October 25, 2010

Rural diversity

What's a little diversity among friends? Having grown up with pre-school playmates who were almost all black, recovering tuberculosis patients at the hospital where my dad worked as medical director, and spent my teen years in Malvern OH, where the small percentage of blacks didn't seem all that different from anyone else, I wondered why the publisher was wasting his money on "diversity training" when I worked at the Plain Dealer.
Sure, my former copy editor Felipe Nieves, a Puerto Rican, was moved to ask "Where's the color?" when he visited me in Minerva and Malvern a couple years ago. I lamely pointed him to Clearview Golf Course just outside Minerva in East Canton, founded by a graduate of Minerva High School, frustrated by discrimination in golf. Most of my friends learned to golf there and take advantage of the PGA/LPGA professional instruction provided by the Powells. Certainly they helped educate the rural people with some money.
Facebook friend Bill Monroe Sr. used to caddy there himself, while is mother was the postmistress of Malvern, OH. People like my father, who was truly color blind, were proud of that and didn't like that Diane's parents moved her out of town when she took up with one of our basketball stars.
So I can't gloss over America's shortcomings in race relations by pointing to a golf course or a black postmistress. Malvern had some other integration problems, too, but to me, a white girl, they seemed not too great.
Let's just say we got along better than our counterparts in the big cities and leave it at that. So, that's the backdrop for our gathering at West End Inn a couple Saturday's ago. Some of us had not seen each other for nearly 40 years and were eager to be reunited with Dietra Monroe Turner and Faye Brown (Stokes-Gardner), whatever he last name is now! As aside, she announced, "I've been married and divorced three times!" Oh, two knee replacements, too!
Faye was a live wire when were growing up. She and I used to run together in my little red VW. Earlier, those who were allowed to go to the sock hops, were entertained by her rendition of the funky chicken.
My friend and colleague at the Plain Dealer, Philip Morris, a black columnist, used to quiz my about rural blacks, how they got there. I guess I could only say the same way as everyone else everywhere else. Anyway, for a dozen of us, it was a great reunion, that Saturday night in October.
Cheryle Burwell Clark was some years older than Dietra, but you couldn't tell, could you!
The Gamber girls, Karen on the left and Beth seated next to me, lived on a farm very close to the Eakin girls. And Faye spent a lot of time there. Kathy Eakin Shingleton is on the right below, with Donna Early Tope and Connie Lambert Crowl. Stan Gamber is the only guy in the group picture. at the top. He graduated with me.
It was a great evening among great friends. We vow to do it again!

October 22, 2010


"I thought I'd never see you again!" she said. Helen Decker, 91, moved away from Lake Mohawk while I was heading out to college. She lived two doors away when there was not yet such thing as next door neighbors; she and her family lived several lots away. We lived in a bay that had few year round residents. When I came home from school, I'd head there first and she would make grilled cheese and pickle sandwiches. Her daughters were friends and one, Zella, lived next door to her parents with her sons.
37 years is a lot of time. Before I saw Helen, I saw Zella and we talked. At first, I thought she was Helen! Zella, God bless, is a breast cancer survivor.
My best friend from the second half of eighth grade, when I moved to the lake and left behind Deb Page Novak in Louisville, was Debbie Decker. She and I used to comb each other's hair for hours and jabber away about our crushes. Helen recalled how I was crushed in eighth grade when my crush would not given me the time of day.
We met Saturday night, after a marathon shopping day - done in two shifts - at the Lake Mohawk Club House during a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for Dave Decker's son, Doug, who has small cell carcinoma of the lungs. Dave was the older brother with a boat who taught me to water ski.
He remembered how hard I was to teach. He did not remember how in subsequent years, I used to ski past his house and spray him with my hot little slalom ski. Selective memory I guess.
Karen Gamber-Wackerly, left, was my hostess on my trip home. The Gamber girls were cousins to Debbie, on her father and their mother's side. Karen is now the postmistress at Malvern. Her sister, Beth Shearer, has a cattle farm now. Both are widowed. Growing up, their father Dick was the cattleman and my school bus driver. My senior year, I served him breakfast at the Kopper Kettle before he went to the bus depot.
When we were growing up, Beth went on my first spring break to Florida with me. Yes. we were the hot chicks of North Miami Beach that year. And boys our age from our hometown stayed a hotel away and kept track of us, made sure no boy sharks got near. We were close that way, all of us from Malvern, Ohio.
The night was still young and the Gamber girls and I had a date at the West End Inn. Tomorrow, that story. And a little bit about the Funky Chicken.

