesson I learned
early on has served me well; it doesn’t pay to be a worry-wart mom.
Maybe it’s because I married on short notice at the courthouse thirty six years ago, or
maybe it’s because we are a very independent family, but I felt nothing but happiness
for my son and his bride. His sister, who stood up for him at the ceremony, got on the
phone and described the joyous day in her inimitable style.
“Mom, the bride threw the bouquet at me and it bounced off my chest like a boomerang,
so she tied it to my wrist with a ribbon.” Everyone was having fun, everyone was happy.
No one caused a scene, made a pass at the maid-of-honor, or otherwise spoiled a
Our daughter served as best man and sister all in one. The best man idea was
tongue-in-cheek, perfectly in keeping with a wedding free from convention, planning and
Having children of marriageable age, I see how families handle marrying off their kids.
I’m glad my son opted for the impromptu approach. I’ve attended weddings that cost as
much as a down-payment on a house. Invariably, tension permeated the proceedings.
The celebration of love and the age-old words of promise belong in the mouths of the
young lovers who speak them and shouldn’t be controlled by the old folks, hovering
around and complicating matters.
Invariably at the big extravaganzas, orchestrated and financed by the parents, there
are tales of mothers threatening to boycott the wedding the night before, drunken
revelers who wreak havoc, brides and grooms lost in the shuffle and stretched to the breaking point.
As I spread the happy news to my relatives and friends, most of them asked why I was
not distraught because I wasn’t there for the ceremony. They may think I am a mother
who doesn’t care about weddings and tradition and all that jazz. Perhaps they are right.
I accept my eccentric son, with his sudden decisions and his stress seeking nature.
This decision, I strongly suspect, was the best of the best. His sister sent photos galore
of the happy occasion via e-mail later that day.
She had shots of the bride and groom heading for the courthouse on the subway. At the
courthouse, the wedding party posed outside the chapel, all of them under the age of
thirty. The bride and groom posed on a bright summer morning outside the courthouse,
beginning their married life with an abundance of youthful optimism.
My son has run headlong into what life has to offer for all of his twenty-five years.
This new adventure holds the promise of commitment and growth, fun and adventure.
I wish my son and his new wife well on their mutual journey. His father and I stand well in the wings, cheering them on.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Daily News on September 9, 1995.
(my very first published op/ed!)
In an extremely self-conscious age, when we measure our words with careful precision, there is a group of people who are slandered, put down and treated with disrespect by a disturbing number of Americans.
People who have never uttered the “n-word,” who are respectful of all women and have never made a disparaging remark about Latinos, Asians and Native Americans will very casually treat this group of people with callousness and disregard.
Ageism is the last prejudice we allow to be expressed unchallenged in public, and no one seems to care. I have heard outrageous and downright mean things said about senior citizens that my contemporaries chuckle at. I feel dread when I hear some of the awful things that are said about older Americans.
As Manager of the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP), a program administered by the California Department of Aging, I worked very closely with elderly people for six years. My job was to train volunteers, all of whom were past the age of 65, in complex Medicare and related health insurance issues. The twenty-four hour training was followed by a ten-page written exam and an oral exam.
Even thought the volunteers were not being paid, they were very serious students who often surprised me with their ability to absorb information that left twenty-something staff trainees at a loss.
The longer I worked with seniors, the more perplexing I found the attitude held by my fellow baby boomers, and younger people, toward their elders.
Is the generation who trusted no one over the age of 30 in the ’60’s now ridiculing anyone over the age of 60 in the ’90’s? Is this the legacy of disrespect of an ungrateful generation?
I feel embarrassed when I think of my fellow boomers, in the throes of aging themselves, tossing aside the men and women who survived the Great Depression, fought in World War II, and raised the best fed, best educated, and most spoiled generation in the history of the United States.
I find the issues of aging to be of vital interest to all Americans. Yet when I told people what I did for a living, I was invariably greeted by a yawn. No one wants to think about the issues of aging and, in a youth-worshiping society, people ignore them.
As I recall the thousands of hours I spent in the company of elderly Americans, I am left with a feeling of pride, respect and even reverence. Their wisdom, their compassion and, yes, their grouchiness taught me a great deal about survival.
They should be our role models. Yet we put ourselves on a weight-loss program, color our hair, buy bifocals without lines and chase after an unattainable youthful ideal based solely on physical characteristics.
