Thursday, June 26, 2014

Violence calls for vigilance

6/25/14 Chatterbox

Betty Kaiser

The recent gunning down of police and another school shooting triggered this column commentary. Our country seems to be running amok with an abundance of serial killer mentalities—Illogical, deranged people killing their fellow citizens. Again and again, we question: Why the killer rage and hostility? Why is it not recognized or reported? Why are the targets often school children?

The answers are elusive. These questions have been asked for decades without solutions. The United States has the dubious distinction of the highest number of school related shootings in the world. A shooting being defined as when weapons are discharged at a school, in a school bus or near a school when school is in session.

The shooting list begins in the 1800s but escalated in the 20th century. Schools such as: The Michigan Bath School, Columbine, The Texas Clock Tower Shooting, Virginia Tech, Thurston High School and The Newtown massacre. The weapons include rifles, guns, bombs and knives. But the problem starts in the mind.

Motives are usually rage and revenge. The Internet can now be added as a contributor. In fact, an on-line computer simulation game surfaced after Newtown. Titled “The slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary School,” it encouraged users to re-enact the slaying!

In the first two weeks of June 2014, individuals planned and carried out a variety of horrific murders. None of the devious deeds seem to have a common denominator. It is mostly one or two deranged individuals acting out for their own deluded satisfaction.

June 4, two 12-year old girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin, were charged with stabbing and nearly killing a ‘friend.’ No gun. Just knives. They lured her into the woods, viciously stabbed her 19 times and left her for dead. Amazingly, she crawled out of the woods onto a path where a bicyclist found her. She is now out of the hospital because, as she said, “I wanted to live.”

The motive for the planned murder was to please “Slender Man,” a fictional online horror character. “He” is a paranormal being who lurks near forests and absorbs, kills or carries off his victims, often targeting children. The perpetrators show no remorse and their school principal says, “All three were good kids…no issues…nothing on the radar.” Wrong. Good kids don’t kill. These girls had issues.

That same day, in Moncton, N.B., a gunman went on a shooting rampage that left three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers dead and two others injured. Video images in the usually peaceful wooded area showed him roaming the streets, dressed in camouflage and a headband; armed with a crossbow and rifle carried bandoleer style across his chest. He was apprehended after a 30-hour manhunt but not before he put an entire community on lockdown.

June 5, a man walked into a Seattle Pacific University hall fired a shotgun, killing one person and wounding others. A quick thinking building monitor (armed with pepper spray) tackled and disarmed the 26-year-old suspect who is rumored to have a long history of mental problems. His diary said, “I just want people to die and I’m going to die with them.”  Did anyone know he felt this way?

June 8, a strange young married couple, in Las Vegas, gunned down two police officers having lunch. The officers died from their injuries but not before one of them fired back. Still armed with guns and ammunition the couple walked next door to Wal-Mart and killed a customer before the wife shot her husband and then herself.

According to witnesses the couple wanted to start a “revolution” and constantly talked about killing cops. Rumors are they wanted another Columbine. Later a swastika was found at their apartment leading to speculation that they were involved in a white supremacy movement. Hello! Why didn’t someone report them? Or was it even possible to predict this outcome?

June 10, a teen gunman armed with a rifle, shot and killed a fellow student at Reynolds High School in Troutdale Oregon. He also wounded the teacher who sounded the alarm. Then he killed himself. His parents are a loss to know why he did this.

All of the above killings were planned. None of them were spur of the moment choices. Most kill their victims and then kill themselves. Their actions are unfathomable. There is no rational answer or antidote for this kind of behavior.

My generation likes to think that the triggers include: violence in movies, TV and computer games; cell phones, lack of discipline, too much idle time, no moral compass, availability of illegal drugs, etc. Professionals point to the proliferation of unrecognized and untreated mental illness. Everyone has an opinion but that’s as far as it goes.

We only agree on one thing…we want the killing to stop.

