Thursday, April 25, 2013

The old man and the seafood

I was at the supermarket, heading from Produce to Meat.

Passing the seafood case, I was stopped in my tracks by a display of pink jumbo shrimp, artfully arranged over ice.

“Fresh from the Keys!” the sign said. On sale, no less.

Tommy’s grilling shrimp tonight.

There was no clerk at the counter but through the glass wall of the workroom behind it, I could see two white-aproned clerks, busily trimming meat.

No rush. I'm on Florida time. One of them, I knew, would eventually look up, see me and come out to take my order.

I was standing there, trying to decide how much shrimp to buy and how to grill them, when an old man wheeled his cart up to the counter. When I say old, I mean old. I’m 61. This guy could have been my father.

“Where the hell are they?” he asked loudly.

“They’re in the back room,” I answered.

That, for some reason, seemed to enrage him.

He turned his cart, rolled it a few feet, then turned it again toward the swinging metal door into the workroom that separates Seafood from Meat. He rammed the cart through the door, Bruce Willis-like.

“Hey,” he screamed into the room. “Don’t you Mexicans work? Get out here!”

He backed his cart out of the door and returned triumphantly to the counter.

Two Hispanic men emerged, their eyes bulging from their sockets, as if they were in shock.

“I want a pound of scallops,” the old man barked as they took their place behind the counter.

The men said nothing.

“Don’t you people speak English?” he demanded.

“Yes,” the taller of the two replied.

“Well then, say something. Don’t act like you don’t understand me.”

“You want a pound of scallops,” the man repeated mechanically.

“If you don’t know how much a pound is in this country, it’s 16 ounces.”

The men looked at each other, as if trying to decide which of them should have the privilege of leaping over the case to strangle the old man. But they said nothing.

“No it’s not, it’s 18 ounces,” the old man (in)corrected himself.

“Can I help you?” the other clerk asked me.

“Uh, a pound of shrimp.”

He looked at me imploringly.

Our eyes met. I shrugged, acknowledging his distress, but said nothing.

Both orders were filled, wrapped, handed over, and the old man and I went our separate ways.

I’ve felt guilty ever since.

I should have told the old man he was wrong to treat people that way.

I should have told him that, if the men are like most Hispanics in southwest Florida, they’re not Mexican. They’re probably from central America and came here because they, like most of our ancestors, heard America is a land of opportunity.

I should have told the old man who, for all I know, fought at Guadalcanal or Omaha Beach, that he was an asshole.

But I didn't want to make a bad situation worse. I just wanted it to be over. And, I assured myself, I was taught to be respectful of old people.

My cowardice -- that's what it was, cowardice -- made me as big an asshole as the old man, and for that I am truly sorry. Next time I'm at the supermarket I am going to apologize to those two men.

And, for the record, I burned the shrimp and had to throw them away.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Take this poll. Please.

A recent survey finds that 33 percent of Americans think President Obama is doing a good job handling Social Security. A 33 percent approval rating seems high in light of the budget he submitted recently in which he proposed to cut benefits, a stance with which even leaders of his own party disagree.

Another poll shows that only four percent believe gun control is an important issue. (Guns were no doubt being held to the heads of the 96 percent who responded otherwise.)

Public opinion poll results should be taken not with a grain of salt, but with one of those 20-pound blocks of salt farmers leave in fields for cows to lick. Pollsters don’t always reveal exactly who they polled, or the answers respondents were given to choose from. Nor do they reveal who paid them to conduct the poll in the first place. The net net is that most poll results are about as impartial as a proud papa judging a beauty pageant in which his daughter is competing. 

Take this poll and try to guess the organization that commissioned each question.

Conducted by Impartial Polling LLC
Tell us what you think. We'll tell the world.