On a recent rip to a bookstore to pick up some summer reading I surveyed the autobiography section. I was disheartened to see books written by people in their thirties. I shudder to think of the loss this generation will eventually feel when they realize the great treasure they tossed aside in favor of reading about how a television actress dealt with the terrible dilemma of her series being cancelled.
I know there was a time when our nation’s elders were treated with respect and were allowed to live in dignity. That time has passed. We now live in a culture that disposes of things as well as people. The values held by a hard-working generation of people who worked together to raise their families, paid their taxes, and then retired, are now held in low regard.
The next time you hear someone joke about an old geezer, stop and consider the source of the humor. If you find yourself listening to an old person who is repeating himself, try to hear what new thing he is saying. When you feel impatient at the slowness of an elderly person who is ahead of you in line, think of the miles he has traveled.
Although conversing with an elderly person is not as entertaining as television, it may be ultimately more rewarding, for both of you.
This piece was published in the San Gabriel Tribune on May 4, 2003.
My 16-year-old daughter sat crumpled on the floor and my heart broke. She had applied to two summer art programs and just received a letter informing her that she was not accepted to the one she thought she would be accepted into.
The statewide program accepted one thousand applicants. The other one (all expenses paid) private program accepted fifty. As she read the “reject” letter, in her adolescent imagination, all hope was lost.
Parents begin to help children learn about disappointment when their offspring take their first wobbly steps into the world.
A great training ground is the checkout line at the grocery store. As harried parents load milk and bread on the conveyer belt, their children beg for bags of chips and candy bars that are conveniently placed at kids’ eye level.
When I see a mom say “no” in a tone that does not welcome debate, I see a parent who is teaching her children that they can’t always get what they want. I also see parents toss a bag of chips in the cart just to get their howling toddler to shut up. Both parent and child will pay a high price for that moment of peace in the future.
When children are small, it is the parent who pretty much controls their disappointment. If parents take care to ensure that their children will accept (without a temper tantrum) that they won’t get a computer app, or won’t be able to stay up to see a television show, they will be able to help them when bigger challenges arise.
By the time my daughter sustained the blow of the rejection letter, she had put back many bags of chips and tearfully returned countless candy bars to the display case. On that sad day, I pulled my daughter up from the floor and took her to her favorite restaurant for dinner.
As I watched her eat, I remembered a moment when she was three-years-old and returned home from pre-school in a huff. “Mommy, why didn’t you tell me it was going to rain?” she demanded. At that young age she believed I was omnipotent and controlled the world. I gently explained that, although I did my best to look out for her, I didn’t control the weather.
During dinner, her father and I talked about the disappointments we suffered. I told her my sister didn’t ask me to be her bridesmaid (even though I had asked her to be mine). I was asked by my roommates in the dorm at college to move out so they could have the girl they wanted, who was from their hometown, move in.
Her father felt bad that he was never accepted to a sports team. The girl he was going to ask to the prom went with his best friend instead.
“I was disappointed when I was born and found out you were my sister,” said my son. “That goes double for me,” my daughter shot back. Her attack on the brotherly dig seemed to cheer her up.
A couple of weeks later, another letter arrived. “I’m in!” my daughter screamed. “I’m going to Colorado!” I hollered with my own delight, grateful that the admissions committee recognized my daughter’s potential.
Many parents and their children anxiously await admission letters. Parents stand by and hope their children will achieve their dreams. Happy celebrations and hearty congratulations are desired, of course, but disappointment must be carefully navigated – with parents at the helm. Stay close and share you wisdom and your pain, and assurance that victory (just not this time) is at hand.
This piece was published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on July 6, 2003.
We watched ducks fly over the lake at sunset while we savored a gourmet meal. Seated in an elegant restaurant with a marvelous view, we were presented with great food and wine, accompanied by excellent service and a rustic, but elegant, ambience. Who could ask for more? We couldn’t wait to get back to the tent.
My husband and I have endured endless teasing for our unusual camping style. Those who taunt and tease us do not appreciate how hard it was for us to find common ground – in a campsite, in a tent, in our search for nature’s way. Early in our marriage, we bonded our two views of the natural world, but not before one of us lost a $50 bet.
My husband and I met and fell in love in the Rocky Mountains. Beneath the stars we inhaled cool mountain air while our romance warmed. We married at Denver’s City Hall and departed for California to begin our life together, with my two young children, and great optimism.