My grandsons go to schools where safety is serious business. My daughter-in-law, is a middle school teacher and in charge of safety for her wing of the school. In evacuations or other emergencies she puts on an orange vest, dons a hard hat and carries a walkie talkie. Teachers take their roll books as kids form lines outside. All must be accounted for as they leave and return. At school!

A “Shelter in Place” drill over the intercom means the doors are immediately locked, blinds pulled and everyone presses against the walls away from windows. Kids take the drills seriously or are suspended. What a burden those teachers and youngsters bear.

I have no answers but we cannot afford to be apathetic. This “problem” is not going away. Experts are full of advice about what to do when something happens but we don’t know how to stop it from happening. If ever there was a time that we needed the Wisdom of Solomon, it is now.

I guess we all need to be a type of Solomon—alert and prepared to make wise decisions when chaos unfolds around us. We can’t let evil win. We must be vigilant, ready to act and pray. God help us all!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

American heroes of all stripes

5/28/14 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser 

Stubby, who served in WWI with the 102nd Con. Infantry
"America: Home of the free because of the brave." That sentiment is so true that it’s even on tee shirts and bumper stickers. On this day we stop and honor all those who have died serving our country. And so many of the brave have died to make us the home of the free—including four-footed critters.

Our country’s wars began with the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and have just kept coming. They are: the First Barbary War, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, American Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Then came the Gulf War, Vietnam War, Iraq War and the Afghanistan War that continues on.

All of these wars and other skirmishes were unique except in one way—the unspeakable horror of loss of life and suffering on both sides of conflict. In our country alone, according to one source there have been approximately 1,343,812 deaths; 1,529,230 wounded and 38,159 missing in all U.S. conflict casualties.

These staggering numbers sadden my heart as I consider the battlefields all over the world. Then I received several email copies of concocted heroism that just plain made me mad.  There are so many true stories about ordinary people. Why lie about actors?

Two actors were erroneously praised as WWII heroes in the emails: Lee Marvin and Bob Keeshan (aka Captain Kangaroo). Marvin is quoted inaccurately as saying that he was in the initial Iwo Jima landing, earned the Navy Cross and was severely wounded. I long ago learned to check my facts before reporting. According to part of the emails are true but not entirely accurate.

Marvin did enlist in the U.S. Marines; saw action as Private First Class in the Pacific during WWII; and was wounded by fire in the buttocks which severed his sciatic nerve. However, his injury occurred during the battle for Saipan in 1944 and not Iwo Jima. That took place in 1945. He also received a Purple Heart and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The man was a true hero just not the Internet version.

Another Internet legend has Marvin serving under Keeshan and calling him “the bravest man I ever knew.” Well, that’s not true at all.  Keeshan did enlist in the U.S. Marines shortly before his 18th birthday but months after the fighting at Iwo Jima. He was too late to see any action during WWII. In 1977 he was quoted as saying he  “saw no combat because I signed up just before we dropped the atom bomb.”

The legends get even worse when Fred Rogers gets thrown into the mix. His popular television program “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” ran for 30 years, enchanting millions of children. A Presbyterian minister, his critics looked for ways to malign him. This popular, decent, clean-cut guy was rumored to have a violent, criminal and Vietnam military background. Again, it is not true! Rogers was a pacifist and he never served in the military.

I believe that all those who serve our country—particularly in times of war—are heroes. And some of those are of the four-legged variety. In the early days there were horses. Today, dogs coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq are awe-inspiring. Their contribution to the safekeeping of their two-legged counterparts is priceless and their stories are true.

Historical reports say that dogs were common during the Civil War as soldier’s companions. During the Spanish American War, “Old Jack Brutus” became the official mascot of Company K, First Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. But it was during WWII, Korea and Vietnam that dogs were formally used as guards and patrol scouts.

“Stubby,” a brave soldier dog of the 102nd Infantry (Connecticut), during WWI is widely regarded as the grandfather of the American War Dogs. Connecticut military legend has it that he wandered into the encampment and befriended the soldiers, especially Corporal J. Robert Conroy. In Oct. 1917, when the unit shipped out for France, it was part of the 26th (Yankee) division of Massachusetts. Stubby (covered in an overcoat) was smuggled aboard the troop ship S.S. Minnesota and sailed into doggy legend.

