Saturday, March 31, 2012

Finding Blessings in Our Detours

Finding Blessings in Our Detours

In 1960 adapted for the screen from Dore Schary’s, Tony-winning Broadway play, Sunrise at Campobello, starring Ralph Bellamy and Greer Garson as Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt, is a classic film as enduring, elegant, and engaging as its principle characters.  Crippled for life by poliomyelitis, the film focuses on FDRs courageous battle against the disease as well as his political foes, its time sequence several years before his initial run for the White House.  Its name taken from Campobello, a summer home of the Roosevelt family, it was there that FDR was stricken with the illness.

                Two of my forthcoming books:   Guardians and Other Angels and “I Received Your Letter…” are set during the Great Depression and World War II, and since he was one of the principles of those eras, my research has given me enough of a working knowledge of FDR to recognize that embedded within Sunrise at Campobello is an important aspect of the man that is so subtly represented in the film that it is otherwise easy to miss, an aspect that is widely considered the ground of his greatness. 

Among the many other appealing attributes of FDR was his charm, his enthusiasm, his total engagement in his life, but there was another side of him that was off-putting.  He was arrogant and shallow, at least until the poliomyelitis pulled him down several pegs, until it humbled him, until it grew him into an empathetic and a multi-dimensional human being of the sort required in the leader of his nation, the central figure charged with guiding it through the worst era of its history. 

He says it himself in the film.  FDR and Eleanor are sitting side by side on a sofa in their home.  They engage in a small debate over which one of them got the better deal in their choices of a marriage partner.  He says he did.  She says she did.  Seizing their poignant moment of true confessions, he tells Eleanor that during the course of his illness, he had experienced an epiphany, one that revealed to him his deficiencies of character, and that furthermore would have gone unrecognized absent his being crippled.  Simply and sincerely he expresses gratitude for the setback that steered him onto a new and better destiny.      

Carrying a heavy theme in a light-hearted package wrapped in his signature style is Woody Allen’s 2011 masterpiece, Midnight in Paris, a film worth viewing time and again.  Layered with incisive messages that strike you close to home and stab you in the heart, nevertheless it is such fun to watch contemporary performers show up in cameos as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald; Cole Porter; Hemingway; Faulkner; Picasso; T. S. Elliott; Matisse; Dali; Lautrec; Man Ray; Degas; Gauguin; Gertrude Stein, among others. 

                Another coming-of-age story, a young and highly successful Hollywood scriptwriter nursing his dream to write novels, portrayed in a parody of Woody Allen by Owen Wilson, is stricken with “Golden-age thinking,” the romantic but erroneous notion that a life in another time would be better than ones actual life.  Accompanied on a trip to Paris by the mean-spirited and condescending trio of her parents and his fiancée, played true-to-character by lovely Rachel McAdams, the complete incompatibility of the pair unravels as the writer jumps through hoops to extricate himself from McAdams and her entourage to pursue his private love-affair with Paris.   

Wandering the city streets alone one night, in a clever time-warp, the writer is transported to Paris of the 1920s where he hobnobs with famous literary and artist figures of that age.  Even Gertrude Stein, flawlessly played by Kathy Bates, agrees to read and critique the unfinished manuscript of his novel.  Convinced that he is finally in the time and place where he belongs, he indulges his fantasy to the hilt and becomes infatuated with beautiful Marion Cotillard’s Adrianna, the legendary mistress at one point of Braque, then of Modigliani, followed by Picasso, then Hemingway. 

Discontent with her own era, Adrianna entices the writer into traveling even further back in time with her to the turn of the century where in an encounter with Degas and Gauguin, the great Impressionist painters express their desire to have lived in the time of the Renaissance.  Surrounded by such pervasive discontentment, the writer has an epiphany.  He realizes that everyone’s present time, throughout the whole of time, was and is a little unsatisfying because life always has been, always is, and always will be a little unsatisfying, and if he is ever going to write anything worthwhile, he has to get rid of his illusions.

                He breaks up with the nasty fiancée, decides to stay in Paris and follow his dream of writing novels, hooks up with a lovely and companionable French woman, and at the end of the film, side by side they walk in the rain into a blissful future. 

                The primary message I got from both of these films is that we have to try to find blessings in our detours—to make use of them somehow for they just might lead us to better circumstances.

