Thanks for the Memories, Mr. Treat

A childhood friend of mine just sent me updated information and the news, although not unexpected, still broke my heart.  In the past, I had tried to glean some news about this gentleman after I had graduated from high school, then college but to no avail. Of course, I’m talking years ago when access to the information sensory overload system we know as the World Wide Web had not infiltrated every library, classroom, home and cellphone. Heck, this was during the age when if you had a Princess phone, you were “in”. Most of us had to be satisfied with a rotary phone. For those of you still scratching your head…Google it. blackboard

Mr. William “Billy Joe” Treat was one of those rare instructors who, when reminiscing over your past academic career, stood out like a beacon from a crowd of blurred teachers standing at the helm of a classroom. They would drone on about a subject you were convinced you would never use while repeatedly checking the clock on the wall only to realize five minutes had passed from previous glancing. Five minute increments were excruciating in those days.

Mr. Treat’s class was different. There was always upbeat energy and it exuded from the man himself. Of medium height and fitness, Joe Treat boasted wavy, black hair and a heartfelt smile for each and every student who entered the class, every single day. He was a teacher of math, of percentages and chances. To him, math wasn’t simply a set of numbers pumped into equations but a creative and imaginative adventure. He was determined, come Hell or high water, his students would feel the same enthusiasm and I think he accomplished his goal.

Everyday, our class would filter in and the mood would become brighter. On the blackboard, (again for those unfamiliar with the concept…Google it) there were the normal mathematical equations all over except for one particular spot. The upper left hand corner was reserved a special number. In that box were the latest stats on the number of milkshakes Mr. Treat owed to the class or were available to win. It fluctuated continually during the school year but as a unit, our class was determined to win the day and wallow in milkshake heaven amid vanilla, chocolate and strawberry bliss. milkshakes

On one particular day, the betting was hot and heavy. The end of the year was approaching and our class had won little and lost heavily on equations of probability. Perhaps he took pity on our dejected expressions. We will never know for certain but what happened next literally materialized out of thin air. Out of his mouth came the most outrageous throwdown from an adult we had ever heard.

“Okay, class. I’ll give you one chance to redeem yourselves. I’ll bet 1,000 milkshakes I can outrun any one in this class in a race!”

You could have a heard a pin drop as gaping mouths and stunned silence descended. For the next ten seconds, not one sound was uttered. Obviously, the class was mulling over their options. The stakes were high and the clock was indeed ticking away.

To this day, I will never understand how what happened next happened. Of it’s own volition and without my consent or knowledge, an arm slowly arose. It wasn’t until I saw Mr. Treat grinning from ear to ear and coming to stand in front of my desk with chalk in hand, that I understood the depth of that limb betrayal. He was serious!

The bell rang shortly thereafter and apparently in that short amount of time, self designated champions had been decided the race would take place immediately after school and in the playground. By today’s standards, it sounded like a rumble had been arranged.

I am, by nature, a private person. In middle school, I was even more so. As the day wore on, I hoped “the race” would remain within the walls of our math class. Middle school in those days spanned 7th and 8th grade…all in all approximately 300 students per grade. I figured, if I was lucky, perhaps only a few friends outside the math class might get wind of the “event” which would round up to an acceptable number of witnesses…say 35-40. Nothing too crazy.  As the day wore on, my hopes began to sink. Every knowing smile and nod increased the body count..

Quite the crowd had arrived after school. If not the entire school at least a large majority of it came to see “the great race”. Mr. Treat appeared in crisp white gym shorts and white t-shirt. He wore one of those black sweat bands around his head. As I entered the foray, he was stretching athletically. I’m happy to report that the crowd was evenly divided…perhaps a few more in his favor, a little intimidating but oddly comforting as well.

We lined up and the PE teacher graciously vofoot racelunteered to fire the gun. When it went off, surprisingly Mr. Treat shot off the line like a dart. I have to admit all sorts of thoughts went through my mind at the time but despite the fact he pulled ahead in the beginning, I overtook him midway and triumphed in the end. One thousand milkshakes were ours…at least for the next 24 hours.