Shortly after we were married, my new husband planned a camping trip – a family bonding experience. It sounded like a good idea at the time. In the middle of July we found ourselves on the floor of Yosemite Valley – in a tent, with only one of us ready to rough it. The rest of us were cold, hungry and ready to go home.
My daughter cried her eyes out when she lost the stuffed animal that she had cuddled from birth. The next day a mama deer’s hoof hit my son center in his chest, propelling him several feet in the air, as he approached her fawn. This camping trip was a disaster.
The romantic, nature-loving couple tumbled head on into reality. One morning we stood by a babbling mountain stream, arguing, yelling, and disturbing the pastoral scene. I wanted to shower, I wanted to eat a real meal. He was tired of my demands and wondered where his nature girl went. Where, indeed?
My new husband’s campsite cuisine was wanting. His carefully planned meals often burned and took hours to clean up. The children and I stood by the camp stove, waiting for nourishment, watching it go up in smoke.
I hated the group showers with mounds of wet tissues and globs of hair gel clinging to the cement floor beneath me. My husband understood my need for cleanliness but bristled as I insisted on waiting in interminable lines every morning to shower. By the time we took two hours to prepare breakfast, and two hours to shower, it was time for lunch.
On that fateful morning I looked at the icy water swirl around the rocks in the stream and squinted as the water reflected the summer sun. I wanted to go to the showers, he wanted to see El Capitan. Impulsively, I told him I would jump into the stream to get clean and forgo the hot but crowded shower.
“I dare you,” he said. “Fifty bucks if I do?” I challenged.
He knew his whining camping companion would never jump into the cold water. Our eyes locked. I plunged into the icy mountain stream. He howled with laughter as I pulled myself from the water, dripping wet and laughing too.
It was time to compromise. He agreed to eat at restaurants for the rest of the trip. The Creampuff Brigade agreed to forgo the showers and to wash our faces and hands at the campsite. Our compromise, forged by that babbling brook 20 years ago, holds today.
Our children are grown and gone, so it is just the two of us who pitch our tent at the campground. We depart to the nearest restaurant for a wonderful meal. Just before sundown, we return to the campsite and enjoy a lovely campfire.
When we tell people of our unique camping style the response is always the same: “That’s not real camping!” “What is real camping?” I reply.
We spend more time communing with nature than those folks who spend all day cooking and cleaning up. We don’t camp to be self-sufficient, we camp the easy way to free ourselves for the true purpose of being in the out-of-doors – to see God through nature, to seek peace through quiet ways, and to spend cherished time together.
The compromise we struck all those years ago has enabled us to enjoy nature and each other and that is as “real” as camping gets.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Times on November 27, 2004.
My mother and I arrived at the outpatient surgery center promptly at 8:00 a.m. She
took me to the doctor when I needed to go, now it was my turn. They called her name
and she walked into the surgery suite while I wished her well and promised to guard her
A woman who looked to be my age was also waiting and we began to talk. She was with her mother-in-law, who was having a cataract removed. The similarity of our situations bonded us, as women often do. We are caregivers for our aging parents, members of a rapidly growing sorority.
Her mother-in-law had moved in four months ago. It seemed like a lifetime. Mama had
little short term memory, broke most of the heirloom china, lit the oven to heat food she
was supposed to warm up in the much safer microwave. She worried about Mama all
She no longer chatted with girlfriends at lunchtime but ran home to take care of Mama. She was getting nervous tics and fighting with her husband. Mama came to them because her daughter, the only other sibling, was worn out and went on anti-depressants.
I told her about my mother’s retirement community. My mom had an apartment on the third floor. Pull cords were placed in the bedroom and bathroom; one yank would bring help right away. She usually fixed her own breakfast and lunch but ate dinner in the
dining room with the other residents. The van went to the grocery and drug store
Her apartment was rented month-to-month. Although the fee seemed high at first,
it covered everything: utilities, cable, security, transportation, weekly cleaning, meals in the dining room, activities and, best of all, peace of mind for both of us.
When Grandma goes to live with family she is most likely in her 80’s or 90’s. In her
60’s and 70’s, she was probably traveling, still working or doing volunteer work. She
may have replacement hips or knees and survived cancer or a heart attack. It’s highly
likely she has a short term memory loss that makes her a danger to herself and others.
Modern medicine has yielded many blessings and living longer is a big one. That
longer life comes with a passel of medical bills, Medicare paperwork and prescriptions
that must be re-filled, not forgotten.