Upon reading Ted Waterfield’s poems in my introductory posting on this site, “He Has As Many Gods As Stars”, my good buddy and master gardener, George Zonders, who turned me on to Midnight in Paris, also turned me onto Ogden Nash’s enduring poem, “Spring is Sprung.”  This is George’s version of it:

Spring is sprung

The grass is riz

I know where

The birdiez iz

Enjoy these first days of spring!  And thanks for the poem, George.

Linda is the author of the soon-to-be-released novel, Guardians and Other Angels, published by Saga Books.   She is also the co-author with Debra Shiveley Welch of the suspense novel, Jesus Gandhi Oma Mae Adams also published by Saga Books, and available at and Barnes &

To view the online gallery of Linda’s artwork, log onto

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Journey With Grace

In Good Company


Linda Lee Greene

A Journey With Grace

A nineteen-hour road-trip ahead of us, my sister, Sherri, her boyfriend, Jeff at the wheel of his van, and I pull out of the driveway of my home in Columbus, Ohio at 5:30 am, Friday, March 2nd, 2012, the vehicle packed to overflowing with luggage and other traveling paraphernalia.  Alone in the back seat, I embrace my solitude as in this dim light of the approaching dawn that turns everything flat and monochromatic, the three of us set out on our journey, the first leg of it to the home of my sister, Susan and her partner, Jim, a lovely and spacious house located about fifteen miles north of Clearwater in the picturesque village of Crystal Beach, Florida.  A turn west off of the gulf coast highway onto a two-lane avenue banked by quaint bungalows, stately palms, and gnarled live oaks, their home is an enjoyable walk to the pier at the terminus of Crystal Beach Boulevard that plunges into St. Joseph’s Sound in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee weather bulletins on the radio explain the rain that pelts the windows of the van, reports of a tornado coming in, intrepid Jeff at the wheel determined to plow through while Sherri in the navigator’s seat implores him to pull over and take cover.  Stretched out by now on the back seat, my head cushioned with mounds of pillows, my feet comfortably elevated on my rolled-up blanket, I read my book and refuse to allow the storm to ruin my faith in our mild adventure that is the perfect complement to my pensive mood.

                Our cell phones begin to ring, family members and friends watching the storms on their televisions calling us to issue updates and warnings, frantic voices that are in league with Sherri that we pull over and ride out the inclement weather.  As it turned out, we had been just half of an hour ahead of the tornado and feeling blessed but also with many “ifs” filling our minds as we arrive at our destination…“if we had left Columbus a few minutes later”…“if we had required fewer restroom stops,”—we would have been right in the middle of the storm.    

A few hours sleep and waking to warm, Florida sunshine, we exhaust the first half of our first day on the lanai of our host’s home, a screen-in structure sheltering the in-ground pool; barbeque; alfresco dining and television-viewing areas; plump cushions on white wicker chairs; glass-topped and circular iron table and four mated chairs; cheery tchotskes adorning any accommodating surface —a lanai lush with Susan’s collection of plants, an extensive variety hanging and/or floor-bound in pots; a shabby-chic and a welcoming environment.  I need food, however, my grain-free and sugar-free diet requiring fruits and vegetables and other essential items in abundance, and Jeff, desirous of laying-in some beer, the two of us pile into the van for a shopping-spree at the nearby Publix Grocery store.

The driveway slopes downward on its approach to the front of Susan and Jim’s home, and upon parking his van in it the previous night, Jeff had engaged the emergency brake, a piece of equipment he seldom uses.  Inserting the key in the ignition, he revs the engine, releases the emergency brake, shifts into reverse, and endeavors to back out of the driveway.  The van is frozen in place, though, but he finally gets the vehicle moving and we drive to the store to the accompaniment of a terrible grating noise under the chassis and Jeff cursing himself for failing to replace the brake pads before we had left Columbus.  Our shopping completed, we return home, still to the tune of the grinding noise, unload the groceries, and after a few minutes of discussion to form our strategy, Jeff takes the van to a Goodyear shop just behind the Publix Grocery store. 

Boy, are we lucky—once again!  Not only do the brake pads need replacing, the shoes are frozen to the drums and the emergency brake is so corroded that the mechanic has to cut the cable to release it.  Once more our minds are filled with “ifs”…“if, God forbid, we had been in a situation during our 1,800-mile road trip whereby excellent braking ability had been required”…“If the driveway of Susan and Jim’s home hadn’t been a sloping one requiring the engagement of the emergency brake which was the catalyst to the discovery of the problem”…“if it had remained undetected and we had set out to our second destination”—well, you can imagine the rumblings of our minds.  

