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Filed under: prairie musings, Jeffee Palmer, Women's Rights — Peg Britton @ 10:27 am

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out What it Means to Me
by Now and Thenadays

Although the R’s keep stressing that this election is about the economy, women’s reproductive rights and access to health care keep running out on the battlefield.  As everyone has probably heard by now, Missouri U.S. Senate candidate, Todd Akin (R) expressed his belief in a bizarre bit of health news – at least it was news to us.  He explained that he’d heard that women have a magical form of birth control that prevents a pregnancy when she is legitimately raped.   Whatever the craziness of the biology, surely we can agree that a term that pairs the word “legitimate” with the word “rape” should be declared illegal or, at least, disqualify the utterer from ever running for public office.  Thankfully, Missourians have an option to vote against him and for Clare McCaskill, a woman with a firm grasp on her own biology.

And the selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate can hard quell the concerns of many women in this country about the R stance on reproduction.  He was the co-author with the previously-mentioned Akin of a bill that made a distinction between forcible rape and the rape of a non-forcible variety.  Are they trying to say that rape can be consensual?  I have to wonder about their English-speaking credentials since the definitions the dictionary lists are: 1) the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse; 2) any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.  In other words, non-forcible rape is an oxymoron.   Rape minus force equals consensual intercourse or what many call, a roll in the hay.

Obviously, this public discourse on the subject of women and their bodies is going in a direction that R’s would rather not go.  They continue stressing that this election is about  the economy, jobs, jobs, and piles of jobs.  The folly of this attempt was summed up well by a panel of women on a recent Melissa Harris-Perry’s show on MSNBC:  to divorce women’s reproductive rights and access to health care from the economy doesn’t make any sense.  As Dr. Harris-Perry said: there is no way to get a job if you are constantly pregnant.

Taking the one divergent view, one of Melissa’s panelists, Monica Mehta, stated that she felt women should be more interested in jobs, her position being that once you have a  good job, you can argue with your leadership to obtain reproductive rights.  But wait, Ms. Mehta, we already did that.  How many more times will we have to do that?

As another panelist, Rebecca Traister, pointed out, the R’s seem to be in a time machine, lost in the days before women and minorities had access to political and economic power, representing women at their convention as symbols of “we’ve got some of those,” rather than having them speak about how an R presidency would continue or increase opportunities for women.  There wasn’t even a subtext that the government had worked for us before and it can continue to be a strong player in future efforts.  They seemed to be in denial that they worked in government jobs and they stood before the world based on opportunities created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Title IX, the Minority Enterprise Development Commission, and the EEOC, to name a few.  Of course, they would have to admit that these legislative efforts were all passed under D presidents, a fact they must avoid.  About their success, the speeches of Nikki Haley, Susana Martinez, and Condoleeza Rice suggested that “I built it,” or the tried and true “I pulled myself up by the bootstraps” dogma.

Ann Romney, of course, was an exception to the success in government/academia portrayed by the aforementioned female speakers.  If the other women represented the brains of the R sisterhood, Mrs. Romney represented the heart, making her subject “love,” in particular, love of family, devotion to children, and the way women sigh a little harder than men, an issue that none of us doubted.  I would have been interested in hearing just a note of self-awareness that she had it easier than most women in America, particularly the single parents, the working women, and those who didn’t marry as well as she.

In Dr. Rice’s defense, she did make a reference to surmounting her background in Jim  Crow Birmingham, but she deftly sidestepped the issue of how government had paved her way by putting an end to legal racism and segregation.  Instead, she explained her success by her good luck in having parents who believed she could grow up to be president!   What I wonder is whether their belief was formed before or after the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act?   Doing the math, I see that she was born in 1954, and would have been 10 and 11, respectively.  Could her parents really envision her ability to reach the highest levels of our government before either of those?   But, she has to be coherent in a party that trumpets family values and ignore that its stated goal since inauguration day has been to rid the country of its first Black president, simply because he is black and believes that government creates opportunities for others like himself, along with women and other minorities.

Women aren’t needed on the stages of our country just appear as symbols that suggest women can make it if they’d only work hard enough.  They are needed to help engage us in some inter-connected thinking.  As Irin Carmon of noted during the panel discussion, these women should have pointed out that, while they can be role models, they are able to do this because of birth control and the ability to control when they start a family.  At the very least, they need to at least acknowledge that women are affected differently by parenthood and that it’s in society’s interest to recognize that fact.

I recall an elderly woman whose best friend had died recently.  I asked her when she and the deceased  had become friends.  She explained that she had met her through their kid’s school PTA and soon thereafter, her friend became pregnant with her fourth child.  Her friend didn’t have to worry economically, but she didn’t know where she was going to get the energy to handle another child.  Her friend lent her a shoulder to cry on and helped her cope with that pregnancy.

Just think how none of us, the female children and grandchildren of that generation have had to experience a body out of our control, instead, having the size of families we want, not what some angry white men want us to have.  Simply put, keeping us in the pregnancy lottery devalues all women and our contributions to the world beyond procreation.

If only Ann Romney had borrowed Chris Christie’s speech when he reported what his mother had said to him:  She told me there would be times in your life when you have to choose between being loved and being respected.  She said to always pick being respected.   As Aretha Franklin sings:  R- E -S- P- E- C- T, find out what it means to me.  You’ll find that it means one helluva lot to most women.



Filed under: prairie musings, Jeffee Palmer — Peg Britton @ 11:08 am

New post on Now and Thenadays

By Jefee Palmer
Comrades in Arms and Benefits

If more of us spoke French, I’d introduce my father, Eugene Palmer, as a raconteur, a great storyteller.  He qualified in this category by being around a long time, having many opportunities to meet a lot of characters, and possessing an appreciation and talent for public speaking.  Although I sometimes believe I’ve already heard his really good ones, I’m not sure anymore.  Either there are still new stories to hear, or they just sound new to me with my slipping memory.  For example, the other day, we were talking about a long-time friend of his, who’s a decade or so older than him, and I asked about his health.  Dad reported that, last he heard, his friend was still around and kicking.  In fact, he said, he’s probably getting ready for his yearly celebration of Hitler’s birthday.  I was surprised to hear this and responded (as any sane person would), “You have got to be kidding!”