1. How do you rate Barack Obama’s handling of the economy? 

( ) Terrific
( ) Fabulous
( ) Bang-up
( ) Good

2. Should marijuana be legalized?

( ) Yes
( ) Most definitely
( ) Sí
( ) I agree 420%

3. What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem facing America today?

( ) Inferior quality Chinese-made brassieres
( ) McCormick & Schmick’s happy hour menu lists chicken sliders but 
    when I ordered I was told they were temporarily unavailable
( ) Gay marriage
( ) The cost of heating my pool during the winter months

4. What is your preferred airline? 

( ) Bimi Bangladesh
( ) Delta
( ) Air Uganda
( ) Pan Am

5. Who should be the next Republican nominee for president?   

( ) Rick Santorum 
( ) Lindsay Lohan
( ) Ronald Reagan
( ) Basshar Assad

6. To which vehicle brand would you give the highest score for reliability and safety? 

( ) Hindenberg
( ) Buick 
( ) American Flyer
( ) Pinto

7. Which state offers start-up companies the best overall business environment?

( ) West Carolina
( ) Tabasco
( ) Old Hampshire
( ) Connecticut

8. Which of these media outlets reports the news in the most fair and balanced manner?  

( ) Fox News
( ) North Korea Daily Worker
( )

Thank you for your responses. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The boy with the ice cream cone

I walked past an ice cream shop last night. A striking 30-ish blonde and a boy who looked just like her -- I'd guess he was four -- were seated at an outside table.

The mother was wearing a business suit, as though she had just come from work. The boy was eating an enormous ice cream cone. The mother was texting on her smart phone.

Five minutes later I strolled past the shop again.

Ice cream was dribbling down the boy's chin and onto his shirt. He was examining the cone intently, turning it in his hands, trying to decide whether it had gotten the best of him. 

Oblivious, the mother was texting, her fingers flying over the keys. 

I saw them later, walking toward the parking lot. The mother, gripping the phone in both hands, was still texting. She was smiling, amused by the conversation she was having. The boy, his face wiped clean, was a step behind her.

Someday, when she is wondering why her son never expresses any interest in her, she won’t understand. 

Smart phone. 

Stupid woman.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Something to Belieb in

Pop star Justin Bieber, 19, got some bad press last week when, after touring the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, he signed the guest book, “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a Belieber.” (That’s what his millions of teenybopper fans call themselves.)

I barely know who Justin Bieber is. I’m not his demographic nor, if you’re reading this post, are you. The kid clearly has talent. But he is completely self-centered as evidenced by his guest book entry in which he directed the focus away from Anne Frank and onto himself. If I was 19 and millions of girls were clamoring to see me, I’d probably think the world revolved around me, too.

My first visit to the Anne Frank Museum, in 1972, was one of the most profound experiences of my life. It’s not a classic museum. It's a house where Anne and her family hid in the attic from the Nazis.  The first floor was a business so the Franks and Van Dams, another family in hiding, had to stay quiet during the day to avoid detection. To relieve the boredom, Anne, who was 13 and 14 during her two years in the house, wrote in her diary, which was found after the war and published.

I entered the Anne Frank house as a 20-year-old who had signed off on everything I’d been taught about a loving, benevolent God who looks out for his children. I left that museum with my faith shaken. I haven’t felt the same way about God or my fellow man since.

If every American family aspired to visit the Anne Frank House instead of Disneyland or Disney World .... if Islam required every adherent to travel to Amsterdam rather than make a haj to Mecca … if everyone, everywhere, were to be taken on a tour of that unassuming house at 263 Prinsengracht … much of the world’s irrational hated would simply go away.

After Monday’s Boston bombing, newscasters were opining that most people are good and kind, citing the fact that so many people hastened to help the injured rather than simply running away. That’s pretty much how Anne was seeing the world when she wrote, “… in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Faith in the inherent goodness of our fellow humans is something to cling to. We need it but it’s hard to keep that faith in a world that always has been, and always will be, a dangerous place. There are a lot of crazies out there.

And that, unfortunately, is something we must continue to teach our children and grandchildren to Belieb in. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Facebook posts we'd like to see

Facebook users are always posting placards proclaiming their love for their families, devotion to their religion or support for animal rights, diseases and other causes.