Fighting in France was treacherous. Trench warfare combined with deadly gas took a steep toll on the men and their spirits. Stubby boosted morale with his early warnings about gas attacks and by waking a sleeping sentry to alert him of a German attack. He was gassed a few times, a grenade went off and his foreleg was wounded.

After the American troops recaptured Chateau Thierry, the women in the village made him a chamois blanket embroidered with the allied flags. The blanket also displayed his wound stripe, three service chevrons and numerous medals. They presented it to him in Neufchateau, the home of Joan of Arc.

Stubby and his wounded master Corporal Conroy ended up in a hospital but spent the remainder of the war with the 102nd unit. He was smuggled back home the same way he entered—and mustered out with his regiment, as officers looked the other way.

At home, he was hailed as a hero of 17 battles, became the mascot of the American Legion, was honored by three presidents and General Pershing presented him with a gold medal. While his master studied law, he became the mascot for the Georgetown football team. He had his portrait painted by Charles Ayer Whipple and in 1926 he passed on. His obituary in the New York Times was three columns wide and half a page long! He was a genuine hero.

America’s military personnel come in all shapes, sizes, and colors; male and female; two and four-legged, furry and clean-shaven. They demonstrate loyalty, courage, selflessness and dedication. They are always worthy of our respect and care. Take time to thank them as they work for the greater good of us all. They are priceless treasures.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My tribute to Erma Bombeck

4/30/14 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Humor columnist Erma Bombeck was a household name in an era of serious news. If you were a housewife in the 1970’s and 80’s, she was also your best friend and mentor. She inspired mothers like me to believe that my wacky, out-of-control life with three kids under the age of four was—normal. She laughed and we laughed with her.

Erma Louise Bombeck did not have an easy life. Born in 1927, she was an English major at Ohio University and worked part time as a reporter for the Dayton Journal Herald. About that time, she was diagnosed with a kidney disease that would ultimately take her life. But not until she married, raised three children and became one of America’s beloved columnists. She was a homemaker’s sanity.

As a young mother in the late 1960s through the 1980s, I religiously read Erma’s column “At Wit’s End,” in our local newspaper. She started by writing a neighborhood newspaper ($3 a week) until the Journal Herald, invited her to write a three times a week column that became syndicated nationally and morphed into books with titles like "Motherhood, the Second Oldest Profession." 

So, what was so special about Erma to young women such as myself? I guess you had to be there—in that place and time—to understand. Ours was an Ozzie and Harriet era. Families were portrayed as perfect. Dad left home every morning and went to work. Mom wore a perfect housedress, covered by a clean apron and ran a perfect household with no dust, dirt, or hair out of place.

On television all problems were solved in 30 minutes by perfect parents. And if the parents were perfect so were the children. Nothing so bad ever happened that it couldn’t be fixed or corrected by a smile, a pat on the head or a talk with dad. At the end of the day, all was well. Every day. All day. But at my house things were different. Life was hectic. Good but not perfect.

Many of us less-than-perfect mothers felt we could never measure up to the uptight, humorless expectations of society. Our kids went to bed screaming and kicking. During the day they argued and pushed and shoved one another. At dinner if one didn’t want to eat peas no one would eat peas. And homework? Usually there was outright rebellion. Perfect we were not.

Along came Erma. After years of reading Dr. Spock, she was a breath of fresh air. As Phil Donohue said at her funeral, “Erma was irreverent in many ways. Motherhood was sacred i.e. ‘how blessed you are to have children.’ Erma came along and said, “Oy, I want to sell my kids!” We mothers understood.

