Archived Post August 2007

Dinner with Nour

          “Yes’m old friends is always best, ‘less you can catch a new one that’s fit to make an old one out of.”

~ Sarah Orne Jewett ~

Tonight we had a dinner party – this is not news, it is what we do.  After the party we walked our dog, Merry Margaret, stopped and chatted with a neighbor, who was doing lawn work in the middle of the night, a woman after my own heart; and then dropped in on Fran, who we adore not only because she watches Merry, but because we can drop in on her at one o’clock in the morning.  The food has been put away, the dishwasher is running, and Kate has gone to sleep.  Me, I am wide awake.  Our party this evening was different; it felt like a California party!

The guests of honor were our dear friend Nour’s extended family.  His family is visiting from Kuwait.  They are Lebanese Christian’s who have lived most of their lives in Kuwait.  After I invited Nour’s family, I asked Nour about the menu.  We decided that I would make Cuban food which Nour felt would be something special, for them, and which I thought would at least contain familiar ingredients.   

Since moving to Florida, I rarely make Cuban food, for guest, as it is so common here; just as when we lived in California, I rarely prepared Mexican food, for parties.  I had made Cuban food for my first dinner party, when I was in college.  My roommate, Glenda, who was Cuban, invited her cousin, whose name I can no longer remember, and I invited my sister, Joy, who was friends with her cousin.  I was a brave soul, and decided to make Cuban food for this group who were all missing their mother’s cooking.  I had never made black beans before, and salted them before they were tender – thus they never got tender; but everyone graciously ate them.   Tonight, the beans faired fairly better, thank God.

As I play the night over, in my mind, I am struck by how familiar an evening with strangers felt.  Tonight, I missed my California friends, most of whom have also spread their wings, and left the sun soaked streets of Southern California, for greener pastures.  I thought about how seamlessly the groups would have melded.  The music, the conversation, and the food were all perfect, because they were all enjoyed unanimously. 

I had been worried about serving roast pork, the Cuban national dish, to a group of people from the Middle East.  I knew they were Christian’s and were therefore not bound by any religious restrictions which would have excluded the consumption of pork, and I had asked Nour, if it would be okay, and he reassured me that is was fine, I nevertheless worried about offending cultural sensitivities, and made a back up chicken dish.  I need not have bothered.  As the group, came to the table, and the dishes were explained, it was the pork which seemed to interest everyone.  After a few minutes, Nour’s younger sister, explained to me that when they travel, outside of the Middle East, all they eat is pork.  I quietly sighed with relief.  Her husband then added that pork was illegal in Kuwait.  I was surprised by his revelation.  I knew it was illegal in Saudi Arabia, but I had somehow thought of Kuwait, as being a more secular nation. 

It is amazing what we take for granted.  I think, in the United States, the only limit we feel is financial, and perhaps that is enough; but it rarely occurs to us that there is something we can not have or not do. 

Since Hurricane Wilma, Kate and I have often spoken about leaving South Florida.  Our neighborhood has yet to recover, and we are now faced with those home repairs that we have put off, since buying the house.  We have seen changes which we find displeasing, and being born to parents with wanderlust, my first inclination is always to leave.  Yet, tonight as I wrapped the left over pork, to send home with Nour, and replayed the conversations about visas and religious persecution, and citizens rights in Kuwait, I also thought about how perhaps we have found our home, and though we can come and go as we please – maybe it is time to stay put. 

As we grow older, I think it becomes more difficult to make new friends.  I do not know if it is just the environments, in which we interact, or the fact that are lives feel so full with the business of living, that we do not make room for new people.  I find comfort in my old friends.  The years pass, and often what we had in common with people initially, like Algebra, or your last name starting with the same letter, no longer seems to matter.  Yet, there is something lovely about chatting with an old friend who remembers you way back when making the drill team seemed important, or comforted you when your heart was first broken, but it seems like we have made room for new friends, as well. 