October 14, 2010

Out of the office!

I am, as an email reply might say, out of the office until October 20. My house and dog sitter is not authorized to negotiate on my behalf (!) but if you are patient, I will! Punta dog and Zina's Guest House are in good hands. I will be in rural Ohio, the land of little wifi. I'll write when I can.

October 11, 2010

Mission accomplished

Ashley Dixon's fall vacation is down to the final hours. Friday, she met with Dr Antonio Salas, pictured here in front of La Vida Dulce Casitas, to pass along a wheel chair for a grandmother of an Isla Mujeres man. Armando is a maintenance worker/handyman who recently moved off island in search of work. His mother is a Mestiza now back in her Maya village between Merida and Campeche.
For the past six months, Armando has been trying to assemble money to get his grandmother a wheelchair so she can be amongst her great-grandkids. Things are so slow now, his family's needs so great, he could not assemble the 2500 pesos to buy her a wheel chair.
Dr Salas turn to me for help. I didn't have enough time in Ohio in June to pull it off. I turned it over to God and Facebook. Then, Gladys Galdamez got involved. She enlisted our mutual friend Kathleen Price, founder of Ohio's Mission of Love Foundation, a woman without limits, who had just finished a cleft pallet surgery brigade at the orphange founded by Gladys's mother, Casa Guatemala. Robin Mostachetti recently blogged bout her visit there.
Kathy called upon one of her donors, who made a donation in memory of his father, a long time Mission of Love volunteer. Kathy shipped the wheel chair to Ashley, who brought it down on her vacation. It didn't hurt that she has an aunt working as an airline nurse in case there were transportation issues.
Armando was leaving for the village where his grandmother now lives on Friday afternoon. Everything timed out great! The rendezvous was at 2pm and bam! the job was done.
Armando has a camera he got when times were better. He promised to take a picture of his grandmother in her new wheel chair, scooting amongst her great-grandchildren.
It doesn't take much to make a difference in lives. The motto of Mission of Love: You are not here to save the world, but to take the hand that reaches out for you.
Thank you Ashley Dixon. You made a difference.

October 7, 2010

Oxxo store in the middle of Centro!

It's the brouhaha of the moment...an Oxxo store nearly ready to open at the interesection of Hidalgo and Madero. Three doors west of Miguel's Moonlite. The bright neon is the light in front of Farmacia Mejor, on the left would be the old Gomar's restaurant. Progress?

