LEARN MORE ABOUT THE WILLS FAMILY THROUGH MARALYS' MEMOIRS: A CIRCUS WITHOUT ELEPHANTS AND A CLOWN IN THE TRUNK

Friday, February 23, 2018

WE VALUE OUR GUNS MORE THAN OUR CHILDREN




These aren’t my words: they come from a letter to the Los Angeles Times. But how perfectly they sum up my attitude.         

Even now, after the Florida school massacre, the gun problem isn’t getting fixed. In spite of current outrage from students, parents, teachers, and the public, few have doubled-down on the one-and-only viable solution to mass killings: make automatic and semi-automatic weapons—like the AR-15—illegal.   

Nothing else can work. It will take time to get weapons-of-war out of gun shops—even longer to retrieve them from ordinary citizens.  But once banned, AR-15s will be used less often. Gun owners can rejoice over less-spectacular killings—down to one-by-one. 

Meanwhile, we’ve heard inane solutions from our president: turn our schools into armed camps; raise the age for buyers of war weapons; “fix” the mentally-ill (he doesn’t say how.)  While listening to families of murdered children, Trump’s remedies come out as though from the lips of NRA’s Wayne LaPierre . . . whose recent speech was infuriating.

Two Times letters are worth re-reading. From Terry Otsuki: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to members of Congress who have sold their souls to the NRA. May they find their humanity again and start taking action to prevent these mass murders.”   

And finally, Kim Eifert Krogstad says: “Other countries have mentally ill people capable of harming others. Other countries have young people who have been bullied or attacked by fellow students and are filled with rage. Other countries have despondent people who have given-up on life and want to go out in a blaze of glory. (Para.) But other countries do not have the kind of school shootings that we have here in the United States. The difference is that in the United States, we value our guns more than our children.”  















Monday, January 22, 2018

WATCHING HER GO





This time it was easy.

I’ve been present at a number of dramatic family moments, many of which entailed a significant loss of sleep.  But not yesterday.

This Sunday, after spending nearly a month in California, our granddaughter, Jamie, was headed back to Amsterdam.  Officially, Rob and I said goodbye to her Saturday night over a turkey dinner at Tracy’s house.  Unofficially,  I wanted to be there when she actually departed. So Sunday morning I showed up at our daughter’s home at ten a.m. 

As expected, in that last half hour some serious packing remained to be done.  But though her room was full of still-open suitcases, neither Tracy nor Jamie seemed the slightest bit rushed. In spite of her six-month pregnancy and rather magnificent girth, Jamie moved around easier than I did.  How nimbly she darted up the stairs, how simply she bent over to stuff more stuff in a suitcase.  (The “stuff” being a plethora of gifts resulting from two baby showers.)

“Ever seen these vacuum-sealed packages?” she asked, handing me a square, see-through plastic container. At first glance it appeared to hold dried fruit. 

“Never,” I said, noting that the small package was seriously heavy. Only with a close examination could I tell the packet actually contained lots of severely-compressed clothes. Moments later she used a pipe from the vacuum cleaner to suck air out of another such container. Whoosh, whoosh, and the package flattened out, mashing the clothes until it became half its size.

Next I witnessed an astonishing moment for a bulging suitcase that defied all odds of ever achieving closure.  Somehow Tracy’s partner, Paul, managed to muscle together the two sides and actually zip the zipper . .. which, on the other continent, would doubtless result in an explosion.  (I almost said to Jamie: “If you want to know what your father was like, watch Paul.” ) 

“Jamie,” I asked, as she continued to push and shove and over pack yet another suitcase, “how will you get the airline to take three cases? With one of them weighing 70 pounds?”   

“They’ll take two because I’m business class.”  She gave me a sweet, knowing smile. “The third one--well, I think they’ll take that, too.”  With such a smile, I thought, they probably will. 

 Which, of course, is what happened.   (If that over-compressed suitcase didn’t actually explode, it must have come close.) 