But no, he wasn’t.  This friend, you see, is known to say, “If it weren’t for Hitler, I would have been making a living selling tacos in East Austin.”   But WWII came along, he was drafted, became a fighter pilot, and returned to Austin to graduate from college and law school on the GI Bill.   I guess gratitude takes various forms.

The subject of the GI Bill prompted me to bring up Lawrence O’Donnell’s promo for his  show on MSNBC, which I described to him (since MSNBC is too liberal to make his watch list), O’Donnell explains how his father used his GI benefits as a World War II veteran to attend college, which enabled him to earn a living that allowed him to send his five children to college. O’Donnell ends by saying, “It’s the most successful educational program that we’ve ever had in this country — and the critics called it welfare.”

“So, as a recipient of GI Bill benefits,” I asked my conservative father (provocative child that I am), “did you consider yourself a beneficiary of government welfare?”

I’m not sure what I expected his response to be, but I was surprised when he said “No, but I was initially inclined to refuse the benefits because I didn’t feel worthy.”  Explaining that he had an easy time of it, while men he had trained with were dying in Korea, he tells the following about his military service:

I was a Speech major at SMU until I made the truly dumb decision to drop out of college at  the end of my sophomore year.  That led me to being invited (drafted) to join Uncle Sam’s army.  The first stop was Fort Riley, Kansas for infantry basic training.   As we trained in 1952, the second year of the Korean Conflict, everyone was worried about being sent to Korea on a ‘one way ticket.’

One of my buddies was a guy named Jack Straus, a former basketball player at Texas  A & M.  One day, he and I were among several small groups firing live rounds from mortars.  We were among several assigned to the same gun and, at some point, got thirsty in the heat of the summer afternoon.  Our canteen water was warm, so we asked the drill sergeant for permission to go down the hill to the tent where the noncoms had cold water.  He suggested that might be a court-martial offense, to which Straus responded, ‘And how does that compare with Korea?’  The sergeant looked at us disgustedly and barked resignedly, ‘You college guys are all alike.  Just go get the water.’

When we neared the water tent, we heard an explosion and looked around to see many of the guys we were training with lying on the ground.  In fact, as we ran back, we could see that the very gun we had been firing appeared to have exploded, hitting fellow trainees for 20 to 30 yards away

The first person we reached was our First Sergeant (who we didn’t even know was in the vicinity) lying on his back, moaning and bleeding from shrapnel to the groin area.   We whipped off our belts to make a tourniquet and bandaged as best we could with our handkerchiefs.  In his pain, the sergeant told us, “Boys, if you get me through this, I promise you guys will never serve a day in Korea.”

A few days later, it came time to get shots, and the whole company, including Jack and me, was sent to get Far East inoculations.  Of course, we figured the sergeant had forgotten.  But then, when everyone got their orders, the entire company, except for the two of us, was sent to Korea.  I was assigned to the German occupation army and Jack  remained at Fort Riley to play on the post basketball team.

After learning of our assignments, we went by the hospital to thank the sergeant.  We began by telling him that after being sent to get the shots, we figured that he had forgotten his promise to keep us from being ordered to Korea.  At this, he raised up on his elbows and bellowed, ‘Well, I can change the orders back if you want me to!!!’  We very quickly told him that we weren’t complaining and that we had come by to tell him just how thankful we were that he had remembered.  We were very, very grateful, we assured him.

Upon my arrival in Germany, the personnel placement officer saw that my last civilian  occupation was as a radio announcer and told me that there were no openings in that field.  Instead, he thought he had information and education positions (involving research and public speaking), but I wasn’t too hopeful that this would work out, imagining that I’d arrive at an infantry division and find that such jobs were filled, resulting in placement in the walking infantry.

Instead, I was ordered to the 97th General Hospital in Frankfurt, a large, 1,000-bed facility,  where I spent a relatively pleasant 16 months preparing and delivering talks to the hospital personnel.  I was ordered to present talks on an array of subjects that included U.S. government and civics, the Russian army, the black market in Germany, and venereal diseases.  Even while there was fear that the Russian troops, stationed in East Germany about 50 or 60 miles away would invade Frankfort and perhaps capture some of us, I knew other conscripts like me were battling and dying in Korea.

When I was released from active duty, therefore, I was reluctant to avail myself of the GI Bill to continue my education.  After all, the most dangerous episode I experienced was at Fort Riley in the aforementioned training exercise from which I was saved by a fortuitous thirst for cold water.  I discussed this concern with my fiancé’s wealthy uncle , Meyer Donosky, who basically gave me the 1950’s equivalent of ‘that’s just crazy talk,’ pointing out that I was just as worthy as many other veterans.   Benefits, he noted, were not offered on the basis of some level of suffering and sacrifice.  I finally decided to accept the government’s financial assistance to complete my undergraduate degree at SMU and obtain a law degree from the University of Texas.  So much for the radio announcing career that served me so well (along with some very good luck).”

As an interesting epilogue on good luck, he kept up with his buddy Jack Straus, who never played much more basketball after the war.  Instead, he made a living playing high stakes poker (a skill he undoubtedly perfected at Fort Riley) and won the World Series of Poker in 1982 and was known for successfully pulling off one of the best bluffs in the history of poker.

So, while my dad did not consider the GI Bill to be welfare, I’m sure there were many politicians then who sat on the sidelines and railed about the “dole” to GIs, just like there are those today who complain about anything with a scent of a giveaway (like veteran health care) — even though they have never served a day in this country’s military.  Guys like my father or his friend who throws the Hitler birthday party know that their own lives better, but more importantly, that this country is a better place because men such as themselves were able to get educations after their return from military service.

In conclusion, let me take this opportunity to warn him that I will feel free to use this information as ammunition next time he accuses me of being a socialist.  And come to think of it, he receives Medicare and social security.  So let’s just face the facts, Dad — we are all socialists now.