In her writings, Erma put the TV lives of Donna, Harriet, Barbara, Shirley, Marjorie, Jane and Florence into perspective. She said, “Among them they had 22 children, 6 husbands and three maids. For two decades they were motherly role models …they never lost their temper, gained weight, scrubbed a toilet, were invaded by roaches or shouted. It was the age of God, Motherhood, Flag and Apple Pie. All you had to do to be a mother was to put on an apron.”

We nodded our heads. The TV life style was not real. It was abnormal. We were normal. She taught us to laugh at our foibles and appreciate our imperfection. Her columns even helped teach our kids and I sent many of them to our boys in college. This clipping in my Erma folder helped me explain the word ‘NO’ to my young teens:

The column title is “No, is a many splendored thing.” As she concludes the piece she says, “Parents live in hope that kids will thank them for saying ‘No’ as often as they did…I actually sat down once with one of my kids and tried to explain the meaning of No.

“It means I love you enough to want you to have as smooth a journey through life as is possible…When I see you going in the wrong direction, I have to say “No” to get you back on track. I don’t want you to be hurt of hurt someone else. A lot of No’s can make this possible. I want your trust that I will say ‘Yes’ as often as I can but say No when I must.

“My son sat there for a long time without speaking. Then he said, ‘So, why don’t you ever want me to have a good time?’”

I read that last line and laughed until I cried. She was talking about me! I had a kid like that and it was a replay of so many conversations at our house. By telling us that we knew we weren't alone. She also reminded us that it’s easy to become shortsighted about what is important and what isn’t.

In one column she wrote that she was upset because her grass wasn’t growing. The kids were playing on it and it was dying. She'd plant more grass seed and it would grow until the kids would play on it until it was brown. Pretty soon the kids went away to school. Then they got married. The place where the kids had played was green and the grass full and vigorous. She missed that bare spot.

Because of Erma, I learned to revel in youthful energy and growing pains; to enjoy all the ages and stages and seasons of young life. Those years leave lasting, precious memories that can’t be bought.

Erma was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991 and survived. She died after a failed kidney transplant on April 22, 1996. The light of her laughter dimmed but not her spirit. So every year at this time I celebrate her life and inspiration and pass on her wisdom to those who missed knowing a great lady. She was a national treasure.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Downtown Tree Talk

3/26/14 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

“Trees or no trees?” That is the question currently facing Cottage Grove residents regarding refurbishing downtown Main Street. My first response was, “Oh, no! Not again!” I have lived in this area for 25 years and trees on Main Street have always been controversial.

Among other things, the new Main Street Refinement Plan offers a choice of reduced tree plantings or no trees at all in downtown’s future. It’s a strange conundrum for a town that is called “Tree City USA.” A town recognized for excellence in urban forestry management.

Many shopkeepers are averse to the cost, maintenance and mess of trees. I understand that. Customers might even grumble if they pick up a few wet leaves or mud on their shoes. I understand that. But wait a minute. I really don’t get it. This is Oregon and we are green!

 Sure, it costs time and money to water trees in the summer and energy to sweep the sidewalk in front of stores. And no, I don’t like to get my shoes dirty. But are trees really the reason why people don’t shop downtown? Are they hindering access to shops? I don’t think so. Let me play the devil’s advocate and offer another opinion.

The whole purpose of owning a business is to draw customers into your store. In this day and age it takes more than great merchandise, wonderful customer service and easy access to draw people downtown—especially those with vacation dollars in their pocket. It also takes a charming visual package.

Studies have shown that consumers actually enjoy having trees in shopping districts and are more willing to spend money where trees are present. Check out the following website that visually shows the difference between trees and no trees in shopping areas and why people prefer trees. You will be surprised:

Why do trees make a difference? The reason is simple. They provide curb appeal. For many of us, shopping is more than buying. It is about “ambiance.” Cold, sterile and boring doesn’t cut it. I zip in and out of those kinds of shopping areas. No looking around and wondering what’s going on elsewhere. I buy and get out.

On vacation, I bypass the big shopping centers. Instead, I look for a street of charming, tree-lined shops to draw me in their doors.  Whether I’m shopping for fun or necessity, I look for that elusive thing called “character.” What is this place about?