While my impromptu “showing up” yesterday did not include a loss of sleep, other such events have.  

Years ago, on Maui, after Rob declared “Don’t wake ME for this crazy project,” I nevertheless rose at four a.m. to join Chris’ new wife, Betty-Jo, Chris himself, and brother Bobby . . . so I could be there when the two boys flew their hang gliders from the top of Haleakala.  In awe, Betty-Jo and I watched in the dawn light as the two walked to the edge of a cliff and one-by-one, in silent drama, stepped off the mountain and suddenly disappeared—only to appear again as their wings caught the rising air. Ultimately, Chris and Bobby set a 10,000-foot world altitude-drop record—soon reported in newspapers everywhere.  (That was the year we started a family tradition—joining our kids on their honeymoons.)

On a sadder note:  The phone was on my side of the bed when Tustin Community Hospital called at 3:00 a.m. to advise that a family member needed to come immediately because Art Wills was critical.  Letting Rob sleep, I drove into the night, arriving in time to tell Rob’s Dad, “We love you, Art.”  With that, he lifted his arm to his chest, as though saying goodbye. Seconds later, he was gone.   

A few years later, somebody called after midnight . . . whereupon I jumped out of bed and hurried to a Santa Ana Hospital at one a.m. to see my first grandchild, Brandon, moments after he was born.  It happens I was standing just outside the delivery room when I heard his first cry.

Over the years I’ve learned it pays to be there for your family’s vital moments—even if it means a reluctant departure from a warm bed. Long since I’ve learned that the sleep-deprived night is temporary . . . but the resulting memories are permanent.

Friday, December 29, 2017

LATE AT NIGHT--AND "UNDER ATTACK"





Now that the days have gotten short, my late-day walks keep happening in the dark. Though I’m only out for twenty minutes and only on my own cul-de-sac, somehow those jaunts have stopped feeling perfectly safe.

To see where I’m going and also to ward off speeding drivers, kidnappers, and coyotes, I carry a small flashlight, which I wave in circles. Still, it occurred to me recently that I ought to have some kind of reflective vest to make more of me visible. With that, I sent out a Christmas Wish List, and the resulting gift far exceeded anything I could have imagined. 

Christmas day, my son Chris and wife Betty-Jo, could hardly contain themselves as I ripped open the package. Inside was a light-weight, vivid orange vest, which prompted one of the eleven-year-olds to comment, “Oh . . . you’re gonna be a crossing guard!”

But no crossing guard ever wore anything like this. Once the thing was velcroed into place, Chris reached to my waist and pressed a button. Immediately I lit up. Up and down my chest–one row down from each shoulder—ran a string of bright red lights. Chris pressed the button again. With that, the lights began pulsing, going on and off in some kind of mysterious rhythm. Though I couldn’t see them, two similar rows flickered up and down my back.

Again one of the kids commented. “Grandma, you’re begging someone to come steal you!”  Well, that was one viewpoint.  

Two days later, I couldn’t resist giving the vest a try. But we’d lingered late at Chris’,  so by the time I actually went walking it was past 9:30.  But hey, I was “lit up,” so surely no harm lay in wait.  Augmented by my waving flashlight, I did two laps. The only noticeable change was a lightly-pulsating stop sign at the top end of our street. Fascinated, I stood and watched. I’d never before seen that sign doing anything. Which is when I realized it wasn’t the sign flashing, it was ME!

The next day my neighbor called. “Late last night, two very thin men were walking down the street,” she said. “I looked at the clock, it was nearly ten. They stopped at your driveway and turned off their flashlight. I was afraid you might get hurt. I said to my husband, ‘I’m calling the cops,’ but he talked me out of it. I’m just checking to see if you’re okay.”

“Yeah, we’re okay.” For a second I was baffled. Two thin men?  Stopping at our driveway? Ready to attack?

Suddenly the scenario became clear. “That was me!” I said.

“You?”

“I’ve got this vest. It lights up.” 

“But it was so late!” she said.  “And I saw TWO guys. Both very skinny.”