Filed under: political musings, print news, Civil/Gay Rights, Jeffee Palmer — Peg Britton @ 3:36 pm

By nowandthenadays

Jeffee Palmer … lawyer, historian, writer, mother, grandmother, native Texan, UT grad, and proud Austinite!

Paging through the December 28th Austin American Statesman, I skimmed headlines until  I was stopped on page A-7.  Catching my attention was “Israeli girl’s plight highlights religious extremism” headlining the story of an 8 year-old American immigrant, sporting a pony tail and eyeglasses, who was spat upon as she walked to school by Ultra orthodox Jewish extremists.  They would yell and call her a “whore” for dressing immodestly, even though she wore the standard dress for mainstream Jewish religious schools, a dress with long sleeves and skirt.  She sobbed on her way to school. “They were scary,” she said.  “They don’t want us to go to school.”

As I finished that horrific story, my eyes wandered upwards to the “World Digest” section where I read that an Egyptian court had banned ‘virginity testing’ of detainees.”   I discovered that the Egyptian military had put female detainees through virginity tests so that it could defend itself from accusations of rape.  The purpose of the tests were “to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place.”  Obviously, once a woman is determined not to be a virgin, she could not prove that she was raped while in custody, in essence, separating those who could not be raped with impunity from those who could be.

After that discouraging report, the next digested world news was headlined “Somalia women face growing rape dangers.”   In Somalia, I read, the Islamic militant group al-Shabab is seizing women and girls as spoils of war, gang raping and abusing them. Other armed men are also preying on women and girls.  In the past two months, from Mogadishu alone, the UN has received more than 2,500 reports of gender-based violence.

If the newspaper layout editor was seeking to make the point that women are under siege by placing these articles all on the same page, he/she was preaching to the choir.  Yes, indeed, there is a war on women and we are not winning.  Even in this country we experience blips of progress, only to see them chipped away by legislators and judges who would steer us back into our “proper” female roles, living at the mercy of our biology and the male libido.

My hopes for women being treated as citizens with equal rights have been strapped in on a long roller coaster ride since those heady days in my 20s when I thought American women had achieved equality in the courts and congress with Roe v. Wade and decisions and legislation preventing gender discrimination.   But it didn’t take too many years before the backlash started and the ride began its downward trajectory.

For you who would remind me that it could be worse, I do consider ourselves in America fortunate because we aren’t subjected to direct assaults, batteries, and rapes that women in other countries experience.  American women are merely threatened with losing their rights as Congress, legislatures, and courts become the guardians of our wombs and ensure our status as baby makers.  Yes, there are worse fates, but it’s a bad one when you were raised to think we were going to have educations, careers, and be equal in all ways to our male counterparts, in addition to being mothers when the time and partner was right.  Instead, there are great numbers of folks who want to force baby-making no matter how the baby seed was planted, e.g., by knife to the throat or advantage-taking of a child.

If this isn’t an exercise in controlling women, it must be a strange womb fetish because these babies aren’t valued much once they depart the womb.  And as a mechanism to control women, these officials and their pep squads seem to be aiming at the wrong demographic.  Maybe those conservative men just get all flustered thinking of vaginas and uteruses, because the women who are most threatening to their control agenda are those who can afford both birth control and abortions, as hard as they try to make them.  Instead, they wage war to cripple (or preferably, dismantle) Planned Parenthood, often the only refuge for low-income women.

But, maybe I judge too soon.  Maybe those Republicans running for the presidential nomination have figured that womb-control via abortion rights doesn’t hit the right target, so they’ve come out against a better tool:  outlaw contraception!!  Wow!  That would hit where it hurts!   But would the sexual revolution that was birthed by “the pill” go back into the box?  I have to wonder whether American men would be happy living in a country of chaste females, waiting to wear wedding rings before sex.

Perhaps this prospect could be the hook to entice our 20-something male population (50% of that undependable voting demographic) into guaranteed participation in the political process.  I’m willing to try anything to stop this onward march against women’s rights.  Wouldn’t it be the height of irony if our freedom from reproductive fascism were achieved by enlisting the forces of our youngest, most libidinous male citizens?

Fortunately, women can still vote, too, and for that I am eternally grateful to those women in the late 1800s and early 1900s who fought the fight to obtain that right.  In that regard,  the movie Iron Jawed Angels starring Hilary Swank and Frances O’Connor, should be required viewing.   This movie tells the story of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns who put their lives on the line to fight for American women’s  right to vote.  While picketing for women’s suffrage, they are arrested on the trumped-up charge of “obstructing traffic,” even though their picket line is on the sidewalk.  Refusing to pay a fine for a crime they didn’t commit, the women were sentenced to sixty days in a Virginia women’s prison.  Insisting that were political prisoners, Burns demanded the warden respect their rights, only to be cuffed with her arms above her cell door.  In solidarity and defiance, the other suffragettes assumed the same painful posture.  Thrown into solitary confinement for breaking a window for fresh air, Paul went on a hunger strike.  She was then denied counsel, placed in a straitjacket, and subjected to examination in the psychiatric ward.  The doctor told President Wilson that Paul showed no signs of mania or delusion (that would justify keeping her there), and she is returned to the prison’s general population, where she led the suffragettes on a hunger strike.  The warden then started force-feeding them, but never broke them.

Every American should see this depiction of feeding by force.  I had often heard of the process, but I had never seen how it was accomplished and I will never think of it in the same way again.  More importantly, since seeing this movie, I have never cast a ballot without recalling what these brave and passionate women experienced so that I could vote for the people who govern my life.

And as we select our leaders in this election year, let’s not lay down and enjoy it.  Instead, reject any candidate who would continue to imprison us in our biology and restrict us from the scientific advances of the last century that prevent unwanted pregnancies.  It is not a far step from imprisoning women and sticking funnels down their throats to supporting a return to the old days of back alley abortions and requiring women to carry the children of their rapists.  Furthermore, we can’t pretend that forcing women to hear pre-abortion lectures and view sonograms is not a part of that goal.

Happy 39th anniversary of making a difference in women’s lives, Planned Parenthood!