Most elderly people have several physicians, including, but not limited to: neurologists,
cardiologists, oncologists, internists and ophthalmologists. All those doctors order diagnostic procedures and lab tests that require appointments.If physical or occupational therapy is prescribed, yet more appointments must be made - and kept. Transportation has to be provided.
The image of grandma at home with the family, baking bread and knitting, is as mythical
and beautiful as a Norman Rockwell painting. Grandma requires a lot of medical care
and as much monitoring as a curious toddler. Life is frustrating and sad; end- of-life
issues must be faced.
Put her in the middle of a boisterous family, add a few teenagers, with both mom and
dad working full time, and you have a recipe for failure. Place her in a well run
retirement community and you afford her the opportunity to remain independent - and
out of her daughter‘s kitchen.
Placed in the hands of caring professionals - cooks, servers, housekeepers, security
personnel, activity directors and van drivers, Grandma can relax and concentrate on
needlework, visiting with new friends, or even writing a memoir.
My companion asked for the number of the retirement community. I wished her well as
she left with her mother-in-law. I hope the family will look hard at the reality they are
living and pray they will have the courage to consider a retirement community, for
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star News on July 5, 2009.
As part of continuing education for my job, I took a forty-hour class at the Rio Hondo
Police Academy. The other forty-seven students and I were from a variety of
professions: code enforcement, animal control, fire fighters, park rangers. On the first
day, I had a flashback to my civics class in junior high school, more years ago than I
want published in a newspaper. Corny as it sounds, history came alive.
The instructors were retired law enforcement officers and they all reflected on their
twenty-five to thirty years as a peace officer. I had to get used to “peace officer” instead
of “police officer.” Our teachers started their careers in the 1970’s, just after the
turbulent 60’s, and were front-and-center for the implosion of drugs and gangs. One
reminisced that he started out writing his reports on a piece of paper with a #2 pencil.
Technology has made the peace officer’s job much easier.
I got my flashback on the very first day when the instructor started with the U.S.
Constitution, which was ratified by all thirteen states in May of 1790. The instructor
stated that the U.S. Constitution is the longest lasting written constitution in the world.
He described the three branches: judicial, executive and legislative, and how they were
designed to restrain one another. Here I was, almost 230 years later, reminding myself
of how our country was founded and feeling pride that it has stood the test of time.
The very first session of the U.S. Congress proposed ten amendments to the
Constitution to further clarify the rights of individuals, commonly referred to as the Bill of
Rights. We’ve all heard about the various amendments, including the First Amendment
that gives citizens the right to free speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press
on TV shows like Law and Order.
Going over it from a peace officer’s perspective gave it a new slant. This was
especially true of the Fourth Amendment – freedom from unreasonable search and
seizure. The instructors went into a lot of detail about traffic stops and under what
circumstances an automobile can be searched, a concept the framers could not have
conceived of back in the summer of 1776.
I looked around the room as we considered the founders of this country: all white,
male landowners. The authors of the U.S. Constitution established this document “in
order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility,
provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings
of liberty.” At the time it applied to them, and not to women, African American slaves or
My classmates included African Americans, Hispanics and Asians. About half of us
were female. Of the five instructors, two were African American, one was Hispanic and
the other two were white. Our union, adhering to the principles drawn up by those well-
intentioned, flawed men, hasbecome more perfect. Their collective wisdom and
foresight produced a Constitution that gave people who had little or no freedom a way to
peaceably fight for it.
We spotted the current class of the Rio Hondo Police Academy as we went to and
from our classroom. I noticed that they ran or marched everywhere, in unison, the
leader shouting out commands. They pretty much reflected the diversity of my class and
looked to be in their early twenties. The trainees were in tip-top shape with a look of
earnestness in their faces that could not be missed.
I had a flash-forward as I watched them run by. Thirty years from now, in 2039,
those who choose to become instructors will stand in front of a class and describe their
career trajectory through times that we cannot imagine today. Much older and well
seasoned in law enforcement, they will still begin their class with the U.S. Constitution
and the rights and freedoms that it protects. The only thing we can be sure of is that #2
pencils will not be involved.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star News on August 10, 2008.
I told the clerk at the sporting goods store how much I loved my old tent while I stole
glances at the sleek little floor model sitting on the showroom floor. The skinny poles
were bright and shiny, unlike my tent poles that come in sections held together with
elastic cords. Mine are the kind of poles that can slice your fingertip off if you aren’t
My family has had the same tent for 20 years. We got it when the kids were young and
we camped every summer at Dogwood campground in the San Bernardino Mountains.