As Susan is in Tampa at rein at Bonafide Pet Grooming, the business she owns, and Jim is performing with his band, The Crystal Beach String Band at the Amvets Music Festival about an hour north of here, at the steering wheel of Jim’s car and Sherri in the navigator’s seat again, I pick up Jeff at the Goodyear shop and the three of us spend the evening touring the shops and gorging on fabulous dinners at Hellas Greek Restaurant in neighboring Tarpon Springs, the city and the restaurant among our favorite spots on the Gulf Coast of Florida.  My dinner, accompanied by two glasses of a mellow cabernet, consists solely of an enormous Greek salad topped with shrimp, half of it carted home with me in a Styrofoam box.    

Thus far, our weekend enjoyment has been tainted with the news of the storm’s devastation that trickles in, but we are counting our blessings, I, with a strong sense that even more of them are on the wing as the day after tomorrow we hit the road again to visit our family in Interlachen, Florida, a much anticipated visit with my father, Lee; my brother, David; his wife, Dorothy; their son, Leland, and Dorothy’s brother, Johnny.  A storm in the middle of the night downs palm tree fronds here in Pinellas County, a squall that wakens me and as the mist of the blowing rain sprays my face, I ride out the storm cozied-up in a wicker chair on the lanai, my body wrapped in one of Susan’s many afghans, colorful crocheted and quilted pieces of fabric art that swaddle chairs throughout the house and the lanai.  Feeling grateful for the Grace that is so often bestowed on me, at storm’s end, I toddle back to bed.

Now at 11:00 am, Sunday, March 4th, the sun is bright again, a shining, fair-weather day, and as Jim cooks breakfast, we look forward to our day, a trek to the Dunedin Fine Arts Center high on the agenda.  But then again, maybe other things are in order as breakfast is completed, a felty quiet has lowered over the house, an atmosphere owing to Sherri and Jeff’s one-on-one outing, and Susan’s curl-up on her bed.  Jim’s nose is in his Sunday crossword puzzle, an activity that consistently captures the interest of this brilliant and intriguing Soul.  My work on my blog posting up-to-date, I will head to the bathroom for a shower and a shampoo, content that the day will unfold just as it is supposed to do. 

Sherri, Jeff, and Jim, the sports fans in this diverse group of five, are couch potatoes taking in the Honda Classic on television today while Susan and I, the artists in my family, drive to an amazing art exhibition at the Dunedin Fine Arts Center.  As evening descends, Jim, the Wolfgang Puck of our group, whips up Cornish hens, rice, broccoli and cauliflower, and a salad, a dinner followed by strawberries for dessert as we settle in for a night of television, the middle-of-the-night rainstorm bringing with it air too cool for an evening on the lanai, but a peek outside reveals a black sky clustered with stars and a moon just one slight press from full. 

Largo, Florida, a sun-dappled and scenic drive south along the winding gulf coast highway, a mere fifteen minutes from the Crystal Beach home of Susan and Jim, is our destination this Monday morning, March 5th, my day’s outing with Susan and Sherri to include a tour of the beautiful Florida Botanical Gardens there.  Lunch on the glassed-in porch of Sea Sea Riders in Dunedin, mine of mahi mahi and spiced black beans, a seaside restaurant with patrons at nearly every table, is our prelude to Susan’s dental appointment at 2:00 pm, and then home for an evening with Jim and Jeff, one of dinner and a rowdy, late-night game of euchre for the four of them, and bed for me.

                My sisters and their mates are avid euchre players, and I lay in my bed for these few moments before slumber feeling pleasure at their heated exchanges:  “Why did you trump my right bar?”… “Why did you throw that ace when I had it covered with my king?”…and on and on, the high spirits fly.  As my father and my brother are also enthusiasts of the game, I grew up believing that such banter is just part of the contest, but I learned differently when I also began playing it on a regular basis with a group of my girlfriends.  Our games are tame—not the battlegrounds of those of my family, although they wouldn’t have it any other way because to them the arguing is required fare of the pastime.