We lost them in a complicated equation the next day.  But perhaps that was the point all along.

Mr. Treat wanted to instill enthusiasm, not just in math but in life. To achieve a goal is amazing, but so is the journey to get there. I don’t remember the equations in his class or who sat on either side of me but I do remember that race, the student body surrounding us on both sides, the cheering, the laughter and the sheer fun of that afternoon. He was as gracious publicly losing that race as he was in winning back all those milkshakes the next day.  It is a memory I’ve cherished for many decades.

“Billy Joe” Treat lived life by example. He passed away peacefully in 2001 and wanted no fanfare or ceremony after his death. Somehow, that little nugget didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me is the fact he and his wife had no children. Then again, he had lots of children…students who, year after year, passed through his doors and soaked up his message of enthusiasm for life like a sponge. He lives on in their memories like he does in mine. My only regret is not thanking you in person, Mr. Treat.

God speed!

 

 

 

You can’t be Serious!

 

I’m a reasonable person…at least I like to think so. Be prepared: A good motto in this crazy world we live in. However, recently I had the sneaky suspicion there might possibly be a breach in my credit. So, like a smart little cookie, I began to call the credit reporting agencies to freeze my account until such time I could determine the truth.

First call – TransUnion. I dial the proper number and a happy little individual chirped.
“Hello. My name is Sven. How may I be of assistance today.” I thhesitated. For one thing, this gentleman named Sven didn’t sound even remotely like a fair haired Norwegian individual. He possessed the distinct accent of someone from a country located near the Bay of Bengal or perhaps the one adjoining beginning with the letter “P”.

“What country have I been connected to?” I asked politely.

“I am not at liberty to say. May I have your social security number, please?”

“Umm, not yet. Can you tell me, am I speaking to someone in the United States?”

“No, ma’am. Now, in order to assist you, may I have your social security number please?”

“No…I don’t think so. Can you connect me to someone in the states? Sven…was it?”

Let me preface, although polite, this man was somewhat difficult to understand and taking the name of “Sven” didn’t pass the smell test. But more importantly, I could not believe our three major credit reporting agencies would be outsourcing sensitive, private information. How did this happen? When did this happen? Further digging was required.

According to an article in sfgate.com, back in 2003, Congress amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Apparently, the change required the credit agencies to provide copies of personal credit files to anyone who asked. Kind of a stupid blanket amendment, I think. The credit agencies were aghast. The result would be expensive. TransUnion estimated the cost to be $350 billion a year. My guess is this is an exaggeration, however we will never know for sure and it suited their next move.Without much fanfare and accompanied by the typical vehement denials, slowly but surely, the three major credit reporting agencies began to outsource this sensitive material to companies they deemed secure outside the US.  IMHO, inviting serious unintended consequences from an ill conceived idea not thoroughly thought out…on both Congress and Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

Call me what you want, but I don’t remember anyone asking the opinion of John or Suzie Q Public if they wanted their personal information tossed out there like New Year’s confetti. While it’s understood security breaches can occur in the good ole US of A, the infrastructure to ensure protection may not be as secure in these outside countries. Furthermore, the US laws protecting the citizens aren’t necessarily enforceable over there. Feeling warm and fuzzy yet?

Originally Social Security numbers were only to be used to track individuals’ accounts within the Social Security program and were first issued in 1935 as part of the New Deal program. As a matter of fact, prior to 1986, parents didn’t have to register their children until they reached the age of 14. Prior to the Tax Reform Act of 1986, parents were expected to be honest and accurately report the number of children they claimed as dependents. I would like to report this piece of legislation as superfluous. Unfortunately the following year seven million fewer minors were claimed. Ah well, I digress.th

From January 1946 through January 1972, Social Security cards expressly stated; NOT FOR IDENTIFICATION. It was later removed. And although the government can’t require anyone to reveal their Social Security number without a legal basis, nowadays one can’t finance a roll of toilet paper without providing one. It has no photograph, no address, no birth date or pertinent information other than those 9 digits permanently attached to all the nitty gritty details of a each and every individual. No such item in one’s wallet or purse holds the amount of power to destroy or build as that little card with those individual numbers and nothing is more openly shared, to the detriment of thousands.