I think of Nour’s family as I would have of Lia’s or Shahnaz or Melody’s or Thelma’s, because I thought of Nour as I did Lia, Shahnaz, Melody, or Thelma.  Unlike Maine, where our neighbor’s family had been given the land, which they now lived on, as a thank you for having served in the Revolutionary War, and where we knew we were never going to become Mainers, Florida is a place where the melting pot meets the salad bar.  There are Floridians who were born and raised here, but most of us seem to have been transplanted from some far away borough in New York, land in South America, country in the Middle East or island in the Caribbean; and we have been lucky enough to find a few people from all of those places, that are worth making old friends out of, for keeps. 

We did have a California party tonight, and the Californian’s would have fit in beautifully; and I so wish you were all here, but I cannot help but think that I should make Italian food, in a couple of weeks, and invite Nour’s family back, as well as these Floridians, who have made their way into our hearts and help define home.  I think I shall run that one by Kate, so that is all for now. 

~ M ~


August 2007


You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.  We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.  If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here.  We did all that could be done.”
~ President Ronald Reagan ~

As summer continues to sizzle, I am looking forward to autumn, though I know our weather will not change, in the least, except perhaps a dreaded tropical storm or worse, a Hurricane.  One of the activities which I was most anticipating was volunteering on the presidential campaign; but I must say that my enthusiasm has stalled. 

There are wonders, in the United States, which can only be appreciated by direct participation.  No matter how many pictures of the Statue of Liberty one may see, when you confront the lady in person, and climb those magical steps, she takes your breath away; as does driving up the curving lanes of highway 244, as you twist and turn, looking forward to your first glimpse of Mount Rushmore, or walking up to the edge of the Grand Canyon, and peering over into a seemingly endless abyss.  Yet, no matter how enveloping a sense of awe is produced, by staring at these grand, physical icons of America, nothing compares to casting a ballot, signing a petition, or holding a sign in protest, as you congregate with like minded souls. 

Everyone, at some point in their life, should enjoy the privilege of direct participation in our political process.  It is not just that such a high price has been paid, so that we may have a voice, in how our country is run; or that we have privileges and powers which people, in other nations, can not even begin to imagine; but rather that when we engage in the process, and take ownership of our nation, we are empowered to be better citizens, and not just victims of campaigns with too much money or too many Hollywood connections or too many religious right activists.  If we fight the good fight, whether our candidates or issues win or lose, we never walk away feeling defeated, because we know that we gave it our best effort. 

The problem I am having is finding my candidate to support.  Like the majority of good Cuban–Americans, I am a Republican.  The association between the Cuban–American population and the Republican Party goes back to the invasion of the Bay of Pigs, which failed because President Kennedy, a Democrat, changed the landing site, and renounced his pledge of desperately needed and long anticipated air support.  It has often been said that the only man more hated in Miami than Fidel Castro, is John Kennedy.  Thus, I am not going to be voting for Hillary Clinton, even though she is a woman.  It has been my intention to work on the Giuliani campaign, but I am not entirely happy with what I am seeing from Mayor Giuliani.  So, I have decided to reach out to the Mayor’s campaign with a few of my issues.   

First, what set him apart from other Republican candidates was that he had a more progressive stance on social issues, which personally appealed to me, and made him a candidate I could sell.  I view him as a candidate who will not be afraid to act, to ensure our national security, and that is his most appealing quality, but I am not happy that he is back tracking his stance on abortion and gay marriage or civil unions.  I thought it took courage to say I am not a cookie cutter candidate!  This is who I am and what I believe — vote for change!

The second problem, I am having, is this whole public relations mess with his children.  I agree, his personal life is none of our business; but as it stands now, this is going to impact his ability to be elected.  His “people” should have made him understand, if he himself did not already, that he should have found a way to make a public peace with his children, before launching his campaign.  I am not thrilled about the three marriages, as I do believe that stability in your personal life is a factor in your public life, but sometimes things just do not work out — however, if he cannot garner his children’s support, the people who know him best, then we have a problem.  I feel like he is getting bad advice in addressing this issue, which then makes me wonder about what kind of people he has chosen to work with him, in the campaign.