                An early morning rise—a shower and a shampoo, and by 9:15, Tuesday, March 6th, Sherri, Jeff, and I are on the road again, the second leg of our journey underway.  An uneventful 3½ hour drive under our belts, blessing number three arrives soon after our arrival at the home of my father.  Cooled by a breeze from a disappearing lake in a country region outside of the blink-and-miss-it town of Interlachen, Florida, a lake disappearing due to a persistent drought, overuse by a local industry, and too many wells being drilled statewide (according to my brother), phenomena that are draining the aquafer, my 87 year old father greets us joyfully from his chair at his table in his lanai as we enter his tiny, two-bedroom cottage.

                The approach to the cottage is circular, the curve to the right skirting the large laundry/second bathroom/storage shed and terminating directly at the door of the lanai, which is the front door of the cottage; the curve to the left opening onto a wide section of front lawn used as extra parking space for the vehicles of visitors.  Jeff had nosed his van onto the curve to the left and had parked it on the lawn—thank goodness, considering the event that was about to unfold:

                Leland, my Floridian, country-born nephew, upon seeing the van pass by on the common drive to my brother’s house and my father’s cottage, soon after our arrival, drives his father’s Ford Ranger to the cottage, taking the right rather than the left curve of the circle.  An eighteen year old, 245 pound, six plus footer, and even taller in his perpetual cowboy boots, Leland moseys into the lanai dejectedly, a perplexed look, for those moments aging considerably, his blond, little-boy face.  “The left front wheel of Daddy’s truck jist sunk in a great big hole out by the shed!” he informs us.

                “What hole?” in unison my father, Jeff, Sherri, and I inquire. 

“There ain’t no hole out by the shed!” my father submits emphatically.

“Well, I know there ain’t, but there is now!” Leland rejoins.  “Jist come on out an’ look fer yerself.”

Long minute by long minute ticks by as shovels and a hoe are extracted from the shed and much frantic digging commences, for indeed, the tire of the Ranger is sunk to the hubcap of the wheel in this mysterious hole.  The digging is futile, as are items used for leverage, for with each revving of the engine and attempt to move the pick-up, all of the wheels sink deeper and deeper into the soft, sandy soil.  All other attempts frustrated, at last Leland lopes up the hill to his house and drives his Jeep back down, and the nose of the Jeep to the back of the Ranger, he pushes the lodged vehicle out of the hole.

At once, a putrid odor from the exposed hole assaults our noses, noxious fumes so horrible it can only be of human derivation.  “Gee Gad, it’s the septic tank?” my father exclaims.  Indeed it is the septic tank, the smaller one Dad had installed twenty-five years earlier specifically for the laundry and the extra bathroom he had put in the shed.  Further digging of a cavity of about five feet square reveals the concrete top of the tank, a top with a large hole caved in at its center, a hole of about 18” wide by 24” long, and two lengths of exposed rebar spanning its length.  The weight of vehicles repeatedly driving across it over the years had slowly created the weak spot in the concrete and that very morning it had reached the critical point of collapse.  “Gee Gad, what if…,” my father submits, a statement that sets off a whole series of “What ifs” among us. 

As fate would have it, the two lengths of rebar are set together closely enough to have supported the wider tires of the Ranger, preventing it from falling completely into the tank.  Had it been Jeff’s van with its narrower tires that surely would have slipped between the span of the rods of rebar, and its heavy cargo of three human beings, all of our luggage, and all of our other traveling paraphernalia that only a few minutes before would have accosted it had Jeff taken the right rather than the left curve in the circular drive…well, I’ll leave that up to your imaginations…as once again, I thank Grace for blessing number three on our journey.                

Chores on the part of Sherri, Jeff, and Leland have filled the last three days—the repair of the septic tank, the removal of a rotted fence, power-washing of the exterior walls of the shed and of the cottage, and more.  I’ve spent my days doing some light housekeeping for Dad, laying in food, and cooking plentiful dinners each evening.  Tomorrow morning, Saturday, March 11th, Sherri, Jeff, and I will pack up and head back to Columbus.  I end this last night with my aged father counting my blessings—blessings that nobody fell into the septic tank, that the brakes on the van held during our long trip from Ohio to Florida, and with prayers for the victims of the violent storms of the night of Friday, March 2nd, 2012, my mind/heart knowing full well that Grace kept Sherri, Jeff, and me safe from those calamities.