Filed under: prairie musings, recipes, Jeffee Palmer — Peg Britton @ 8:27 am

New post on Now and Thenadays

Jeffee Palmer
Lawyer, historian, writer, mother, grandmother, native Texan, UT grad, and proud Austinite!

Observer of life who writes about language, literature, history, and politics. I have worked in state government for over 35 years, nine years in the Legislature, nine years in the Comptroller’s office, and 20 years practicing law at the Attorney General’s office.


The Proof is in the Pudding
by nowandthenadays

Food goes hand in hand, or hand to mouth, with the holidays.  In our family, we generally choose the traditional holiday fare, coming together for Thanksgiving at my Uncle Bob and Aunt Jerilyn’s house to eat turkey, her inimitable cornbread dressing, and real giblet gravy.  The rest of us bring all the other traditional meal components – a baked ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, broccoli/rice casserole, fruit salad, green salad, etc.

For Christmas, we’ve occasionally gone “alternative,” but invariably, we return to the traditional fare for the next Christmas.  The turkey/dressing and all the rest is our comfort food, partly, I believe, because Christmas can get so complicated, it’s a relief not to have to think much about at least one element of the holiday.

Also, it’s comforting how the traditional fare, with its tastes and smells of holidays past, summon the memory and spirit of the women cooks in our clan, long deceased, who used to cook these same dishes.  My grandmother, Madeline, in particular, is the one who taught my aunt to cook, and they both taught me (with minimal input from my mother who hated to cook).  My aunt has been my main resource for the last 20 years or so on culinary issues, as she owns a prodigious number of cook books and seems to have a personal relationship with Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray.

And now she is passing her expertise on to an even younger generation.  This Christmas was significant because my nieces took over preparation of the turkey and dressing with my aunt’s supervision.  In years to come, whenever they prepare these for us and/or their own families, they will no doubt think solely of her, having never met Grandmother, of course.

But they need to thank my grandmother (their great-grandmother) for my own year-end, year-out contribution to the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners:  one of her desserts, which she called “Angel Delight.”  She didn’t start making it until after she relocated to Round Rock from Dallas after retirement.  When I asked her for the recipe, she wrote it out on a piece of paper, leading me to believe that she might have invented it.  After she died, I found it on page 185 of the 1978 edition of The Round Rock Official Good Eat’n and General Gourmet Cookbook, which was among her books.  Called “Four Layer Delight” in that book, the recipe calls for ½ cup more of flour than Grandmother called for in hers.  I assume she thought it was better with less.  She also tweaked the pudding layer.  Instead of 1 large package of chocolate pudding mix, she called for two small packages, one chocolate and the other vanilla, mixed together.

In the many years since her death, I took over the production of what many in the older generation informally call “Grandmother’s pudding dessert,” partly because it was so popular and partly to keep Grandmother with us during the festivities.  It’s popularity has only grown among family newcomers and the kids that have grown up and passed on the pudding dessert craving in their DNA.   As the years go by, there’s little doubt that the dessert will be linked to me and referred to as (cousin, aunt) “Jeffee’s pudding dessert.”

Strangely enough, a few years ago, a colleague at the Attorney General’s office was raving about a dessert that was made for office parties by one of his division’s secretaries.  His description sounded eerily familiar, so I asked if he would ask her for the recipe.  He did and, sure enough, it was the Angel Delight, although she calls it “Chocolate Supreme Dessert.”  She makes it with the same amount of flour as my grandmother, but has innovated a bit by mixing some of the pudding from the pudding layer with the cool whip used for the top layer.

While Grandmother’s top layer was always white (hence, the angel name), her top is a muddy chocolate color.
So, after such ado about this pudding dessert, you will be glad to read that I’m providing it here for you, dear readers and family members.  I am calling it “Madeline’s Angel Delight,” but if you dare to make it and serve it at your own gathering, you are obviously free to call it by any of its other names or make up your own.  I say “dare” because you may be unwittingly starting a tradition and making the dessert for the rest of your cooking life.  You think I exaggerate, but I’ve often thought of the disappointed faces (or lynch mob) I’d face if I dared to make something different.  On the other hand, it’s nice to be appreciated.   So, without further ado:

Madeline’s Angel Delight

1 cup flour
1 stick margarine, softened
1 cup chopped pecans
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 8 oz carton cool whip
2 small pkgs of instant pudding (1 chocolate, 1 vanilla)
3 cups milk

Mix together first 3 ingredients and press into bottom of 9 x 13 inch pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes til lightly brown around edges. Cool before spreading next layer.

Mix cream cheese and sugar; fold in 1 cup of the cool whip. Spread carefully over crust (which will pull up if you over-manipulate it as you spread).

Mix the vanilla and chocolate pudding mixes with 3 cups milk (instead of the 4 cups on box instructions).  Spread pudding over cream cheese layer.

Spread remaining cool whip over pudding layer.  Refrigerate well.

I will note for those of you who are not wed to a family chocolate tradition, that butterscotch, lemon, or vanilla pudding can be substituted for the chocolate, according to the office secretary.  She has also been known to sprinkle the top layer with chopped pecans or crushed peppermint, and recommends freezing the dessert overnight and removing it to the refrigerator several hours before serving.

Just remember, you have been forewarned.  Here’s wishing you a bon appetit and a happy and healthy 2012!



Filed under: prairie musings, Jeffee Palmer — Peg Britton @ 10:56 am

The Inescapable Shades of Gray
by nowandthenadays

Human beings are purposeful animals.  We decide to do something, set a goal, put something in motion.  The funny thing about life, though, is that what we do doesn’t always work out as intended . . . we get blindsided by something we didn’t see coming.  Did we skip over the chapter with the foreshadowing?  Or forget that we rationalized it away like all boogie monsters?

Lately, I’ve been struck by these unintended consequences, primarily by our desires and actions to live a long life, the longer the better.  We take decided action not to step in front of moving vehicles or eat cheesecake in order to prove wrong the actuarial tables.  But achieving longevity doesn’t always turn out that well for us.