I am very upset to think that Hilary Clinton may be the next president, and I always believed that Mayor Giuliani could beat her, but thus far, I can tell you he has a public relations problem.  The momentum in his campaign is not building; in fact, I think our entire party is in trouble.  He needs to do something to get people excited, he needs to deliver a speech which points out why he is different from all of the other white men, mostly divorced, at least once, who are running for president.  I know that the base of the party is supposed to be fundamentalist, but I think it is just motivated individuals.  I have lived the last twenty years of my life with a lovely Democrat, and I can tell you what we fight about is politics, lately the house is entirely quiet.  I am your base, and I do not feel convinced that Mayor Giuliani is in this fight the way Hilary is – to win. 

I realize that there is a lot of pressure on candidates to appeal to a wide variety of people, but we, the American people, want to know we have a strong president, who will guide us through sorrow and joy.  I cannot imagine the weight of having everything you say and do scrutinized by people like me, whom you have never met; but that is the game these days.  The party needs to come together if there is any chance for change.   We have to show that we can win, but more importantly that we want to win!  I firmly believe that the reason George Bush Sr., lost his reelection campaign was because he projected a tired and indifferent persona, to the public.  We cannot be afraid, people sense fear and run. 

I think instead of saying that his relationship with his children is a private matter, which nothing is, he needs to say: Hey, my kids are upset with me because I left their Mother.  Yes, they have the right to be upset, and I am sorry I hurt them, and sorry I hurt their Mother.  I am sure I am not the only parent out there struggling to make things work, with their family.  In fact, I am sure we can all relate to complicated familial relationships, that are not as we wish they were, however, this in no way impacts my ability to lead this nation.  I am working to help my children, come to terms, with my choices, and I wish you would allow them the time they need for healing.  This is a nation of divorced families and people will appreciate his candor, instead of double speak. 

I am waiting to see fire in Mayor Giuliani!  I want to know that I am supporting the candidate that is going to go all the way or at least give it a hundred percent.  In fact, I am waiting to see something – anything from the party period, but that is for another time, so that is all for now.

~ M ~


August 2007


And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (King James Version)

We are once again organizing our life.  Since shipping the furniture to Beth, we are thrilled to be able to park our car, in the garage, again.  While, working in the garage, going through Christmas things, I opened a large plastic bin of baby things.  The bin houses baby clothes that belonged to Kate, as well as a collection of baby blankets that were made by Tursia, a life long friend of my Mother.

Tursia lived her life in southern Ohio, she raised six children, plus dozens of foster children, managed a 40 acre farm, raised championship show dogs, volunteered with the 4-H, gardened, canned everything from preserves to soup, and was a seamstress and a weaver. 

The first Tursia box which I remember came when I was five years old.  We had been living in Puerto Rico, and my parents were working in the ministry, in the days when Protestant clergy rarely had salaries of any substance or insurance or retirement accounts.  There was a great excitement when the box arrived, mostly I think because my Mother loves getting mail, and secondly because it was a surprise, which we all enjoy.  As we gathered around, and Mother opened the box, we found dozens of little outfits for my sisters and me, all made from the same bolt of fabric; Tursia was a practical person.  We had pajamas, sun dresses, play clothes, and church clothes all made from the same pale pink fabric, with little flowers.  The clothes were wrapped around jars of jams and jelly, that were equally well received, and on the bottom of the box were two Tursia rugs. 