In a town that advertises itself as “Tree City USA,” trees do more than give us bragging rights. Attractive trees are not only eye candy but they foster a sense of community, improve air quality, reduce traffic speeds, and provide shade and wildlife habit (think birds). They’re also a distraction from some of the less desirable aspects of an urban area such as empty buildings or closed shops with ‘flexible’ hours.

In a spirit of fairness I considered whether or not I’m barking up the wrong tree by suggesting we keep the trees. I know that from a sidewalk and street perspective, trees can be trouble. Is there a right tree to be planted in a downtown area in a small sidewalk space, near shops and a busy road? I wasn’t sure.

So I checked out a few websites that led to the conclusion we do have options for practical plantings. If you want to check out what other cities are successfully doing, I suggest the following websites:

The Main St. Refinement Plan contains many ideas and suggestions. They range from removing the crown in the road to wider sidewalks, increased bicycle parking, a “festival square” and more signage. Here’s my take on some of these ideas:

Do we need another gateway arch at the west end of Main St. and delineation of the historic downtown neighborhoods? Not yet. First we need to get some other pieces in place. We need unity and purpose. We need a common theme that says this is our history; this is where we’ve been; this is where we are now and this is where we’re going. We need cohesiveness of design and architecture. Bike racks we’ve got. We need access for disabilities. We need our car doors to stop scraping sidewalks. We need a plan that includes the right trees.

But enough about what I think. What do you think? If you’d like to chime in and say yea or nay on redesigning Main St. check in with city hall for the next public comments opportunity. The entire Main Street Refinement Plan can be seen at the project website,

Cottage Grove has been a Tree City USA for 20 years. Every April, cities across the U.S. celebrate Arbor Day. In Oregon alone, there are 57 Tree City USA Communities. On April 25 at 10 a.m. there will be a tree planting at Bohemia Park. Put it on your calendar and show your support. Let’s keep and celebrate our trees. Speak up! We’ll be healthier and happier if we do. Trust me.

Readers Write
Our town is known for volunteering and showing support for worthy causes. I always appreciate input on volunteering and other story items. Recently, I received this note:

Hi, Betty,
Did you know that the Veterans put the flags downtown the 11th of each month to honor all Veterans? Paul Tuco Aka at Buster’s was the motivating force behind this great idea and gives them a free lunch on that day. Thought it might be a good story. From S.D.

Thank you volunteers! You all make this world a better place.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Trivia Time!

2/26/14 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

February has been a dark and dreary month. It has rained—a lot! And that much-needed rain has been accompanied by day after day of gloomy skies. A day or two of blue skies and sunshine would be nice about now. You know, like the ones we had in January when it was supposed to be raining cats and dogs.

You can tell that I’m not a native Oregonian. The first clue is that I’m whining about the weather—I only like rain if I’m out of it. The second is that my daily cold weather ensemble of several layers of sweatshirts is getting worn. The third is that over the sweatshirts I wear a jacket and carry an umbrella at the first sign of rain.

The real-deal, born and bred Oregonians revel in this cold, miserable winter. They often are wearing shorts when they go outside. Rain? “We need it,” they’ll say, as they dash out of their cars in shirtsleeves and into stores between the raindrops. Jackets are so unnecessary in 32-degree weather. Snow? Ice? Freezing rain? No problem. No umbrellas. Oregonians are exceptional, hardy, practical people.

That practicality has been demonstrated in the emails I’ve been receiving this winter. I’ve not been bored while I’ve stayed warm and cozy in the house this winter. Here’s an assortment of trivia that I’ve been mulling over while sipping hot chocolate. It ranges from elbow licking to bulletproof vests to Tic Tacs.

Intelligent people have more zinc and copper in their hair.

Men can read smaller print than women can but women can hear better.

Rumors that Coca-Cola was green are not true but it was originally bottled in green bottles.

It is impossible to lick your elbow.

The cost of raising a medium-size dog to 11 years of age is $16,400.