“Theories of the Sun” was a play I saw last year in Chicago about a woman who was seeking a cure for a disease that kept her from aging and ultimately dying.  In this twist on the Benjamin Button scenario, Elizabeth Sweeney quit aging in her early 20s and now her daughter is a middle-aged woman who, based on appearances, could be her own mother.  The play centers on her desire to be cured to avoid outliving her daughter.  It’s against the nature of things, she reasons, that a mother would have to bury her own aged daughter.

In an obituary last week, I read that Ruby Lee Duff Cook had blown past the life expectancy figures, staying firmly in this world until the age of 103.  I noticed with admiration that in her younger days she was “addicted to energetic activities.  If these activities involved sweating, so much the better.”  She and her husband were enthusiastic square dancers, while she also kept a pony and loved horseback riding.  Ruby took up golf in her 60s, danced ballroom at the Austin Rec Center until her early 90s, and was particularly happy to work in the yard raking leaves, picking up limbs, and collecting pecans.   All of this sounded like a woman happy in her activity and longevity, and then I read the disquieting parts:  “Ruby remained active in her Sunday School class until all the other members of her class died.”  The obit further reported that “Preceding her in death are (certainly not surprisingly) her parents, all her siblings . . . her husband of 51 years, Elmo V. Cook,  Elmo’s parents, Elmo’s siblings . . . and her older daughter.”

In short, there are real downsides to longevity, particularly when you are the long-lived one, the person left behind to mourn all your loved ones.

Another thing I wouldn’t have expected were some unsettled feelings in the aftermath of my 40th high school reunion early this month.  I was prepared to look back on the weekend and enjoy all the good feelings I normally experience after reunions  (which some  of my readers will remember are near and dear to my heart).  But, curiously, I was uneasy.  What’s up with that? I wondered.    Being one of the organizers, maybe I was having a bit of postpartum planning depression now that the big push to beget the event was over.  And then I read what David, one of my classmates, wrote in a thank-you note that clarified that feeling for me.  He said:

“It always seems like unfinished business at the conclusion of these reunions.  The conversation that you didn’t get to finish, the person across the room that you never got to approach, the expectation to run into someone the next night and it doesn’t happen and in fact, at this stage of the game, may never happen.  For whatever reason, the lack of closure this year is a little more disquieting . . . ”

Yes, that’s the truth . . . the unfinished business that may never be addressed.  I once heard it said, that after the 40th high school reunion, the number of reunion attendees begins diminishing rather quickly.  I had managed to forget that niggling statistic until David’s words.

Steve Jobs’ death last week and the words he left behind were further reminders of the nature of things.  As his contributions to our world have been circling the world via  internet, I heard a commencement speech he had given at Stanford in 2005, which had a special resonance for me.    There he said: “Death is the destination we all share.  No one has ever escaped it.  And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.  It is Life’s change agent.  It clears out the old to make way for the new.

”But before I could even think of resuming my post-partum reunion funk, he offered up some advice in that speech that inspired me with its ageless wisdom:  “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma —which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”  He makes a strong case for not wasting time worrying about longevity.  By his words and, more importantly, his example, Steve Jobs taught us a lot about carpe diem.

Yes, living a long life is a good thing, and getting old and being replaceable is not so good.  But there is little we can do to avoid the “not so good” part of life and a lot we can do to enjoy the good part.   The best approach may be to embrace the ambivalence and try to find some humor, whenever you can.  Which reminds me of something I heard Garrison Keilor say recently on Prairie Home Companion in the voice of American patriot Nathan Hale, “Give me ambivalence, or give me something else!”

So, how about some cheesecake, friends?!



Filed under: prairie musings, Jeffee Palmer — Peg Britton @ 5:57 pm


From nowandthenadays | September 20, 2011 at 6:27 pm

by Jeffee Palmer - Lawyer, historian, writer, mother, grandmother, native Texan, UT grad, and proud Austinite!

In sleepy Austin, Texas, I came to consciousness during the “wonder years” world of the 50s and 60s, and like everyone around me, I was proud of my nationality, believing in the superiority of all things American.   My 21-year old self was taken aback, therefore, when it was pointed out that the rest of the world didn’t quite see things my way.  Living in Lima, Peru, I learned that many upper class Peruvians ( (insulated in a caste system based on blood lines) were unimpressed with Americans, referring to them among themselves as “burros with money.”  It surprised me because I had been taught that the United States was a good neighbor and friend in our hemispheric neighborhood.  They should like us!

Gradually, I realized that these Peruvians had been seeded with large doses of European culture and its snobbish aversion to uncultured Americans.  In fact, Lima seemed more European than Latin American, eating Continental style with not a chicken fried steak on any menu.  Back then, you could find menu selections of Canard a l’Orange (Duck with Orange Sauce) or Lobster Thermidor that would make a Frenchman feel at home (or Julia Child trill in delight)! Subject to widespread immigration, the country had been populated with many Europeans who transplanted their cultural norms, languages, and foods in a welcoming soil.  A Swiss man sold cheeses and chocolates and other delicacies from Switzerland from his La Tiendicita Blanca (the Little White Store).  Italians opened restaurants serving food from their homeland, where invariably your dining partner would disparage the “Americanization” of true Italian cuisine in the U.S.  I enjoyed knowing Pierre, a delightful engineer from Belgium who spoke five languages, and another charming man, Eduardo, who came from Germany and spoke at least three.  He might have been a former Nazi, now that I think about it.  Italian brothers Valerio and Gianni had a textile company, speaking an Italian-laced Spanish that was so expressive!  Valerio taught me a betting system he used when gambling in Monte Carlo.

But meeting fascinating people and experiencing some cultural condescension did not cause any rips in the fabric of my American pride.  That didn’t happen until recently, beginning when I saw citizens at town hall meetings on health care reform, act like street fighters, screaming, threatening, and having hysterics at the idea of providing health care for all Americans.  These meetings were called to engage in civil and civic discourse about life, death, putting an end to unnecessary  suffering, and curing disease among our citizenry.  What is it about that subject that warrants uncivilized belligerence – violent displays of ignorance and selfishness?