When we bought the tent in 1987 it was promoted as easy to assemble, and it is, with
two people working together as a team. Tents these days can be removed from their
bag, tossed into the air and land fully assembled and ready for sleeping bags.
What fun is that?
Now that the kids are grown, my husband and I camp only a few times a year and can’t
justify purchasing a new tent, so we just keep patching the old one. We’ve had several
of the zippers replaced and I carefully patch the tiny holes before they get to be big rips.
We had the elastic cords that hold the poles together replaced when their stretch gave
out. There isn’t much more we can repair on our faithful old tent. It’s kind of like driving
an old car. Our tent may look a little dated, but, hey, so are we.
The real value of our tent is sentimental. That old nylon enclosure has been home for us
at the campground and holds many happy memories along with the smoky scent of the
campfire. I remember our little mutt coming out of the tent early one morning the year
we took her camping. She curled up in a corner of the tent at night after an evening
curled up in front of the campfire. We lost her to cancer the following winter but her
doggy spirit remains in our tent.
Our kids have many happy memories of camping and came to love the out-of-doors, far
from TV, telephones and various electronic gadgets. Spending an evening with no
electricity can be very instructive to a kid who has grown up close to appliances.
We are a car-camping family and always stay in a campground with bathrooms adjacent
and a fire ring and picnic table nearby. We camp in relative luxury, but we gaze at the
stars at night, listen to the wind sifting through the pine trees and get scared as we
imagine wild animals lurking outside our tent in the middle of the night, as if we
are deep in the wilderness. Nonetheless, our children resonate with nature and it fills
their spirit as only the beauty of the natural world can.
Our last camping trip this year will be in August. As we pull into the campground,
we’ll see young families setting up tents that have several rooms, tents with front
porches and awnings, and dome tents that look a little like flying saucers. Today’s
almost indestructible miracle fabrics will enable those tents to last 20 years, as ours has.
One of these days we’ll get new-tent fever, but until then we will proudly pitch our
old tent and sit by the campfire till we get our fill of toasted marshmallows and kinks in
our necks from looking at the stars. Until then, our old tent will do just fine.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Time's L. A. Affairs on June 16, 2018.
When I looked up and saw a handsome man in a tuxedo, holding a violin, my fate was sealed. I was an usher at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver and Paul was Principal Second Violin.
After the concert was over I was stationed at the edge of the stage until the patrons left the hall. He told me later he had watched me showing patrons to their seats for several weeks and waited for an opportunity to start a conversation.
Shortly after we started dating, Paul auditioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and I pretended to be happy when he got in but I was devastated. He would be moving to Los Angeles to start the summer season at the Hollywood Bowl. We had six months before he left. We both knew a long distance romance would eventually fizzle so we made the most of the time we had.
On the night he left, in the middle of the most intense embrace I have ever experienced, Paul said, “I have to see you again.”
I felt relieved that it wasn’t over but unsure of how we could move forward. He was Jewish and I wasn’t. After graduating from Yale music school (and playing in the Santa Fe Opera during the summers), Paul had dated many women who were as equally accomplished as he was. I married my childhood sweetheart, dropped out of college and started a family and then got divorced after nine years of marriage. We were an unlikely couple. Still, we had a deep bond that we didn’t want to break.
I went to visit him in Los Angeles after he got settled in an apartment in Brentwood. I grew up in the Midwest and had never seen the ocean so we went to the beach and watched the eternal waves slapping at the shore, seeming to mock our tenuousness.
We had breakfast Café Casino and sat on the patio with a view of the Pacific. The talk began to include discussions of marriage.
The freeways were intimidating and I got a crash course in Thomas Brother’s maps.
I had to get used to actually seeing the air as well as breathing it, a mix of fuel and salt air that stung my nostrils. I loved the palm trees and exotic plants that were mixed with ancient oak trees. We took the obligatory drive through Beverly Hills and walked along Rodeo Drive.
Could I live here? Coming from Denver, I was a Rocky Mountain snob and could see what Angelinos called “mountains” when the smog lifted.
Then I looked into Paul’s eyes and knew that my future was there. More marriage talk ensued. His parents said they would disown him if he married out of the Jewish faith. I had to consider introducing my children to a stepfather. When we were dating in Denver and I wasn’t sure of our future, I didn’t have the children, Benjamin, 5 and Autumn, 8, spend much time with him.