“I left around 9:40,” I said. “And the vest has two sets of vertical lights—one on each side of my chest. And I did turn off the flashlight at our driveway.” 

“Really!” she said. “I’m so relieved.” 

For some reason, neither of us laughed.

But that was then.  Within minutes, I reported back to Chris, and hilarity ensued.   

Later I thought, If my new vest turns me into two people, so much the better!  Safety in numbers, and all that.   

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

THE $25,000 BREAKFAST





Sometimes a trip can be too good to be interesting . . . at least to anyone else.

Which is what happened on our recent, 11-day excursion to Scotland with our granddaughter, Lauren,* and her husband, Dan.  Describing it later becomes a problem.

Prior trips were easier: On this one we never saw an old, drunken Brit stumble into the street, spilling all his coins, while all the kindly souls around him scrambled to pick them up.  We never raced across an airport or train station, barely catching the conveyance before it left. We never re-visited the old Yorkshire Moors lady who lived in a desolate house near a deserted train station. In a trembly voice she asked about California. “Have ye got heather?” she asked, and we said No. “Have you got bracken?” No again. “If ye haven’t got heather,” she complained, “and ye haven’t got bracken, what do ye have?” 

We never sat in a British pub listening to a World War II pilot, Wilford Wise,
and his brother regale us with hilarious tales of local drunken drivers—especially the one whose auto careened off the road and finished with its nose poking into a stream . . . whereupon the portly driver simply lay there until morning, sleeping it off.    

Instead, thanks to the ministrations of our nurse, Lauren . . . “Everybody needs to travel with a nurse,” she said, (meaning people our age), and the strength and helpfulness of our restaurant manager, Dan, we were treated to nearly luggage-free strolls across airports, train stations, and along tourist-heavy Inverness and Edinburgh streets. Between them, the “kids” pushed (and carried up stairs), three double-decker sets of luggage, leaving Rob and me to navigate with our canes—though occasionally, as we traversed the miles-long underground catacombs of Heathrow airport, they plopped us into wheelchairs.  

Most evenings we sat in one hotel room or another and played “99”, a tricky card game.

It all began with the morning we invited Dan and Lauren to join us for breakfast at Tustin’s Spires Restaurant. Somehow the subject of Scotland came up, and before the meal was over, Rob’s surprise that the two had never been there, turned into something like, “When do you want to go?” 

“No, not next year,” he added quickly. “I don’t measure my life in years anymore, just months.”  Which became a trip planned for late October. As we drove home afterwards, Rob said, “Well that was certainly an expensive breakfast.”

Just because the Scotland trip was smooth, doesn’t mean it lacked amazing episodes. Thanks to our friendship with “Lou,” who lives in Tustin and distributes fine liquors, we were treated to an all-day trip to the Glenfarclas Distillery near Inverness.

To our surprise, the CEO himself met our train in Elgin--and in his Range Rover drove us at lusty speeds past numerous distilleries in the Scottish countryside. Afterwards, his tall, exceedingly handsome associate from New Zealand took us through the Glenfarclas Distillery itself. There we saw the clear mountain brook, the giant copper stills, and the barley grain that eventually becomes fine liquor.  The tour ended in a cool, dank warehouse, where we marveled at wooden barrels, lying on their sides in endless stacks, all full of expensive Scotch, some dating back to the 1950s. 

I asked, “What would it cost to buy a bottle filled from a 1950s barrel?”    

Our guide smiled.  “We don’t get many orders. Such a bottle would cost thousands.”  

Our tour ended with dated, printed menus for a luncheon on the property . . . which began with hors d’oeuvres with the CEO, the CFO and 2 other staff members, plus small, powerful shots of expensive Scotch. When my first swallow sent a burning trail down my throat, I set the glass aside.

The 5-course luncheon menu described appetizers, soup, salad, lamb cutlets and a chocolaty dessert. You would have thought we four innocents were either celebrities or major distributors of Scotch whiskey. 