Tursia made rag rugs, on these large wooden looms, which she sold; along with hand stitched quilts.  Through the years, Tursia would send Mother periodic boxes of home made treasures, sometimes to sell, looking for new customers, but mostly for Mother to enjoy and share.  My Mother treasured Tursia rugs, and therefore my sisters and I treasure Tursia rugs.  The last time I saw Tursia, I took Kate to meet her, and I bought out all of her inventory.  In fact, in what I took Beth, was her very own Tursia rug.  The girls were all very young, when I saw Tursia, but I purchased rugs for each of them, wanting to make sure that they too would share in this legacy. 

It has now been a few years since we lost Tursia, though her name remains in my address book.  As I sit here writing, I can see that the rugs in my kitchen and in the Florida room are all Tursia rugs; I keep thinking that I need to get a larger area rug for the Florida room, but Tursia did not make rugs that size. 

The baby blankets have left me feeling melancholy.  A couple of them were given to me by Mother, when she gave me my first set of rugs.  They were to be the blankets for the children I did not have; the other’s, I purchased the last time I saw Tursia, wanting to be of some aid to her, for all of her kindness to our family.  As I look at these beautiful baby quilts, I am left wondering what to do with these hand made treasures? 

It never occurred to me that I would not have children, in fact, I imagined at least six.  I am now reaching that stage in life where one is forced to come to terms with regrets.  They, those wise, faceless souls, say that what we most regret in life is not what we do, that does not work out as planned, but what we did not attempt.  I tend to agree.  One of the blessings of living in this day and age is that we so often feel limitless, we attempt the unimaginable.   (I know I often think about how much my father would have loved the world of the Internet and home computers.  I am sorry he did not live to see the magic which we daily take for granted.)

But life is filled with limits, and time often seems to sit a top of the list.  It is not just a biological clock which is about to explode, but it is the reality of our life.  One of my favorite Bible verses, often quoted by my Mother, is that all things work together for the good, for those who love and trust the Lord. (Romans 8:28) I have always found comfort in those words, but what about those things which do not seem to work together?  I often think that my courage must not be sufficient to sustain my desires.  Throughout the years, when thinking of these imaginary babies, that were to be coddled in Tursia’s blankets, I always assumed they would arrive at the perfect time.  It did not occur to me that there might not ever be a perfect time, and that I would be left with a stack of baby blankets in need of a home.  It seems like time has all but run out, but I am not ready to discard the blankets, though I should be, I think. 

Perhaps, I was only meant to be the custodian of these treasures.  Tonight, I checked my email and found a “Save the Date” notice, announcing Beth and Kyle’s wedding date.  They had called, earlier in the week, to let us know that they had become engaged.  Our most heart felt congratulations to Beth and Kyle. 

Though it is a cliché, I can still remember the day Beth was born, as if it were yesterday.  We somehow began to refer to her as Thumper, before she was born – maybe she thumped her Mommies tummy.  I could not wait to meet this little person, who was the first extension of our family. 

None of my Father’s family had left Cuba, and for most of our life, we had little contact with my Mother’s family, in Ohio.  Suddenly, our family was about to grow.  I paced outside the delivery room for hours, until we were finally allowed to go in to see my sister, Joy, and Beth.  As we walked in, I remember that Joy looked exhausted, but beautiful.  She had had a difficult delivery, as Beth had her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck – my Mother has always credited that now nameless doctor with saving Beth’s life.  There she was this perfect child, with ten toes and ten fingers.  I was standing in the recovery room, holding Beth, when Joy told me her name and that she would be named after me, Beth Jillian.  I have been accused, by many, including Joy, of being overly sentimental; and I am sure that it is true, but that day I had the right to weep joyfully. 

I can remember Beth taking her first steps, and falling, onto a Tursia rug, in her diapered bottom; and her Mother gingerly lifting her up, to try again.  My memories often keep the girls, as my nieces are known, at around three years of age.  But as I think back at Beth’s life, and remember her first day of school, and her many birthdays, and her learning to ride a bike, and drive a car, her high school graduation, her first job, and even her first broken heart, I am left wondering if maybe these lovely, handmade blankets, were simply meant for someone else, and my job has been to preserve them until all things worked together for the good of those who love and trust the Lord. 