My first time at the Hollywood Bowl was magical. It cannot be fully experienced until you actually sit in the audience and feel its immense scale. As the sun sets, a cool breeze comes up. I loved watching him playing with the other musicians, making great music.
One night, towards the end of my visit I found my seat at the Bowl and gazed down at the stage as the orchestra tuned up. I had a bottle of wine, drank too much of it, and contemplated the obstacles that seemed insurmountable. Then I walked down the steep walkway to the backstage area to see him at intermission. I watched Paul's face light up when he saw me in the crowd. I knew then that I loved him and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.
I went back to Denver and we experienced a rocky period that included a broken engagement, reconciliation, and another engagement that ended with him breaking it off for good. We were both miserable. A few months later he reached out after I sent him a kiss-off letter and we were married at Denver City Hall eleven days later. That was 36 years ago.
When my children and I moved to Los Angeles in June of 1982, Paul and I took them to Disneyland right away. My new husband jumped into parenting. He subscribed to Parents magazine, bought a grill and a family-sized tent. His orchestra schedule left him free in the afternoons when the children got out of school.
He sat in kid-sized chairs at parent/teacher conferences, took the children to orthodontist appointments, and was a stead presence during the tumultuous teen years. He parented them with an open heart and loved them as his own. I have a great husband, my children have a loving father and now we have three beautiful grandchildren.
Paul recently retired from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. On his last night at the Hollywood Bowl I sat in the audience, as I had so many years ago, and was abundantly grateful that I took a chance on love.
This piece was published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on May 23, 2004.
I greeted the bank teller and handed her a couple of checks to cash. As she processed
them she glanced at my Cal State Los Angeles tee shirt and asked me if I had been a
student there. I told her I graduated from Cal State Northridge, it is my son who attends
Cal State Los Angeles.
She looked to be in her early twenties and told me she had a year to go and was finding
it difficult to finish college. I felt compelled to share my story, briefly, in the time it took to
process the checks. I told her it took me twenty years to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in
Psychology; a process that is supposed to take four years.
An adjacent teller overheard the conversation and looked at us. We all smiled. Twenty
years? Both the 20-something tellers realized that it took the length of their lifetime for
me to earn a four-year degree. No wonder we all smiled.
I told her I never regretted my twenty-year struggle to earn a college degree. I tried to
think of ways I could encourage her to continue her education so I quickly listed the
advantages: I earn more money now, I can answer “degree required” ads in the
and – most importantly - now that I have it, it’s mine forever.
She seemed interested in my story and told me she had gotten as far as her senior
year. She was taking some time off and was finding if difficult to go back, to which
I replied, “go back.” Every time I quit, and there were many, it was much more difficult to
start again. By the time I finally earned my degree, I was older than many of my
I got the feeling the young teller enjoyed her job and liked getting paid for her efforts. It
gets very tiresome to sit in a drowsy classroom hour after hour, taking notes and
regurgitating facts back on a Scan-tron form. At the end of a semester of hard work
there is a grade on a piece of paper - it can’t be cashed at the bank.
If you throw in a car, an apartment and the high cost of tuition, spending time and
money on college just doesn’t seem important. College is the ultimate in deferred
gratification and the benefits sit on the far edge of a youthful horizon.
Going to college enriched my life. I learned to think, to reason and to argue a point.
Along with learning how to use my brain, I learned to wait patiently in long lines and
to satisfy petty bureaucratic requirements. In exchange, I lived in the world of ideas and
thought, literature and theories. Overcoming my strong inclination to balk at the
bureaucracy for the sake of learning taught me to take the bad with the good and
prepared me for the real world.
As I left the bank I wondered if I said too much or sounded too preachy to the young
woman with one-more-year-to-go. I hope it won’t stretch to twenty. I’d like to think that
my words of encouragement will help her re-enroll and stick it out. I hope she will
run the last mile, collect her diploma and take great pride in her accomplishment.
Every year when graduation season approaches I thrill once again to the stirring strains
of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance. No other music evokes the vision of caps and
gowns, proud parents and eager young graduates, sweating under the hot sun or in a
crowded gymnasium. Pride in accomplishment fills the air along with the music, and
graduates of all ages bask in their gratification, no matter how long deferred.
Graduation day is more hard won for some people than others. But every graduate
deserves that quick moment when her name is announced, several dignitaries shake
her hand and she walks off the stage with a college degree that will be hers forever.