Outstanding as well was the Sunday afternoon Evensong at the Yorkminster Cathedral in York, England. With what clarion voices the all-male choir, augmented by an organ, filled the vast cathedral halls with harmony. The voices ranged from deep, dark masculine to those of mere children--who yet sounded like sweet sopranos. Occasionally, to our amazement, one of those very young boys would sing an ethereal, unaccompanied solo.  Rob and I studied the white-robed choir: one boy was so small his dark hair was barely visible over the railing.     

A highlight for us were the reunions with two sets of English friends—Amanda Case and her chum, Joyce, in York, with whom we’ve been close personal friends for 45 years. And in London, Peter Dobbs and wife Michelle. Peter, then a British army officer, was present when our son, Bobby, won the British hang gliding championships in 1975—at which time we stayed in the Dobbs’ home.

Back then, Peter’s mother, Marie, gave me her fascinating novel The Listener,(using the pseudonym, Anne Telscombe), about the family’s tour in Russia, (with four mischievous sons),  when her husband was the English ambassador. Marie eventually became famous in Britain for having finished a novel by Jane Austin.

Equally amazing: Peter’s recent job of rescuing CEOs, kidnapped by foreigners and held for ransom, was the subject of a movie, Proof of Life, with Peter’s role depicted by actor Russell Crowe.  

Both Peter and Amanda have visited us in America. 

If ever our contemporaries travel to foreign lands, I suggest they take willing grandchildren, who can turn an otherwise-grueling trip into a hassle-free, and yes, delightful excursion.


* (Lauren is also the nurse who, on a cold night last January, organized bystanders and saved the lives of two potentially hypo-thermic passengers whose car went off a winding mountain road and landed in a river.)   

Thursday, November 23, 2017

MY THANKSGIVING SURPRISE






I couldn’t have been more surprised if a turkey suddenly appeared on our patio and begged to come in.

Because I’m not cooking this Thanksgiving, my perusal of the Los Angeles Times was slow and leisurely.  When I finally arrived at The Opinion pages,  I was still in low flame mode--especially since my favorite section has always been Opinion.  I relish getting the extra, underplayed “facts” attached to a passionate point of view.   

When I glanced at the featured “letter” (nicely placed under a full-color picture), I suddenly remembered I’d sent the paper my own version/opinion of a recent article.  I began reading . . .  then jumped to the bottom. 

Oh my Lord, the letter-writer was me!  

Rob said, “Why the sudden shriek?” 

Well. Mainly because The Times promises they’ll “let you know” if you’re being published. But four times, now, I’ve simply been surprised.  When I sent my email, I knew it was too long . . . yet here I was. Meaning relevance outranks length.  

Here’s how it appeared:   DEBATING CHILDBIRTH: re “Is ‘natural motherhood’ really more feminist?” Opinion, Nov. 19.    Then—my letter: 

        In 1950, pregnant with my first child, I read Grantly Dick-Read’s “Childbirth Without Fear.” I urged my respected obstetrician to let me deliver “naturally,” or drug-free. His astonishment was obvious.

        In those days, that meant no husband present either. For five hours, alone, I suffered a rising river of pain. Finally, no longer able to stand it, I begged for relief. The “shot” put me under—so deep I was still unconscious when my 11-pound, 3-ounce baby boy was born. Subsequently, with five more births, only one was exactly as Dick-Read described—relatively fast and mostly pain free.

        Since then I’ve seen a daughter and daughter-in-law give birth, one with no drugs, the other with an epidural. Both scenarios came out great.

        My point? Childbirth pain is neither ennobling nor necessary, and nothing is gained by being a “martyr.”  Women should feel free to follow their own inclinations.  

Today I phoned a few people for copies to send East. Then discovered “copies" aren’t available when you get your news on a phone.  Oh, well. It’s still a good surprise.

Monday, November 13, 2017

WITH TRUMP, EVERY DAY IT'S SOMETHING NEW






Today I couldn’t get past the front page of the Los Angeles Times.