Here are some placards I've created for those who have never been able to find one that expresses their true feelings. If you see one you like, simply drag it out of this blog and re-post it to your Facebook wall.

My gift to you.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

America's favorite dachshund shares the poignant and, at times, painful story of her puppyhood

Note to readers: I asked my dachshund, Bonnie (above), to write today's post. Happily, she agreed. 

Today is my 12th birthday. You might think I have a cushy life but let me tell you – I had to work hard to get where I am.

It pains me to admit it but I was born in an Arkansas puppy mill. The moment my birth mother licked away the sac in which I had been delivered and I opened my eyes and realized I was living behind a rusted out trailer inhabited by hillbillies right out of “Deliverance,” I knew I had to get out of that hellhole.

Mercifully, I didn’t have to wait long. Eight weeks later, I found myself in the back of a truck bound for someplace called Connecticut. Where was I going? What should I expect? One of my fellow travelers, a Chihuahua, said she had heard Connecticut was above the Arctic Circle and frightfully cold – even in summer. Another said it was a state where, inexplicably, women wear no make-up. (Both rumors, by the way, turned out to be true.)

A few days later I was off-loaded at a pet shop in Danbury. This wasn’t your typical pet shop in which people have to ask attendants to hand them a puppy. No, this store was one of those kumbaya places where puppies are placed in open pens on the floor so people can lean down and pick them up. I overheard the owner tell someone, “It socializes them.” What a crock.

I weighed, at that point, two pounds. You can’t begin to imagine how terrifying it is to have a 200-pound human lean down, scoop you up, and examine you like you’re a papaya they are thinking about buying, but it happened hundreds of times. I finally became so terrified that, whenever I saw a hand reaching into my pen, my bladder let go – a condition eventually diagnosed as “submissive urination” that, thanks to Kegel exercises, I was able to conquer years later.  

Day in, day out, I was tortured by people who picked me up, held me momentarily, then put me back. Sometimes one would leave the store having bought another puppy. I didn’t mind losing out to other breeds, but it hurt like hell when someone chose another dachshund because I knew I had more to offer. But everyone said I had either a) an ugly coat, b) a sway back or c) both.

In mid-August, the store marked me down as distressed merchandise. One afternoon not long after I went on sale, a man with a mustache saw me curled up in the depressive ball in which I spent my days, picked me up and took me into a back room. I was afraid he was going to molest me but no -- he was babbling baby talk. He sounded like an idiot. I acted interested, wagged my tail and licked his face when, in fact, I felt … nothing. I knew that he, too, would leave me like all the others had and, after a half hour or so, he did.

But later that day he came back with a blonde woman, two teenage boys and an adult dachshund named Clyde. The store owner let them take me outside. They said they wanted to see how I interacted with Clyde who, I immediately realized, was a simpleton I would be able to dominate completely. I forced myself to act cute knowing that, if I did, there was a good chance I’d found my golden ticket. The man whipped out a credit card and bought me.

The house they took me to was a pleasant surprise -- much nicer than the trailer the hillbillies had lived in. And the people, even though they talked baby talk, seemed kind.

Shortly after my first birthday, mustache man took me to Obedience School. I knew from the get-go it was a waste of time and money. The four humans were already obedient to my every whim, but once again, I played along. On graduation day the instructor told the man, “I do believe that’s the brightest little dachshund I ever saw.”

No shit, Sherlock.

Clyde died two years after my arrival and was replaced by another dachshund, Billy Ray, who, if anything, is even dumber. Every morning, when the man places bowls of food in front of us, I gobble mine down, then run to the back door and bark as if I see something outside. Billy follows yapping hysterically, even though he has no idea why I’m barking. I then double back, and eat his food while he is still barking at something that isn't there. Fool someone once, shame on you. Fool him twice, shame on him. Fool him every single day for nine and a half years and you’re contending with a bona-fide moron.