When Beth was five years old, and was asked what she wanted to be, when she grew up, she said: A medical missionary and a mother.  She is now in college, studying to be a nurse, and preparing to marry a man who is in the ministry, with desires for the “mission field.”    When we met Kyle in August, we found him worthy of being entrusted with our Beth.  I do not know what the future holds for these two, but perhaps they will find themselves in need of a baby blanket, in the years to come, and on that day, I may well experience the same delight, as I did on the day Beth was born. 

I shall wash the blankets, and continue waiting for the perfect moment, so that is all for now. 

~ M ~

August 2007

Life and Death

 Nothing is easier than to denouce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.
~Fyodor Dostoevsky ~

Today, John Couey was sentenced to death for the kidnap, rape, torture, and murder of Jessica Lunsford, a nine year old, third grader, that he buried alive. 

I remember when Gary Gilmore was executed in 1977.  There was a lot of press, as he was the first person to be executed, in the United States, since the reinstatement of the death penalty.  There are three things that thirty years later still stand out, in my memory.  First this was a major topic of conversation, in our home, with everyone, except me, agreeing that he should be killed.  Second, I remember that as always, it did not matter that I disagreed, with the general concession, but rather that I was able to defend my opinion.  Finally, I remember that this was the moment when I decided that I was against the death penalty, after having gone through weeks of agonizing thought and debate. 

I do not remember knowing the specific elements of Gilmore’s case.  Instead, I decided that there could be nothing more premeditated than the state strapping someone to a chair, after having granted them their last meal and wishes, then aiming five rifles, at their heart, and pulling the triggers.  Actually, as I think back now, I do remember that there was a drawing of his execution, in the paper – perhaps I am wrong, but somehow that pictures stands out in my mind. 

Through the years, I was comfortable with my choice.  I like thinking of myself as a black and white person.  I realize that is not considered, by many, to be a good quality, but I have always appreciated knowing exactly how I felt, and was comfortable being able to say that I did not know how I felt, when I was unclear about an issue or idea.  I have consistently believed that we go through a process, which brings us to our beliefs, once we have all of the information that we needed.  I was at peace being against the death penalty.  I joined Amnesty International, and began writing letters, happy with my choice until April 19, 1995.

On that morning, I was ironing, in my bedroom, when the phone rang.  It was my Mother, who wanted to know if I had the television on, I did not.  “Turn it on.”  That was perhaps, our briefest conversation.  I turned on the television, and watched as Peter Jennings began to speak about the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 

Those were our road trip days, when we still lived in California; we had often driven through Oklahoma City, crisscrossing the United States.  We knew Oklahoma City well, and we liked her people, who were always courteous, and easily and joyfully recommend good restaurants.  My home was decorated with art work from Oklahoma City.  Like the rest of the nation, I watched in horror and disbelief, while those images permanently seared into our collective memory.  Still, to this day, I can not understand why Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols would do such a thing, but they did – with complete premeditation. 

On June 11, 2001, Timothy McVeigh, was executed by lethal injection, the first person executed, by the Federal Government, since the death penalty had been reinstated.  I remember the day he died.  As his execution became emanate, I found myself trying to rely on what I felt about the death penalty being premeditated, cruel, and inhumane; but instead, I found myself in turmoil.  It was too much.  There had been too much bloodshed that could not be explained by poverty, childhood, mental instability, or bad influences.  When he died, I was torn, but not because he deserved to live, but because I thought he should die. 

Tonight, as we saw the headlines about John Couey, Kate asked me if I was sad.  I said yes.  She then said but look what he did to Jessica.  I said yes.  The injustice and inhumanity of the death penalty have been overshadowed by the monsters which can not be explained.  I hate the death penalty; I would like to be clear on this issue.  I would like for my answer to stand out in black and white – but I do not know what to do about Jessica.  What has happened to us, as a nation that the unthinkable has become common place? 