You would think caretakers of such precious data would be more responsible and circumspect.

The architects of these decisions can best be described by only the last two syllables of the word oxymoron(s).

 

 

The “Village” is Disintegrating

It Takes a Village was the catchphrase in the late 1990’s. According to Wikipedia, it proclaimed a vision for the children of America mainly focused on education. The tenet was simple. For better or worse, individuals and groups outside the family impact a child’s well being and that society should meet children’s needs. The vision, an admirable goal, had and still has chinks IMHO, but that is not the issue.

The “Village” is theoretically comprised of not only children but of young adults, mature and elderly.  The picture isn’t as pretty for those at the other end of the spectrum.

Recently, I had a distressing conversation with a physician’s wife. Her husband had scheduled major surgery for a patient who had been under his care for a number of years. This was no ordinary procedure but a life saving operation. The next day,  he was stunned to learn this patient had contacted the office and cancelled. He, of course, returned the call as soon as possible and asked why? Why would she cancel when the procedure was crucial?

The answer literally broke his heart.

She had no way to return home afterward.

She explained that her husband had passed over a year ago. Her children lived out of state and couldn’t return at that time and her neighbor, the only one she could think of, was under the weather. There was no one to drive her home.

How sad that our lives seem to revolve around smartphones, ridiculous sitcoms and communication today consists of texting instead of face to face conversations. How utterly grim to learn that an elderly woman would call off a life altering procedure simply because she had no one to call.

My fervent hope is this is not the norm but a sad singular situation…that most respect those who have achieved those “golden years”. Stories such as these always remind me of a particular epigram.

“As you are…so was I.  As I am….so shall you be.”

There is a wonderful conclusion to this story. Not only did the physician drive the patient home, his wife cooked several days of food for the patient. Now that’s the definition of a hopeful village.

In Search of Kitschy on the Open Road

For me, turning on the ignition, tossing the map out the window and heading to unknown destinations is a delightful adventure. Traveling beyond city limits reaopen-roaddily provides a glimpse into our gentler past for there still remain worn reminders aplenty. If you have ever followed a narrow spit of asphalt past county lines where decades of saw-tooth fractures have been patched with heavy tar leaving a zig zag pattern like errant lightning strikes, you know what I’m talking about. Along these leftover remnants of our original highway system sit strings of motor and auto courts…motor hotels, better known as motels dotting the landscape.

In their heyday, over 60,000 dotted the countryside, forged from America’s burgeoning love affair with the automobile. No longer relegated to a limited radius of travel, families set out to explore beyond their backyards, the promise of excitement whistling in the wind. My own memory is a flashback to the late 60’s for our yearly spring trek from central Illinois to St. Petersburg, Florida to visit cousins. Stuffing our old station wagon with suitcases, pillows and bodies, off we’d go. At the end of the day, my father would begin looking for his favorite lodging establishment, easily identified by their bright orange roofs, capped off with a cupola and weather vane. Howard Johnson’s, a popular no frills chain, became famous for their “fried clams” and 28 flavors of butterfat rich ice cream. At the tender age of ten, the only idea worse than eating worms would be try fried clams. On the other hand, 28 opportunities to savor creamy deliciousness other than vanilla…my definition of heaven. Back then, travel was about the journey, not the destination.

During their infancy, the basic motel model of construction was simple and almost Bohemian. Designed economically, they were usually L or U shaped, framed a public lawn and fondly referred to as cottage or motor courts. Family and automobile friendly, they allowed guests to park conveniently next to their rooms. Unlike their snooty city counterparts, these roadside retreats stressed function not fancy. Travel time between large cities could take up to two or three days and these “Mom & Pop” sites became oases for as each motel popped up, so did diners, filling stations and general stores. The promise of a warm shower and cozy bed beckoned weary travelers when the warm glow of red, blue and green electric neon signs, piercing the night sky like a lighthouse beacon, loomed on the horizon.