There he is, top of the page (above the fold), clasping the hand, patting the back, and gazing into the face of a known killer—Rodrigo Duterte, leader of the Philippines. Weeks earlier, he’d praised Duterte for “taking care of” the drug problem.  Oh, yes, the man really takes care of it . . . Never bothering with the nicety of trials, his henchmen have murdered thousands—literally—of Philippinos who were dealers, or even suspected users, of drugs.  You kill enough people, the problem is solved. 

Along with Russia’s Putin, Trump makes it clear he admires men who are “into” murder.       

Worse, for citizens of the United States, was today’s headline: GOP’S rush to approve young judges.  Brett J. Talley, Trump’s latest appointment, according to the Times, “was unanimously rated ‘not qualified’ by the American Bar Association’s judicial rating committee.”  Appointed as a  lifetime Federal Judge in Alabama, he’s practiced law only three years, has never tried a case, blogged about “Hillary Rotten Clinton,” and has pledged his support of the NRA. As Trump says about Talley, only 36, “When you think of it, (his youth) has consequences . . . 40 years out.” 

I’m not alone in fearing the worst from our leader. A group of 27 psychiatrists, who ordinarily refrain from diagnosing public figures they’ve never personally met, could no longer remain silent about what they see as a threat to the country.  Early this year, as a group, they felt compelled to speak out. Together, they’ve written a book called,       THE DANGEROUS CASE OF DONALD TRUMP.  The subtitle: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.  

The book is now # 7 on the New York Times best-seller list.

I’ve read it, and found so much quotable material I could never produce enough blogs to do the book justice. Gail Sheehy, PhD, writes, “Beneath the grandiose behavior of every narcissist lies the pit of fragile self esteem; more than anything, Trump lacks trust in himself, which may lead him to take drastic actions to prove himself to himself and to the world.”

Lance Dodes, M.D. adds, “ . . . someone who cons others, lies, cheats, and manipulates to get what he wants, and who doesn’t care whom he hurts, may be not just repetitively immoral but also severely impaired, as sociopaths lack a central human characteristic,  empathy.” 

Michal Tansey, PhD, expresses the ultimate in scariness:  “ . . . even more frightening are Trump’s attraction to brutal tyrants, and also the prospect of nuclear war.” 

Like thousands of others, I’m waiting for everyone to recognize that our country is in the hands of a recognizably sick and truly dangerous man.    


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A PRESIDENT WHO LIVES TO CREATE RAGE



A PRESIDENT WHO LIVES TO CREATE RAGE



America is suddenly on a perilous path.

Far from becoming “Great Again,” this nation is ripping apart internally . . . with an ever- widening rift the size of the Grand Canyon. Thanks to the vitriol spewing from the White House, we are now all turning against each other: spectators against knee-bending athletes, legal citizens against productive illegals, poor against de-regulated rich, Christians against Muslims, Democrats against Republicans, the still-simmering Confederate South against blacks, healthy tax-payers against insurance-needy sick.   

We should have seen this coming: Way back when, Trump declared that Vietnam hero John McCain was not a hero; he railed against the Kahn family who lost a son in Iraq; he bragged that because he was famous, women would allow him to grab them . . . well, anywhere; he threatened protestors—“I’d like to punch him in the face!”; he inspired campaign mobs to scream, “Lock her up!”    

Since then, Trump has given voice to every American who has a grievance against anyone. Like never before, in every state acts of venom are on daily display.

Internationally, it’s worse; even our closest allies no longer trust us. They simply don’t believe that America will keep its word . . .  on global warming, on immigration policies, on United Nations support, on the Iranian agreement, or anything else.   

Scarier still, the nation that once feared or quietly disliked us, is now inspired to rise up and yes—go to war. Because of Trump’s big, raging mouth, we’ve never been so close to a war with North Korea.  Meaning the horror of nuclear weapons is suddenly a possibility.

There must be a way, legally, to rid America of its terrifying leader.

If not . . . What will become of our country?