Mark Twain was the first novelist to use a typewriter.

The San Francisco Cable Cars are the only mobile National Monuments.

Half of all Americans live within 50 miles of their birthplace.

The most popular boat name requested by boaters: Obsession.

The State with the highest percentage of people who walk to work is not Oregon—it’s Alaska!

The percentage of Africa that is wilderness is 28 percent. The percentage of North America that is wilderness is 38 percent.

Bulletproof vests, fire escapes, windshield wipers and laser printers all have one thing in common. Women invented all of them.

“Everyday products you probably use the wrong way” was the subject of an enlightening email. Since this isn’t a magazine you’ll have to visualize these ideas for yourself. These are mostly about food. I’ll save the rest for another time.

You may be surprised that Tic Tacs come with a built-in dispenser. There’s no need to violently shake the container into your palm for too many pieces. Instead, tip the box and let a mint gently glide into the tiny crevice on the lid. So simple.

Did you know that those little individual serving cups of applesauce come with a spoon? Well, sort of. You can pull off the foil lid and twist one-half of it into a handle that connects to the wide part like a spoon.

And speaking of applesauce, juice boxes are hard for little ones to hold. Just pull the little ear sides up so your child has something to grasp and stop them from spilling so much. After all, kids will be kids.

Jars of natural peanut butter tend to separate the oil and get dry on the bottom. Store the jar upside down, so the oils distribute evenly.

Honey is the only food that doesn’t spoil. It may crystallize but just sit it in a pan of warm water until it returns to its normal state. Remember, that infants should not eat honey until 1 year old.

And how about those tiny little paper cups that fast food places give you to pump a drop of ketchup into? Pull them apart at the edges for twice the space. Just be sure to carry them on a flat surface!

And speaking of food… Did you know that Chinese takeout containers are made to fold out into plates? You unfold the box to eat your meal and then reassemble it to store the leftovers. My hubby saw this on the TV show “Castle.”

Here’s a handy hint if you eat the kind of Greek yogurt that comes in two sections: Chances are you’ve been scooping the topping onto the yogurt. It’s much easier and neater to fold the topping holder and pour it directly on top of the yogurt! Who knew?

Here’s a couple of ideas about soft drinks. If you drink out of the can with a straw, turn the tab around so that it acts as a holder and can stop the straw from rising out the can as the soda fizzes. Plastic ‘go’ cup lids can double as a coaster. There are three bumps on the top. You can set your cup down and the ridge in the lid fits the bottom.

Most aluminum foil boxes have press-in tabs on the ends of the box that secure the roll in place so you don’t have to worry about the foil flying out every time you rip off a sheet. I checked and it’s true. You just punch in the tabs and it securely holds the roll.

Oh, and one more thing, 75 percent of the people who read this will try and lick their elbows! (It didn’t work did it?)

Spring and sunshine are coming. Until then—stay warm!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Valentine Trivia!

2/12/2014 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser
Puppy Love

It’s February. It’s cold and miserable outside. One minute it’s hailing and the next minute it’s snowing. I’m grumpy and ready for springtime. But wait. Can you feel it? Something warm and fuzzy is about to happen—Valentine’s Day is coming—love is in the air!

The day, of course, is named after St. Valentine. But who decided that Feb. 14th would be the day when sweethearts declare their love with gifts and romantic cards? Some say because it was the day when birds chose their mates. I think that’s a stretch. But really, who cares? It’s a day for young and old to celebrate romance.

Valentine’s Day is a fun tradition. But when it comes to celebrating and gift giving, the most important thing to remember is: don’t forget!  A 2013 survey conducted by the Retail and Marketing Association found that 53% of women who didn’t receive something for Valentine’s Day would end the relationship!

Every year, about one billion cards are purchased and sent—mostly by women for men. About 40 million boxes of chocolate are purchased—mostly by men for women. About 198 million roses (the flowers of love) are sold—mostly to men for women. Jewelry is another hot item and accounts for about $4.1 billion in spending—again by men for women. It sounds good to me.