1st-motel-in-us    Regarded as the original first motel, Milestone Mo-tel built in San Louis Obispo offered a two room bungalow with a drive-in garage for $1.25 per night. Located within a day’s driving from Los Angeles, the builder, Arthur Hienemen had a vision of building several motels all the way to Seattle like stepping stones along the coast. Instead of Holiday Inns, we might have seen Hieneman Inns if it hadn’t been for The Depression.

Another noteworthy motel was The Sanders Court in Corbin, KY. Unlike others, their accommodations included not only tile baths but an abundance of hot water! Instead of a simple mattress, guests would enjoy a Perfect Sleeper bed along with air conditioning and a radio in every room. Today, a Kentucky Fried Chicken stands on the site where Harland Sanders began his empire but one can still find postcards of the original Sanders Court in local antique stores. Stories such as these can be found in every black dot on every map of every state.

The 1950’s saw a booming expansion of motels as America took to the road in earnest. Not satisfied with mere day trips, people set out to find what lay across the country. This period also ushered in the terms “Novelty”, “Googie”, and “Doo Wop” architecture. Wigwams, teepees and even decommissioned railroad cars were used as accommodations. These quirky motels thrived, popularizing the term kitschy, describing something so tacky that it holds a special appeal. And the quirkiness didn’t stop on the outside. Ask any person under the age of forty to tell you about their experience with “Magic Fingers” you’ll likely be shunned as a slightly odd individual. Truth is these mechanical devices were attached to almost every bed in every motel at one time. For a quarter, cone-motela person received fifteen minutes of vibrating mattress bliss designed for relief from everyday stress. Ah, they knew how to cater to those traveling salesmen back then. When coupled with the advent of swimming pools, steam heat in the winter and air conditioning, free TV and phones, an overnight motel stay was a bargain at $8.00 – $10.00 per night.

A short time later, a certain gentleman returned home from a family trip, terribly disappointed with the motels he had visited on his trip to Washington, DC. Some facilities were filthy, others spotless. Some offered dining, others didn’t and not all offered swimming pools. A successful real estate developer, Mr. Kemmons Wilson decided to build his first motel along the main highway in Memphis. Every one he built thereafter would be the same, offering televisions, air conditioning, a swimming pool and a restaurant. He believed the amenities offered in Daytona Beach should be the same amenities offered in Memphis. His motel was named after a delightful musical starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby called Holiday Inn. (See…Mr. Heineman really was onto something.)

With his simple idea, Mr. Kemmons created the franchise chain concept. Only three years later, another began in Arizona opening with the moniker of Ramada, Spanish for “a shaded resting place”.  Others obviously followed, but the creation of the first national room reservation system belongs to Holiday Inn. For the independent owners, membership in this system appeared to be a double edged sword. By joining, individual establishments would be included in a roster promising high standards to their customers. In the long run, however, being represented by a franchise chain came at a cost…a cost, in the long run, most couldn’t afford. Furthermore, for the vast majority, the introduction of the US Interstate System signaled the beginning of their descent into obscurity.

Perhaps you may have heard of Amboy, California, home to Roy’s Motel and Café. No? Don’t feel bad. I hadn’t either. However, almost everyone is familiar with the “Main Street of America” – Route 66. This particular highway, the crown jewel of the transportation system, originally ran all the way frroy-s-in-amboyom Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA slicing through the heart of middle America. From one end to the other, little blips of homespun hospitality sprang up around the motels built on that famous stretch. People really did get their kicks on Route 66. Amboy’s existence, single handedly built by Roy Crowl in the 1940’s, became a bustling desert pit stop. Besides Roy’s Motel and Café, Mr. Crowl along with his son eventually opened a gas/service station which kept them both busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At the time, the population of Amboy numbered around 700. However, on a sunny afternoon in 1972, all that changed. Interstate 40 opened, bypassing nearly all the towns and motels whose existence depended on a steady stream of traffic. With a stroke of a pen, these delightful little boroughs swiftly turned into ghost towns, dust bowls frequented by tumbleweeds.