And what about the disrespect that so many Americans shower on our president, from Speaker John Boehner to the entire stable of commentators on the most shameful network ever permitted to pollute American air waves?  After all, what is the birther issue if not undisguised racism, a move to discredit President Obama because he is black?  It doesn’t matter that a majority of Americans voted to elect him president, preferring him to his Caucasian opposition.  And while you may not support the policies of the man, what happened to showing respect for the office, the face of our nation in the rest of the world?

But even with all that, we didn’t reach the ultimate unraveling of my American pride until these last Republican presidential debates.  During the first one, the crowd actually cheered when the moderator noted that 234 people who have been executed during Perry’s tenure as governor.  And then, Governor Perry was asked whether he had any trouble sleeping at night in regard to this number, to which he responded in the negative because he trusted in the system and knew they all deserved it.  Or words to that effect.

Am I among a minority of Americans who believe that every time that a person is killed at the hands of the State, we should solemnly reflect and pray that this person was truly guilty, assuming we believe in the death penalty in the first place?   Hasn’t the Innocence Project reminded us (in case we forgot) that civilized beings should have at least a little concern that perhaps out of those 234 people—just perhaps—one may have been innocent.

At least Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan’s daughter, seems to agree.  As she told Lawrence O’Donnell a few days later about the debate, “The moment that would have broken my father’s heart was the moment when applause broke out at the mention of more than 200 executions ordered by Rick Perry in Texas. It was stunning and brought tears to my eyes. This is what we’ve come to? That we applaud at executions?”

Describing the first time her father had to order an execution as governor of California, Patti said, “He and a minister went into a room, got down on their knees and prayed.”  That, my fellow Americans, is what decency at the head of an execution machine looks like.   And even more revealing is the inscription on Reagan’s tombstone:  “There is purpose and worth to each and every life,” Now we can argue about when life begins and I admit that I rarely agreed with this man as president.  But I cannot fault his compassion and respect for human life.  Civilized men and women  are not supposed to rejoice in another human’s death.

But rejoice they do!  At the next debate, the faithful cheered at the notion of letting a 30-year old die because he had no health insurance.  Dr. Ron Paul didn’t blink an eye over that prospect.  Has there been an invasion of body or brain snatchers who, as we speak, are replacing the minds of Americans with a version completely lacking in compassion?

These brain snatchers must be targeting conservatives.  New York Times’ Paul Krugman recently wrote, that conservative intellectuals used to support “‘a comprehensive system of social insurance’ to protect citizens against ‘the common hazards of life,’” singling out health, in particular.  . . Now, the conservatives no longer accept government intervention in the name of compassion.  “Compassion is out of fashion— indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle, at least among the G.O.P.’s base.”

I hate to use the word “un-American” because conservatives flail it around almost as much as they do “socialism,” usually directed at our president, but who are these people with whom I share citizenship?
Whatever the answer, I sadly realize that the rest of the world are seeing these same people via satellites and computers.  These are the people who are representing us – all Americans – to the Europeans, Latin Americans, Asians, and every where else.  I can’t help but think the word “barbarian” must come to the mind of many . . . along with “burros with money.”



Filed under: prairie musings, Jeffee Palmer — Peg Britton @ 11:56 am

Jeffee Palmer, guest writer

Lawyer, historian, writer, mother, grandmother, native Texan, UT grad, and proud Austinite!
Posted on August 7, 2011 by nowandthenadays

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get to participate much in the Day of Debauchery and Gluttony, the so-called day created on Facebook (and elsewhere, maybe?) as a reaction to Rick Perry’s Day of Prayer and Fasting.  But, I have several good reasons.  First, it’s too damn hot for much debauchery, unless you count soaking in a cool tub of water or de-icing that old garage freezer that doesn’t self defrost.

As far as gluttony is concerned, I still pay a monthly fee to Weight Watchers for my online account that keeps me honest and losing a bit of weight.  That’s why I must report that on Saturday I ate a serving of mayonnaise-y cole slaw costing me a bunch of valuable points.  But that’s certainly not the essence of true gluttony.  Us gluttons-in-abeyance know better.

But, I did have some thoughts about a prayer fest called to urge the attendees to call on the Christian god to step in and help us solve the various ills of the country.  As one woman explained on NPR, “We deserve bad leaders, we deserve economic downturn . . . we turned away from Jesus.”  A punishing Jesus?  This strikes me a bit primitive, more like the response of ancient people beset by famine, drought, hard times.  I’m reminded of the scene in Mel Gibson’s movie, Apocalypto with the Mayan priest at the top of a pyramid surrounded by thousands of people cheering on as human beings were sacrificed, assembly-line fashion as the civilization in decline sacrificed to appease the gods and reverse its fortunes.

Although I’m no student of religions, primitive cultures have always been characterized by religious beliefs that included recipes for problem-solving involving the sacrifice of virgins, goats, crops, liquor, first-born sons, etc., to appease angry and/or resentful gods.  Reading Hamilton’s Mythology in 8th grade, it was impressed upon me how the Romans and Greeks had a veritable soap operatic system of gods who, depending on their humors, became resentful, jealous, needy, vengeful, etc.

But regarding the prayer event in Houston, I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to pray for strength in the face of our daily problems, or to try to find more tolerance and love for others through prayer.  Like meditation, prayer can help you find those things within yourself, whether divinely inspired or not, depending on your beliefs.  But how did we get to a place where a governor (supposedly a leader with ideas about running this country) is urging folks across the country to come to a big prayer meeting to call on Jesus  to come up with solutions to our social and economic problems?  It would be better to pray for a vision of how to make all the players in our legislative bodies and other institutions get along like adults and act as if we were all in this together (which we are, by the way).  Learn to negotiate instead of demand and take home your toys if you don’t get your way.  I wouldn’t think, however, that you need Jesus to guide you to that path.  After all, it’s kind of the way we’ve been governing ourselves since dumping George III (i.e., all years B.T.P. [Before Tea Party]).