October 6, 2010

My name is Punta

I am 11 months old now and just full of it. This blog is all about me. I demand it.
Actually, who needs to be demanding around my owner? She is a soft touch for dogs. The way I get all wound up in public, people might think she doesn't educate me. Let me tell you: At night, when the doors are locked and we are alone, she tortures me. Sit. Up. Down. Sit. Shake. Down. Up. Sit. And if I try to move away, Come! Ven, pronounced Ben because we are in Mexico.
Ben Punta is what I hear when I am in the yard ready to dig something up. Like mommie's got radar vision. Ben Punta!
Yesterday morning, Ben Punta meant we were going to get money at 7-Eleven. I like that clerk and he likes me. Right away while mommie was at the money machine, I spotted a guy I didn't like and I barked. The clerk knows to pay attention to what that person does because not everyone at all makes me bark. After mommie got her money, we rode around the island. I like to sit up straight so I can smell it all. But if I sense we are coming up on another dog, I lean in to mommie, just to make sure it's understood: I have a person!
So we came home and mommie wanted to nap because she had taken her shot at night. So I got into my bed in the closet and snoozed myself. When we got up, mommie made sure I drank water. Oh boy, that means we go!
First, we went to Chuuk Kay, Ventura's new bar on the bay where yachts pull up and the ground is beach sand. Marla was having a little get together with Katie and friends. Oh, I loved it. I sat with mommie and Gladys and pulled dead leaves off a palm. Then I wandered away and mommie wasn't worried, but a waiter came after me because you never know if someone will hurt a dog in Mexico.
Then we were off! We stopped by the dog groomer for a tick shot. He said I was handsome, that I could soon be a pony. Does that mean I'll see more kids?
Then we went to Miguel's Moonlite because mommie wanted to get a bottle of La Pinta to take to Ohio. Miguel was very nice. Mommie took that money she was saving and got us a dinner! I had rice and beans with shredded tortilla and a diced coconut shrimp. Mommmie ate the rest of the coconut shrimp. Really, one was enough for me!
And then we were off. Looking to see if Blanca was open for a mommie haircut, stopping at Susa for bleach for pets. No really, it's great. If I have an accident, hardly ever any more, then this stuff in the water makes the dirt foam until there is no odor. Cloralex para Mascotas is what she told the clerk to look for. I am a dog. I can't go into a big store like that. So we got it and mommie tipped the man 20 pesos. What? Everyone is hungry now, Punta.
We ate at Miguel's so that Miguel, the cook and the fisherman could also eat. Understand? And wasn't it yummy for us?
Then mommie got on the phone and called Blanca's husband about a haircut tonight. She says this time, I can't go. Oh well. I am, after all, a dog. Ha!

October 4, 2010

Saving another 50 pesos

Sue got me to thinking how thrifty all of us get when around here when she wrote her blog entry titled 50 Pesos.
We all live this way on the island. I referred to it the other day in the next blog entry, while I was sitting still and not spending money as I thought about my high school wave mate, JoAnne Coyle Fox. I've Tweeted about spending a day at a friend's pool with not 50 pesos between us and how well we ate.
So, along those lines, I offer a way to stretch an 18 peso can of dog food (and some kibble to spread around) into 10 days worth of of high quality dog food that Punta dog loves. Yours may too.
Put just under a pound of brown rice (arroz integral) and a similar quantity of black beans in a dutch oven. Cover with a lot water. Add 12 pesos of chicken livers (more than a pound) when the grain and bean start to get tender. Or, as is the case today, when there are no chicken livers to be had, add a can of Juicy Pedigree puppy food. Mince in some chaya leaves and cook until it is one. I have used freezer burned green beans before. You can also add in a half cup of kibble for flavor and vitamins. This yields a full dutch oven of dog food, one that the finicky Punta loves. About 12 servings at a cost of 30 pesos. Even if your dog normally eats dry kibble, this is a savings of 50 pesos! Oh, go on. throw in 3 salmon oil capsules. Tastes fishy, that Omega 3!
To enrich the flavor and not waste anything, I have occasionally added water from my canned tuna, left over tacos, a wilted carrot...whatever moves me while I clean up the fridge. It is a balanced dog food! And talk about saving, jack, Bill!