For the last six years, ever since I refused to go outside during a Connecticut blizzard (which in that particular instance, took place in October), I’ve wintered in Florida. I’ve seen 19 states from the comfort of the SUV dad bought to transport Billy and me after that unfortunate incident in which I was placed on JetBlue’s no fly list after escaping from the carry-on bag in which I was being transported. 

I’ve dined in outdoor restaurants in Miami, Atlanta and D.C. where once, as I was strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue, Nancy Pelosi walked by with her security detail and smiled at me, one bitch to another. I smiled back.

The man, who was in advertising, used my photo in a Wal-Mart ad. I would have preferred to appear in an ad for Saks or Bloomingdales. On the other hand, I know the hillbillies probably shop at Wal-Mart, so I hope they saw the ad and realize where I wound up. They, no doubt, are still living in their rusted out trailer, breeding puppies they have to sell to put coon or squirrel or whatever it is hillbillies eat on their table. For my birthday brunch this morning I was served Cesar® Sunrise with Smoked Bacon & Egg. For dinner I’ll have Cesar® Filet Mignon with Meaty Juices, along with a few slices of Granny Smith Apple.

This is my second post on this blog and, eventually when the man becomes tired of writing it, I’ll probably take it over. God knows he needs more readers after his last post about the Rolling Stones tour which was (and rightfully so in my opinion) the most lightly-read post of the more than 100 he has written. I can do better than that.

The teenagers went off to college and are now 30 and 27. The younger one acquired an Amazon of a dog, a mongrel he named Topanga. Like Billy Ray, she’s not real bright. The older one and his wife recently adopted a cat they’ve named Georgia. I have to admit I’m not crazy about having a family member who represents an altogether different species, but it’s happening more and more these days in our increasingly diverse society. I’ll reserve judgment until I meet her. One thing I know for sure. She has to be smarter than Billy or Topanga.

I’ve lived through 9/11, the Great Recession, and watched every single episode of Boardwalk Empire. When the man reads, as he does every night, I rest my head on his chest. He thinks I’m dozing but I’m soaking up every word. We just finished “Colonel Roosevelt,” the last volume of Edmund Morris’ Teddy Roosevelt trilogy. Teddy hunted animals and killed them for fun. Asshole.

I’ll spend today as I do most days – lying by the pool, listening to the gentle splash of the waterfall and barking at golfers who appear on the course behind our house. This morning I overheard the man telling the blonde he might take me out for a manicure for my birthday.

In human years I’m 61. That’s the same age the mustache man who delivered me from that God-awful pet store is. Over the last 12 years we have both developed fatty lumps and our hair has turned white but I look better for my age than he does – everyone says so.

With the exception of my first six months, I’ve had 12 good years. 

I can’t wait to see what the next 12 will bring.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Rock of aged

The Rolling Stones yesterday announced the addition of nine North American cities to their worldwide "50 & Counting" tour.

Wild horses couldn't drag me to see them if they were performing in my own back yard.

While it's swell the Stones still enjoy making music together after 51 years, there's no satisfaction to be derived from watching a group of grandpas bounce around a stage. Voices don’t improve with age. Nor do musical skills. And old men singing about youthful angst is as ludicrous as Bette Davis in her Baby Jane outfit singing, "I've Written a Letter to Daddy."

Rod Stewart, 68, was on TV recently performing “Maggie.”

Wake up Maggie, I think I got something to say to you.
It’s late September and I really should be back at school.

He looked and sounded ridiculous. Maybe he should consider updating the lyrics.

Wake up Maggie. 
Maggie, I said, “WAKE UP.”
Maggie, do you hear me?
Please God, make her wake up!”

"Wait a minute," you say. "Tom is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. In his last post he praised his 100-year-old mother for refusing to let age get her down." And so I did. But my point was that my mother has never dwelled in the past and is always striving to expand her horizons. She wants to learn new things. Contrast that with the Stones who for the most part will be performing songs released during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, and their Boomer fans, who will shell out an average of $500 plus per ticket to see them.