So ladies, we get off relatively easy. A recent survey showed that men prefer a gift certificate to their favorite store over that other “stuff.” Of course, we may have to cook dinner. The survey also found that the vast majority of couples prefer to enjoy a romantic dinner at home for a fraction of the $150 cost at a fine restaurant.

Today we enjoy this holiday but we don’t take the meaning of it as seriously as couples did hundreds of years ago. I think that the following traditions maybe coined the term “blind date.”

You’ve heard the saying, “wearing your heart on your sleeve?” Well, in Colonial America, young ladies would write their names on slips of paper. At a Valentine’s party, young men would draw names out of a hat. The guy would wear the name of this lady on his sleeve for days to proclaim her as his valentine. Interesting. It makes me wonder how things worked out if the wrong name was drawn.

Across the pond, in England, a suitor would leave a basket of gifts on his beloved’s doorstep and run off. Surprise! In Italy, young ladies would awaken before sunrise and look out their window. Tradition said the first man they saw would either look like their future husband or be the man they would marry. Another surprise!

In Denmark, a man would send a woman a Valentine letter containing a rhyme and sign it with a series of dots to represent his name. If the woman guessed his identity correctly on Valentine’s Day he would reward her with a gift. But I wonder, what if she didn’t like the guy and didn’t want his gift?

Today’s generation is a bit more cynical. One Valentine’s season, Meg Pickard and her housemate David Pannet were joking around about the lack of available cards for those who don’t like the hearts and flowers hype of the season. According to an article in The Telegraph, UK, their anti-valentine card idea was born and their first cards were on the web within an hour.

Meg took the idea and ran with it. The cards were cynical, fun and immensely popular. Most of the sayings can’t be printed here but with slogans like, “Oh, my ***. Thirty and still single,” they poked fun at the commercialism of Valentine’s Day. In 2000, they sent out a couple of thousand cards. By 2005, the cards went past the 200,000 mark.

Meg has since moved on, married, had a child and shut down the website. But there are others that feel as she did. November 11 is Singles’ Day in China; a type of anti -Valentine’s celebration. It's a day for young people to celebrate being single and an excuse to log onto websites where products are sold at half price. Last year, just six minutes after midnight, $164 million was spent on, China’s version of Amazon and eBay.

Call me silly but my most memorable Valentine’s Days were in my youth. As a child, the love and appreciation for others was pure and innocent. I can still remember sitting at my desk at home and carefully choosing the person who matched the pictures and verses on each card. I envisioned my friends doing the same.

All of us then took the cards to school and placed them in a shoebox decorated with red tissue paper and doilies. Near the end of the day we had the familiar red punch and homemade cookies party. It was such a thrill to open the envelopes from your friends, bask in their attention and nibble Sweetheart candies that said, “Be mine.”

Simple sentiments made us giggle with appreciation: “Roses are red, Violets are blue, Sugar is sweet, just like you!” And it was really special if a card said, “You’re sugar and spice ‘n everything nice. Say that you will be my valentine!” Or, “They call it puppy love.” In High School, some of the more brazen teens would write: “Plenty of love, Tons of kisses. Hope one day to be your Mrs.”

Happy Valentine’s Day to one and all! (And whatever you do, don’t forget your sweetie!)

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The adventure of life goes on

Ah, youth! Betty circa 1946
1/15/14 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

“The adventure of life is to learn.
The purpose of life is to grow.
The nature of life is to change.
The challenge of life is to overcome.
The essence of life is to care.”
William Arthur Ward

Today’s column is a bit self-indulgent because it’s my birthday week. I’m celebrating 75 years of living and learning by taking a look back at what the world was like in the year I was born. I was born on a Friday the 13th, 1939. Some say that day is unlucky. I beg to differ. Sometimes attitude helps make your own luck.