In Florida, we are following the Dunbar Village rape case, which involves a Haitian immigrant and her son, who were assaulted, robbed, raped, and finally forced to engage in sexual activity, together, at gun point.  The gang, who assaulted this mother and son, were young men, who found her an easy target, as she was Haitian, and not African American, like the majority of the residents of Dunbar Village, a housing project in Palm Beach County.  (

When I heard the details of this story I felt sickened.  How do this mother and son ever recuperate?  What will make them whole again?  What will happen to the ten suspects in this case, not all in custody, some who are minors?  The parents of the suspects, have trickled forward, explaining how great their sons are, and how they were not raised to be rapist, so what happened? 

My sister and her husband work with criminals, and often have trouble garnering support in their efforts, to help convicts, once they leave prison.  Perhaps the convicts deserve assistance; but I keep thinking about the victims, and the fact that our ideals have also become a victim of crime.

When I saw the pathetic, broken man, that is John Couey, sitting in court, my heart broke for him, thinking about what awaits him; but I also thought about the horror that Jessica must have experienced as he raped her and then buried her alive.  Does this man really deserve to live?  I am glad I was not on his jury and gladder still that I was not the honorable judge, who sentenced him to die; and while I am sad that the state is going to take his life, in what I still feel is a premeditated act of death, I am sadder still that he has forced us into this predicament. 

This week, as we walked Merry Margaret, we came across a young woman, walking quickly down the street.  Kate and I both said hello to her, and after the woman had passed, we commented on the fact that she was caring a grocery sack in one hand, and had three bags flung over her shoulder.  We walk late in the evening, and the woman seemed out of place.  As we continued our walk, we started going over our impressions, of the woman and how we both felt like we should have asked her if she was okay, though we had not, sadly.  I then tried to excuse our behavior:  She was a total stranger.  What would we have done for her?  We cannot bring strangers into our home!  What if she had a gun?  Maybe she is fine.  She is probably going to a friend.  She must have a friend.  Maybe she is going to catch a bus.  After all, things have changed; even innocent looking people really are ax murders these days. 

We saw a large, red truck speed by us, and make a U-turn, but we continued making excuses, until we got to our drive way and heard a scream.  Suddenly, there were no more excuses.  Why had we not asked the woman if she needed help?  We spent the next hour driving around, trying to find the woman, who was no where to be found.  Maybe the woman was fine, and the scream and truck had nothing to do with her, but maybe all she needed was a little help from a stranger.  I failed her, I should have acted. 

Next week we will begin training for a neighborhood watch, in our community.  A few weeks ago, we went to the Police Department, to set up the program in our area; and easily recruited the dozen people the Sergeant suggested that we would need. Will this empower us, or make us more jaded?  Can we try to prevent crime?  I do not know. 

I do know that surviving violence did not change my opposition to the death penalty.  I was fortunate to find Kate, and am grateful that she gave me a safe place, in which I could become a survivor, instead of just a victim; but not everyone is lucky enough to find a Kate, or to survive an attack.  Jessica did not get a chance to survive and the mother and son in Dunbar Village may not have the resources needed to become survivors.  No ones purse should be robbed, or car stolen, or house broken into, it is all wrong.  We should feel safe in our homes; community and nation; but purses, cars, and household goods can be replaced.  Jessica can not be given back her life; and how will that mother and son ever be able to restore, between them, what has been destroyed?  What do we do with people who murder and torture the innocent?

I miss my black and white world, and lately it seems that more and more of my life is falling victim to gray – I suppose some may say that is progress.  Perhaps I am back to my own lack of courage, to support my convictions, but I feel changed, and not for the better.  I do not want to be indifferent to the John Couey’s of this world; and I do not want to be numbed by the violence, which they perpetrate; but I also do not want to forget the victims, which so soon become nameless, while the attackers become movies of the week.  Tonight, I have no answers – nevertheless, that is all for now.

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