Boomers flock to see aging rocksters in concert, hoping they'll find them as vibrant and vital as they were half a century ago. If they do, that means they – the Boomer fans   must be, too. That’s an unrealistic expectation. The best one can hope to say is, “I saw the (insert group name here) last night. They did just fine and nobody died. At least nobody on the stage.”

Say I have a heart of stone but it's time for the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, The Beach Boys and other rockers who continue performing past their due dates to pack it in. They are rich. They are famous. They are revered. Their artistry will endure for generations. 

And while it may be fun and is certainly lucrative to pretend that time is on your side, the fact of the matter is, for aging rock stars, it isn't. 


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Vintage Ruby

My mother, Ruby Marie Tate Dryden See,
 who will be 100 years old tomorrow.
On a trip to Portugal two years ago, I visited a winery in the city of Porto, where the country’s renowned Port wines are blended, aged and bottled.

One enormous oak cask in the cellar holds wine that was made in 1847, the ultimate vintage for Port, a year in which sun, soil and moisture came together like it never has, before or since, to produce a fusion of extraordinary splendor. The guide explained that every year or so, the winemaker opens the spigot and tastes the wine. Astonishingly, it is continuing to improve with age.

So is my mother, Ruby, who was born April 3, 1913 – one-hundred years ago tomorrow – in the tiny town of Mineola, Mo.

Ruby's childhood memories are crystal clear. She remembers the fire that destroyed her family’s home when she was five and how she grieved about losing a doll Santa had brought her. She remembers the cyclone that lifted the Baptist Church from its foundation and blew it down the hill. She remembers her father coming up the road, waving a newspaper and yelling, “The war is over! The war is over!” (That’s World War I we’re talking about here.) She can recite poems – Evangeline, The Raven, Snowbound – she memorized in the one-room school she attended. My mother has a photographic memory.
The Tate sisters, Mineola, 1922.
 From left: Margaret, Lucille and Ruby.
Ruby attended Montgomery City High School, which she was representing in 1931 when she won the Missouri State High School Extemporaneous Speaking championship. She hasn't hesitated to speak her mind since.

She graduated from high school that year, the height of the Depression. There was no money for college. Hoping to land a political job, Ruby got herself elected secretary of the Montgomery County Democratic Party – she remains a staunch Democrat – but had to resign because she had no way to get back and forth to the county seat.
June 25, 1933: Ruby and Bud Dryden
on their wedding day.
She and my father, Bud, were married in 1933, and moved to Davis, Mo., a speck on the map at the junction of two gravel roads, where dad and his brother ran a general store.

In 1935 she gave birth to my brother, Jerry. In 1941, the family lost everything in a flood. My sister Judy was born the following year.

In 1944, the Drydens moved to Auxvasse, a town of 500, where dad purchased another general store. I arrived in 195l. Discovering she was pregnant came as a complete surprise. To this day my mother introduces me as her “change of life baby.”  
The Dryden family in 1963. From left: Tom, Judy, Jerry, Ruby and Bud.
Bud died of cancer in 1966. Ruby was 52. Though she grieved terribly, his death marked her rebirth as an independent, self-sufficient woman. The following year she took my sister and me halfway around the world, to Okinawa, where my Army officer brother and his family were living – hardly a typical trip for a small town housewife who had never traveled west of Kansas City.

At the time my father died, Ruby had no idea about her family's finances. She taught herself about the stock market, invested what Bud left her, multiplied it many times over, and lives on the proceeds today. When I was in college, mom had to have emergency gall bladder surgery. Her last words as she was wheeled away to the operating room weren’t, “I love you.” They were, “Call the broker and tell him I want 100 shares of Kroger.”

In 1976, when she was 63, Ruby sold her Auxvasse house and moved to the college town of Columbia where my sister and her young family lived.

In 1980, she took her grandson for a haircut and in the barber shop ran into Bill See, a retired physician with whom she had gone to high school. They married the next year, traveled the world and enjoyed each other’s company until his death in 1986 at which point, at 73, my mother found herself alone again.