But, I’m probably the least qualified to critique this event and the goals of the Governor in joining forces with the Christian evangelicals to stage this happening.  Reverend Jim Rigby, the pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, however, is qualified and offers up his response to “The Response,” which makes a lot of sense to me.  In his local contribution to the Austin American’s op-ed page Friday, August 5th, he characterized the government endorsement of one religion in a country with such rich religious diversity as unhealthy politics.  Significantly, he made five points based on scripture, which the organizers of this event have ignored.  In his words, more or less:

1.  Don’t make a show of prayer.  Jesus, he said, spoke out against public displays of religion.  In other words, ‘Don’t rub it in other people’s faces.’

2.  God doesn’t withhold rain because we’ve done something wrong.  Jesus said that God sends rain on the just and unjust.   Our love, he taught, should be equally nonselective.

3.  God doesn’t have favorites.  When the Bible says that God is not a “respecter of persons,” it means that God doesn’t have a favorite country o religion.  The idea that God wants Christians to be in charge of other people violates Jesus’ teaching that we are to take the lowest place, changing the world by humble persuasion and good example, not be messianic coercion.

4.  Worship by those who neglect the poor is offensive to God.   The prophet Amos, he notes, chastised the religion of his day for praying to God while mistreating people.  Texas leads the nation in residents who are uninsured, who work for minimum wage and who die from unsafe working conditions on construction sites.  Our state has the widest gap between rich and poor of any other state.

5.  The heart of Christian ethics is being a good neighbor.  Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, scapegoats of the day, to teach humility to a rich young zealot who thought he was approaching moral perfection.  The merciful Samaritan, he explained, was an example of ethical perfection.  In contrast, the American Family Association, one of the sponsors of the event, is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group for their stand on homosexuality and Muslims.

As the Reverend concludes, “The ‘prayer’ that is most needed at this time is for each of us, believer or not, to go into our own heart and find the humility and empathy that is at the core of righteousness, political and spiritual.”

Amen, Reverend.  As I consider that we haven’t heard the last of Republican congressmen trying to slash more jobs from the government payroll, dismantle entitlements, and eliminate the programs that help the least advantaged, I wonder – not for the first time – how they ignore the intellectual disconnect and call themselves followers of Jesus, rather than the high priests sacrificing the least among us at the altar of More Wealth for the Few.   Maybe if I pray a little bit harder, I’ll find a way of understanding  these people.  I will never, however, be able to pray hard enough to find a way to forgive them.



Filed under: prairie musings, Jeffee Palmer — Peg Britton @ 10:23 am

From time to time, various friends allow me to re-print a post from their blogs, or they write one for kansasprairie when they are so inclined.  Today’s essay is by Jeffee Palmer, of Austin.  Since the subject of her article is one familiar to Austinites and visitors to Austin, I thought you’d enjoy reading it.  It’s also for my friends in Austin. Jeffee mentions “Leslie”, as well, and I’ve heard tales about Leslie from many of my friends who lived in Austin.  One can’t have passed through Austin without becoming aware of Leslie.  This is taken from Jeffee’s blog, Now and Thenadays.

Jeffee Palmer:  Lawyer, historian, writer, mother,grandmother, native Texan, UT grad, and proud Austinite!
Zelma for President!!!
nowandthenadays | July 21, 2011 at 9:05 pm |

As many of you may recall, I’ve mentioned Bicycle Annie on several occasions in these pages.  She was a woman who, during the 50s, 60s, and 70s, could invariably be found along the Drag and other downtown Austin streets, be it on her bicycle or walking, sometimes with crutches, sometimes just pushing the bicycle.  Most Austinites and UT students of those decades remember her, some referring to her as the Indian Princess, others using the sobriquet, Bicycle Annie.  She seemed to eschew interaction with others (if not outright resent it) and, was, accordingly, left alone  with the mental issues we assumed upon her.

Last week, I was surprised to hear from Diane in Wichita Falls, a relative of Bicycle Annie’s who has been researching her life.  Through an exchange of emails, brought about after she discovered my blog entries, she shared with me what she has learned about this well-known, but unknown, woman who once roamed our streets and gained a place in our memories as a local legend.  More importantly, I hope we never forget that even the most unappealing homeless person was once part of family who, we can only hope, cared about them.

So, thanks to Diane, I have the opportunity to introduce you to Zelma O’Riley, a.k.a. Bicycle Annie, a.k.a,  the Indian Princess.  Zelma was from Durant, Oklahoma where her father, John O’Riley was a professor.  John and wife, Mary Catherine Harkins, had five other children including, Lester, Arlee, Zula, Lula, Ora, and Lela.  Mary Catherine was a full-blooded Choctaw Indian who actually came to Durant on the “Trail of Tears.”  The family was purportedly very wealthy, and raised their children quite traditionally.  Zelma, purportedly very intelligent,  moved to Fort Worth for a few years, and then finally to Austin to go to college at UT.   Here she started the publication “Up and Down the Drag” in 1941.

In an edition of “Up and Down” from November, 1947, she wrote, “It will take a woman to save America.”    She apparently saw herself as a potential savior of the country, and explained that her principal campaign plank was:  preparedness.  The advertisement read “Vote for Zelma O’Riley for First Woman President of the United States –  she is Irish, she is Indian and she will care for you.”    Important causes were important to the free-spirited Zelma.  As the true daughter of a strong Indian woman, one of her main cause was Native American rights.

To finance her publication, Zelma sold subscriptions and advertising along the Drag.  Her family believes that after she stopped publishing”Up and Down the Drag,” however, she continued to sell advertising once in a while to fund herself.  I’m wondering if maybe she was delusional and, at times, actually intended to publish it again, but never following through with it.

As Diane says, the stories about her being married to the man of her dreams and his death  causing her to go into a depression are not true. She was never married and never had any kids. The house in Hyde Park, also was not true, although the Blue Bonnet Courts where she appeared to have lived is at the northwestern corner of the subdivision.

Diane reports that Zelma visited Durant often throughout her life and visited her grandmother (Zelma’s niece) in Dallas often as well. Strangely enough, Diane’s uncle went to college in Austin and had many encounters with Zelma although he did not know at the time he was her great-nephew.  He only knew her as “Bicycle Annie” for years.  Additionally, there are rumors that she attended Law School at one point to better understand the judicial system so she could better “fight the power,” better.  The law school can not be verified, although it would not surprise Diane, who characterizes Zelma as a pioneer activist.