So it's true, I've been lucky but I’m also blessed. I was born to birth parents who for some reason couldn’t keep me. I spent time in orphanages and was finally adopted when I was six years old. As a child, I always had a roof over my head, food to eat, education and wonderful friends. As an adult, I have had love, purpose, a fabulous family and priceless friendships.

Yes life has been an interesting challenge. But I’ve followed my heart and been here-there-and-everywhere! I couldn’t ask for anything more. Still, I have questions. What happened in 1939 besides me? Well, as I learned, it was a tense time in this world.

The Great Depression was grinding down the USA. The Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Grapes of Wrath” described in graphic detail a family that lost their farm and livelihood and traveled to California looking for hope. That era surely resonates with those who lost jobs and housing and hope in the Great Recession of 2008.

In April 1939, The New York World’s Fair opened. A bullet shaped time capsule weighing 800 pounds was buried and not to be opened for 5,000 years! Yes, you read that correctly. In the year 6939 it will be opened along with the one buried in 1964.

Rumblings of World War II were beginning in Europe. On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s Germany invaded Poland. That was considered a prelude to the beginning of the war. Germany earlier had annexed Austria and invaded Czechoslovakia and Italy’s Mussolini invaded Albania in April. War was coming.

Joseph Stalin was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in both 1939 and 1942. They chose Pope Francis as Time’s Person of the Year in 2013. Journalists are an interesting bunch.

In sports, the New York Yankees won the World Series Championship (again). The Green Bay Packers defeated the New York Giants 27-0 to win the National Football League championship. And the NCAA Basketball Champion was…wait for it…Oregon!

Compared to the late 20th century, 1939 was an entertainment era of innocence. Today our movies and music bombard us with graphic violence, sexuality and profanity. “Swearing like a sailor,” as the old saying goes, simply didn’t drive the media like it does today.

However, here’s an interesting bit of movie trivia: Clark Gable’s line at the end of “Gone with the Wind,” when he said to Vivien Leigh, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” was voted the number one movie line of all time by the American Film Institute in 2005.

Many wonderful movies were released in 1939. They included: Goodbye Mr. Chips, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Wuthering Heights. Each film was an incredible work of art but Judy Garland’s “Somewhere over the rainbow” is still bringing hope to broken hearts today.

Actresses wore more clothes in those days. These “hot” movie stars and fashion icons of 1939 strutted their stuff in swirly dresses with shoulder pads, hats or (gasp!) two-piece bathing suits: Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Greta Garbo, Betty Grable and  Hedy Lamarr (famous for her sarongs).

So what else was going on in 1939? Aviation progress was in full swing. The Sikorsky helicopter was invented and the first commercial flight over the Atlantic had people talking. Einstein wrote a letter to FDR about building an Atomic Bomb. Sigmund Freud died and a major earthquake in Chile killed 30,000 people.

Television was in its infancy. It made its debut at the World’s Fair with the first presidential address by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The New York Times reported that the broadcast was received in strategic locations and the pictures were clear and steady. It would be another 10 years before it was widely available to the masses.

Of course, I was a newborn. I don’t remember anything about 1939. I do remember the 1940s as the time when my grandfather held my hand and walked me into my new home and later into school and my first grade class; drinking milk and eating cookies after school; playing hopscotch; listening to the radio and reading under the covers at night by flashlight; looking forward to summers in the mountains and wondering what life would hold for me.

By the 1950s I was tall and lanky, a serious student and violin player. I dated, got my first job, went to college, married and started a family. The 1960s and 1970s were the best. They were all about the changing ages and stages of a growing family: church, school, clubs, dancing, parties, swimming, music and sports. Mostly they were fun!

By the late 1970s we were well established in business and volunteer work. Soon it was the 1980s and the kids were off to college, getting married and starting their own families. And for the last 25 years Chuck and I have had great adventures here in Oregon.

Looking back, I can honestly say that I have no regrets. Life is good. It’s not easy but most adventures are meant to be challenging. If the object is to learn, grow, care, serve and dare—I’ve done it all—and then some.

Praise God for these 75 years of endurance and joy!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.