Ruby and Dr. Bill See married in 1981.
And, once again, she didn’t waste time feeling sorry for herself. She adjusted her expectations and got on with life, taking pains to make sure she kept her mind razor-sharp so her children could have no doubt she had the ability to continue living on her own.

She read non-fiction constantly – two or three books a week; rarely watched TV, claiming that TV turns the mind to mush; played bridge, Scrabble, and became addicted to Sudoku puzzles.

In 1998, at 85, she underwent open-heart surgery. After rehabilitation, she decided she would cause her children less angst by moving to a retirement community. She listed her house and it quickly sold.

But the more she thought about it, the more depressing she found the prospect of living around old people, whom she had assiduously avoided for years, claiming they live in the past. She called the realtor to see if there was any way she could get out of selling the house.

The realtor reported the buyer, after agreeing to purchase her home, had found a house he liked better and would happily tear up the contract. Mom wept with relief.

Ruby bought her first Macintosh computer in 2000 and was so impressed with it she purchased Apple stock. Mom used her Mac to exchange emails with her far-flung family, track her finances and write her memoirs.
April, 2003: Ruby at her 90th birthday party.
Over the next 10 years, despite numerous episodes of congestive heart failure, chronically high blood pressure and several falls, including one from a step stool she had climbed at 92 to clean her kitchen shelves, mom continued to live alone.

Slowly but surely, she became unsteady on her feet. In 2008 she started using a walker to travel from her bedroom to her rocking chair in the kitchen which, most days, represented the extent of her exercise.

The older she became, the more fiercely she fought to maintain her independence, assuring us she was fine, while reminding us that she would rather be dead than move to an assisted living facility. She had her laundry room relocated from the basement, so she wouldn’t have to go up and down steps. She reconfigured her bathroom, removing the tub and replacing it with a shower stall she could walk into without risking a fall.

Her children and grandchildren were concerned but took Ruby at her word. We honestly believed she would die if forced to give up her house.

We insisted she wear a Lifeline pendant around her neck. If she needed to summon help in the middle of the night, she could press it and an ambulance would be on the way.
Summer, 2010: Ruby outside her home.
Mom was hospitalized with a particularly bad episode of congestive heart failure in the fall of 2010. Upon her release, she refused to go to a rehab facility and insisted on returning home. She said the physical therapists could visit her there just as easily as they could visit her at rehab, and that she would be more comfortable. She was 97.

My brother, sister and I finally put down our collective foot and demanded that mom hire a helper to come in every day to prepare breakfast, do laundry and run errands. Within a few months, mom had cut her back to three days a week, complaining about the expense but we knew it wasn’t the money that was bothering her. It was the fact that someone else was in her home.

My wife and I visited Ruby in October, 2011. Mom and I played several games of Scrabble. She opened one of them by forming a seven-letter word that earned her 50 bonus points – a difficult feat for a sharp 20-year-old, much less someone 98.

Our last night she cooked us a pot-roast dinner, complete with one of her famous butterscotch pies.

The next month -- the day she returned home from the hospital where she had been treated for high blood pressure -- Ruby was the victim of a home invader who beat, kicked, robbed and terrorized her and my sister, who walked in during the attack.

She spent the next two weeks in the skilled care section of a nursing home, where she received rehabilitative therapy to heal her broken ribs.

To our surprise, a few days before she was to be released, mom announced she wasn't going to return home. She would have done so in a heartbeat, but didn't want to worry her family any more than we were already worried. The nursing home had an available studio apartment in its Assisted Living wing. Ruby decided she would take it. On a temporary basis, of course. Maybe until spring, when everything would look better and she could return to her house. She would be able to take her meals in the dining room, there were nurses on call if she needed them, and her laundry would be done for her.

I flew to Missouri to move Ruby’s bedroom furniture and two chairs from her living room into her new residence. When I asked if she wanted me to bring any family photos, mom said no. I brought some anyway. She made me take all but one of them back. Family photographs were personal things you display in your home, and Assisted Living, she said, wasn’t her home.