October 1, 2010

The quiet

September is a quiet time on the island. The music stops and we sit. Septiambre and Octuambre are here: a play on the word for hunger, hambre. Visits to the pawn shop are delayed as long as possible. But some are already there now.
Most of the locals have found their cheaper apartments. The landlords are all full or totally empty. The last motos or laptops have been sold. Servicemen are johnny-on-the-spot. In too many households, pets have been turned loose to fend for themselves. Grandfathers go to the sea with their grandsons and give a few pointers about the art of free diving. Then they go to town and try to sell a few lobsters or return home with with a few pesos toward getting the power back on, or no pesos but a family feast
Day before yesterday, the morning after JoAnne Fox died, a kid who raises chickens "broke" my fragile chaya bush. An audience waited as Carmen came to tell me. She left the house with scissors and bags for people to pick leaves off the suelo, ground. She was the jefa on the scene.
Loved by all, chaya leaves are rich in calcium, protein and vitamin A. They make great tamale wrappers in addition to great enrichment of scrambled eggs, soups, stews, dips and, in a blender with water and some OJ, the ultimate tart, green electrolyte-replacing beverage. Great for kidney stones, too.
La Gringa is not stingy with her chaya, so the breaking of the bush surprised me. But at least the others had the respect to see what my wishes were. Whatever...I said to Carmen. My mind was with JoAnne.
So I sat. It was a perfect day, but I didn't go to the beach. I thought about about what made us think of each other as super friends. There was the IQ thing and how our brain cells were arrayed. "Ya know" was not just an idle phrase with us. Neither of us pursued a multi-lettered academic career, but in a conversation, could just say, ya know, to each other and get it. I think health issues put us more on the same wave length than even before.At another high school reunion, we joked about that and got caught up
We always recalled, especially at high school reunions, how JoAnne and I both had mono the same season - junior year in high school. I got super fatigue due to an enlarged spleen. Her vision went. Dad gave me drugs and looked into JoAnne's eyes and sent her to an eye specialist. She had a detached retina. Weak points of the body are occasionally driven over the limit in mononucleosis. She had surgery. I got cortisone.
My mom, a customer at the hometown bank where JoAnne worked after Dad died, kept us up to date on each other. JoAnne getting a job at the bank was our joke. When she worked for Dad one summer after the mono, there was never a day she could balance the ledger at the end. She'd call me and I'd say, "Did so and so come in an pay on their account today?" And it was always something like that. So cute because the cash drawer was always in Dad's favor, but why? Ya know.
We had the 35th a year early since no one thought she'd last a year. I had written a Plain Dealer story a several years earlier about a lung transplant patient from Lake County who went to Presbyterian in Pittsburgh to get it because the Cleveland Clinic was not yet offering them. She asked if I knew if he was still alive. No, but my guess was not. She knew. Ya know?
JoAnne had some good time left. She golfed, she enjoyed her family. The birth of every one of her grandchildern. But we both understood all her time was borrowed time. When I was home in June, JoAnne was failing and so was I, in an air of desperation as I could not see how I could go on without my $35,000 a year MS drug, interferon beta 1a, Avonex. Out of drug, out of money, was how I described myself to the neurologist who invited me into his clinical trial nearly 25 years ago. Patient 3 site 2.
Avonex is referred to as an immunomodulatory. I still use the cortisone occasionally to dampen the immune system in an attack. Anyway, JoAnne and I both knew a lot about manipulating the immune system, ya know? She fending off rejection of her lungs, me of my myelin.
JoAnne went after another transplant, but her immune system and heart were against her. Transplant committee against her, she a knew she was pretty much at the end of the line. She suggested she'd label her transplant drugs, some of them experimental, in case they would come in handy with the MS. Ya know?
I was near frantic about being able to replace the Avonex source, and my old doctor at the Cleveland Clinic was working with me. But I went back to Mexico early because I thought I could get it here at about $300 a month, which is less than cost of the waiting period and the co-pay on Medicare Plan D.
So I wrote my doctors in Ohio about the various suitable interferons I could get here, what the cost of the CCSVI surgery is in Merida (highly experimental yet seemingly effective) and that I had access, if I wanted, to a host of immuno-supressive drugs in JoAnne's pantry from over the last years.
I don't know if the jugular surgery got Biogen moving or if my doctor realized that he was under the threat of JoAnne and I cooking up an immuno-supressive brew, but he got Biogen to grant me the drug free of cost for the next two years.
So, I was sitting here, not spending any money because the few dollars I have are coming to Ohio with me in 12 days. I'll be paying my respects to JoAnne at her grave with Mio , a best friend of hers from grade school, actually before grade school.
All those sentimental and grateful thoughts were coming into play yesterday afternoon when Carmen breezed in with a platter. A chaya-masa and hardboiled egg loaf with roasted, ground pepita seed and tomato dressing. A dish that belongs in a cook book. Desde el suelo. From the ground. Eggs from a neighbor boy.
So that's what I was thinking yesterday as arrangements were being made for JoAnne Fox's funeral and the music stopped on Isla Mujeres. Ya know?