Apparently, the niece (Diane’s grandmother) knew Zelma suffered from some mental problems and tried to keep up with her, with not much success.  It was after her grandmother’s death when Diane found Zelma’s obituary and a few copies of “Up and Down the Drag” among her things, which sparked her interest in this unusual relative.  She will share those with me in the future (and I will share here!)

Zelma passed away April 30, 1991, and is buried in Durant in a Choctaw burial ground.

As I write this, I realize that this woman, albeit troubled and in her own way, as  unconventional as today’s Leslie, our local transvestite, is significant to me because she is so solidly a link to the Austin I knew and loved.   In sharing our memories of Bicycle Annie, she also links me to others who remember her so vividly.  While she could be a bit shocking and offputting, she made little marks in our psyche that tie us to a past in this city.  Also, the longer we live, the more we understand that – while she may have lived in a world of her own making that we couldn’t understand – it never made her less human, less deserving of our compassion and understanding.

Austin sends you prayers and remembrance, Zelma.  I hope you have found a place of rest and peace, Indian Princess.

Click here for a previous posting by Jeffee.



Filed under: prairie musings, blogs, Jeffee Palmer — Peg Britton @ 3:52 pm

Out of Step in the Upside Down World of Progress

By guest writer Jeffee Palmer

Lawyer, historian, writer, mother, grandmother, native Texan, UT grad, and proud Austinite!
Posted on June 5, 2011 by nowandthenadays

Younger readers will probably be horrified to learn that during my formative years living in Austin, we had just one television station.   The sole source of television fare was provided by KTBC, which started broadcasting in 1952 and was owned by the Johnson family (as in Lyndon Baines Johnson).  It was said, by at least some folks, that LBJ made sure that no other competitors could get a station from the FCC.  I’ve also read that this wasn’t necessarily true – that there was a quirk in the system at the FCC involving the allocation of stations, something to do with VHF and UHF station availability.  I’ll leave it up to you students of quantum wave theory (I made that up) to clarify whether there was some scientific reason for this station shortage, but I don’t think you have to be a conspiracy theorist to speculate that LBJ had significant quantum clout at the FCC that could have untangled any non-scientific quirkiness.  In fact, one of Barry Goldwater’s favorite opening lines in his presidential bid against LBJ was “I didn’t have any trouble finding Austin; I just looked for a great big city with only one TV antenna.”

KTBC was primarily a CBS affiliate with secondary affiliations with NBC, and ABC until 1965, when Channel 42 (eventually KXAN) came on air as an NBC affiliate, joined in 1971 by the ABC local affiliate (KVUE).  Needless to say, between 1952 and 1971 there were some television shows that were never broadcast in Austin.   For me, part of the fun in visiting Dallas grandparents was being able to view all three networks and programs on three different Dallas stations (expanding to 6 local stations during the 1960s).  One of the shows I liked to watch at my grandmother’s house  was the Jack LaLanne Show, who would lead us in morning exercises, calisthenics, and isometrics.  Don’t ask me why, but a guy on television doing sit-ups was quite intriguing.  During my younger years, I watched Romper Room in the mornings and the Mickey Mouse Club in the afternoons, and as I got a bit older, the afternoon episodes of  “Love That Bob” and “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” none of which appeared in the Austin lineup of shows.  In contrast, daytime television in Austin was devoted to game shows, soap operas, and for kids, the Uncle Jay Show with his sidekick Packer Jack.

The advent of cable changed all that, and now, with satellite and/or cable and computer modems, virtually anything is available any time.  Every niche market has its station and no one needs to drive 200 miles up the highway to see a television show.  In fact, I think you can watch tv on smart phones . . . but since I’m not smart enough to have one yet, I can’t guarantee that.

But, I’m glad this change to one station to a virtually inexhaustible supply happened gradually because the number of choices can be overwhelming to those of us raised on so few, if any, choices.   Television was only one aspect of our no-choice world.  There were only telephone landlines, that were all provided by Southwestern Bell, which all looked alike and had rotary dials.  All car windows had to be opened and closed with a manual roll-up handle and all kitchen appliances were white.  Typewriting involved pressing a key hard enough to make an impression and returning a “carriage” to the beginning point whenever you finished typing a line, usually at the sound of a pre-set bell.

Is it any wonder that many of us from that generation are technologically challenged?  Our brains are not hardwired to be constantly learning new ways to view television, deal with telephones, and constantly be choosing, choosing, choosing.  It’s tiring, I’ll have you know!

Back in the mid 70s, I remember a fellow UT student from Spain telling me that the problem with America was too many choices, which I thought was extremely amusing.  What could be wrong with choice?   In Spain, he explained, there were 2 or 3 choices for products such as toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, etc.  Consequently, there, it was easy to go about your shopping, whereas here, he explained, you could spend hours deciding between the relative efficacy of these products, i.e., whether you should try the next new thing, stay with “old faithful,” or whether some newly identified hair problem (e.g., limp) required a speciality product in lieu of the one you bought last time.  Although I’m sure Spain has expanded their product choices, I have to wonder if my Spanish friend’s head has exploded yet.

And you can’t think about these choices without being reminded of commercials and how they shape our minds and attempt to convince us that one thing is better than another.  One of the latest ones that convinces me that we are all crazy, is the Direct TV ad that explains how one can get hooked up to watch cable television in every room in the house, with this great new feature:  you can walk among your rooms of televisions, pausing the show in one room and un-pausing it when you get to the next one.  Exactly what we need, right?!

Do I really need to mention that there are real needs that our society is not meeting?  Like figuring out why we have citizens fighting and dying in wars that have no meaningful point, how we can solve the worst economic crisis since the great depression, and how we can provide for American children who are going to bed hungry, just to name a few.  Instead, as a society, we are spending mental energy and capital in the name of progress that amounts to nothing more than figuring out ways not to miss even a few seconds of a television program as we move about in our houses full of televisions?

This is about the time when that little girl who got excited about a trip to Dallas to watch some television is afraid to wonder what she will see next on these black boxes of “progress.”


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