“I hate being around all these old people,” she announced that first day as we made our way back to her apartment from the dining room. “I want to be around younger people.”

“All these people are younger than you,” I pointed out. She laughed. My mother has always been able to see the humor in any situation.

It took a few months but, to her family’s astonishment, Ruby liked Assisted Living. In ways, she said, she felt more independent than she had in her own home. She liked being able to take an elevator to the beauty shop. She liked the dining room, which, she declared, served up the kind of country cooking she had grown up eating. She liked being able to play bridge with her fellow residents, check out books from the library and attend movies in the theater. She liked that there was a post office in the lobby. “If I want to buy stamps or mail a letter,” she said, “I don’t even have to go outside.” She grew steadier on her feet, as she walked up and down the long hallways.

She had dreaded the loss of her privacy, but was pleased to learn that everyone left her alone. If she wanted to be around people, she could be. If not, nobody knocked on her door other than the nurses checking on her.

The Assisted Living facility didn’t have Internet service, so my nephews purchased a satellite uplink as a gift, enabling her to once again exchange emails with her family.

A new Assisted Living building was scheduled to open in the fall of 2012. Mom reserved a one-bedroom apartment and studied the floor plan, deciding where to place her furniture. “It’s going to be plush,” she said. “Like a nice hotel.”

In April, she decided to sell her house. “It doesn’t make sense to spend money to maintain it,” she said. “I’m not going back.” The house sold within a week.

June, 2012. Ruby and her children.
Last fall Ruby moved into her new apartment, where she has surrounded herself with her own possessions, including an oil painting of Mineola. Two months ago she testified at the trial of her assailant. She didn’t have to, but said she didn’t want any other victims to go through what she and my sister did.

Ruby's physical condition is precarious. She is hard of hearing, often short of breath and has high blood pressure. Sometimes when she picks up the phone, I can tell she isn’t feeling well. When I ask about it, she changes the subject. She doesn't dwell on her infirmities but is realistic about them. Occasionally she'll mention something she wants us to do when she's gone. We assure her we will. 

Summer 2012; Ruby and her niece, Mary Lou, who is
showing mom how to use the iPad she gave her.
Her mind, however, is amazing, and her horizons continue to expand. She is taking a writing class. She started using an iPad last year, and spends time every day on the Internet. She enjoys Facebook, which enables her to keep up with family and friends. Last week we discussed a book about the Franco-Prussian War she had stayed up late the previous night reading. "I didn't know much about that war," she said. "And I don't know what good it's going to do me to learn about it at this point, but I want to." She works her Sudoku puzzles and consistently wins at duplicate bridge. She has a new Scrabble partner, a woman 30 years her junior, and says she hopes she’ll someday be able to teach her to play well enough that she’ll actually have to work to beat her.

The movie "Lincoln" was released on DVD last week. Ruby went to see it in the Assisted Living Center's theater and sat on the front row, munching popcorn. She said Spielberg did a good job interpreting one of her favorite books, Doris Kearn Goodwin's "Team of Rivals."

Abraham Lincoln died 48 years before Ruby was born, and 18 years after that cask of Port was made.

I like to think that Ruby started out much as that ruby-colored Port did – as an ordinary vintage. Like the wine, she has, over time, transformed herself into something extraordinarily complex and strong with a character and substance that continues to evolve and improve.

Had she been born 50 years later, Ruby – of this I have no doubt – could have been anything she aspired to be. A banker. A journalist. A history professor, perhaps. She says she would have liked to have had a paying career.

My brother, sister and I are blessed to have been the beneficiaries of the unpaid career she took on in 1935 and continues to this day – as our mother. She is our rock, inspiration, joy and a source of pride and awe not only to us but to three generations of her extended family.

Here's a toast to you, Ruby Marie Tate Dryden See, on your one-hundredth birthday.

Two weeks ago: Ruby and her step-granddaughter, Samantha.