With travel based on expediency and the life blood of motels dwindling away, most of these iconic structures were soon abandoned, demolished or worse, maintained as “cockroach motels” renting rooms by the hour.

While most have gone the way of the dodo, a few gems remain. Across the country, popular tourist attractions and beach communities proudly promote these old motels, lovingly restored and owned by people ready to cater to their clients whom they regard as family. The décor may have remained the same, the size of the complimentary soap useful for only one shower and towels the size of dish cloths still as rough as a loofah but if you find yourself off the beaten path, they are definitely worth the price. Who knows? You may even be lucky enough to stumble on the rare motel offering those “Magic Fingers”. If not, I know a vendor who sells them on Ebay for a song.

It happened When I blinked.

I have to confess…I postponed and delayed it. I prevaricated and accidentally on purpose, forgot. I cajoled, scolded, denied, the request. I danced around the subject so well, Mikhail Baryshnikov would have been impressed. I found every opportunity to waylay the inevitable. But like any young buck, chomping at the bit for that first taste of real freedom, I realized he could no longer be ignored.

So today, as my son sauntered happily into the DMV with me slowly  plodding along, bringing up the rear I watched as he crossed yet another threshold. I am, of course, talking about the dreaded upgrade from Driver’s Permit to Driver’s License.

“Did you bring your permit”

“Yes , mom. Do you have the insurance information?”th

“Yes.”

“Did you bring the registration?”

“Yes, Chase. In the glove compartment.”

“Did you bring my  birth certificate?”

“WHAT? You never told me you needed your birth certificate!!”

“Just kidding, mom.”

We made his appointment with literally a minute to spare. Darn..I was so close!”

Given only three minutes to cram from a one page, laminated study sheet, the Official Driving Instructor called his name and off my “little” man went. He returned about twenty  minutes later, walking two feet above ground.

“I passed, Mom! He said I was the best student he’d had that day! Can you believe it?”

Actually, I believe I can. Life is a wonderful enigma. The Rites of Passage of have existed throughout time. Oh , the characters and the scenery have changed. Even the definition of what we consider Rites has changed. And yet, it all remains the same. The “little” man who went out the door returned simply, a young man well on his way to wherever his dreams may take him. Our parents watched us venture out alone as did their parents before them and so on. It makes no difference if was on the family mule or the horse and buggy , the Model T, the family station wagon or Dad’s pickup truck. That very first taste of freedom is intoxicating and first only happens once. So although I approached this moment with very mixed emotions, I wouldn’t take away one minute of the euphoria from my son. He’s earned it.

I hear him call from upstairs.

“Hey Mom. Didn’t you need something from the grocery store? I can go to Publix if you want.”

Ah, I remember those days too.

And so it begins.

If I Close My Eyes

hands_held

 

If I close my eyes, her lovely face swims before me and I vividly remember the first time we met. Lightly grasping my wrist and checking my pulse in the military hospital ward, she unconsciously  brushed a stray strand of straw colored hair behind one ear; such a simple fluid gesture. Noticing my steadfast gaze, she smiled with such youthful radiance, I knew my heart would forever belong to her.

If I close my eyes and breathe deeply, the memory of jasmine and rose comes flooding back to haunt me. Having accepted my offer to dance, she placed her delicate hand in mine and guiding her to the dance floor, the orchestra began a long, slow waltz. With my arm around her tiny waist and her head tucked close, the intoxicating perfume carried my away until only the two of us remained.  The magic of that night stays with me to this day.

If I close my eyes and listen, her lilting laughter once again fills my soul. It is the sound I heard I proposed to her bent upon one knee. It is the melody I remember as she tossed the wedding bouquet. It is the music that filled our daily lives and made dark days so much brighter and what my heart aches to hear again.

                Every day I visit her, sitting quietly, stroking her hand. Some days are better than others, but most are not.  I have become the keeper of our past, regaling her with pictures of our children and grandchildren in the fervent hope one may spark a glimmer of recognition if only for a moment. She stares without seeing or knowing, a helpless prisoner of Alzheimer’s. She does not know me, but when I open my eyes, she remains and always will be the woman I will cherish forever.