Monday, March 30, 2009

Be Happy To Be You

March 14, 1997

[T]he idea is settle for less when it comes to comparing with others. Be happy to be you. It frees you from the awful responsible of being the best there is.

I am having such fun on the organ at Church right now. Instead of thinking belligerently, "Well, if they are going to ask me to play when they know I'm not trained to do it, they'll have to take what they get!!!” and feeling embarrassed each Sunday because I'm doing a poor job, I am practicing each week and learning new things. I am even using the pedal and trying new stops. I am happy when it sounds good, and I know it sounds good. I can't and won't compare myself with Rebecca Green, but I am glad to listen to anything Rebecca Green has to tell me about the organ and try it out. It's fun. I'm just me--a descendant of peasants and fishermen who never had such opportunities.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Crow Shooter

May 28, 1999

I love the crow shooter Peter set up for me. He fixed up a cardboard roll that is as thick as wood. It is perfect shooting hand-held bottle rockets. The bottle rockets I am shooting now don't whistle, but the crows get the message just the same. They are staying away much better. Trouble is, yesterday morning I got up at 6 a.m. and aimed my bottle rocket out the slider. When it shot off, a slight breeze coming in from the deck blew some black powder onto my nightgown and set it on fire. I now have a nice hole in my yellow gown. Luckily, I looked down in time to put out the flames. Also luckily, it wasn't a terrifically flammable material, or I wouldn't be laughing about this story.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


February 4, 1999

I finally bought the family a membership to the YMCA. It is cheaper than the Columbia Association pools, etc. Once Dad began going to the gym, he, of course, thought I should do the same. Since I lost my walking partner, I haven't been walking. The YMCA has a physical trainer on hand who does evaluations of your physical condition and makes recommendations for training. Mike also shows newcomers how to manage the "toys," as he calls them, in the gym. He's a rotund power house with a graying crew cut and a big smile.

On my first visit, Mike showed me how walk on the treadmill. It is an automatic belt with variable speeds. You work to keep up with it. At first, I felt like I was tipping over all the time. Mike made me hold on to the handle grips at each side of the belt and kept reminding me to stand upright. He set the machine at a strolling pace and left me alone with it. As I walked, I read a monitor in front of me that told me how fast I was walking, how far I had walked, how steep the grade (adjustable), and how many calories I had burned. I walked for 45 minutes and felt good. I was dismayed that I hadn't walked very far or burned very many calories when I finished.

I came next day, went to the treadmill without a guide, figured out how to turn it on and began walking. I had noticed people reading as they walked and biked and figured I could study for seminary as I did the treadmill. I brought little book on the teachings of the prophets that I wanted to read--also my glasses. A woman next to me offered a book holder that hooked onto the monitor in front of me. It was convenient, but it covered the statistics that I was so interested in the day before. I noticed that I bounced up and down a lot as I walk and decided I could get treadmill-sick if I read. I have never been able to read in the car. I increased my walking speed to the point where I felt I would get some decent distance and calorie burning and felt proud of myself at 3.7 miles per hour.

It wasn't long before I wanted to see my statistics--how long I had been walking, etc. I was comfortable on the treadmill to the point that I no longer held the handle grips for balance but let my arms swing freely at my side. It was so easy and nice, walking to music. I reached out casually to move the book to one side and knocked the book and my glasses down onto the moving belt. Concerned about my little book, I tried to retrieve it. I wondered somehow if it would get caught in the machine (shouldn't have worried about the book!). Just that much distraction was enough to throw me off balance. When I knew I was in trouble I reached out to turn the machine off as my legs kept traveling backwards. Of course, I fell onto the belt. I was aware that I couldn't get up, couldn't get off, and that my left arm was getting a terrific floor burn as the belt kept moving under me. Eventually I hit the wall behind the treadmill. It sounds like a process, but it all happened faster than I could think--something like a car accident. Three men jumped off their machines to come to my aid. I was more embarrassed than anything, but my left thumb and arm hurt, and I knew I had scraped my knee. Mike made sure he checked every spot, offered ice for my thumb. When I insisted on getting back on, he walked beside me asking me questions until he was sure my head was clear.

I went back next day but didn't let go of the handle grips at all. Took a Tylenol so that I could go to sleep that night. Everything hurt. My thumb is red, blue and purple, but my floor burns aren't bad. I had thought the gym would be a safe place to exercise in the winter. No worry about ice. I guess there is no really safe place for me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Worm in the Big Apple

October 25, 1997

Dear Mom and Dad,

Our confidence in New York City was shaken yesterday. After we had been to the MoMA, we were hungry. We bought hot peanuts from a vendor, but they were not quite enough to satisfy us until 6 p.m. We had an appointment to see Sister Valeriano (a woman I had taught in the Philippines, now 87 years old, living at 333 14th Street), and we weren’t sure we would be fed at 6. We planned to visit a shop called “Gus’ Pickles” on the Lower East Side first and entered the subway by Radio City Hall.

This was the Rockefeller Center Subway Station, a little nicer than most. A nearly deserted pizzeria came up on the right. We decided against it. And then we saw Au Bon Pain on the left. That seemed perfect. We could get a cup of soup and a bagel. Katie decided to get fruit instead of soup but found that the watermelon was bad. I encouraged her to take it back to the counter. As she left, I had the sensation that something slipped from its place near my hand. I turned to the left and noticed a man headed for the door and yelled, "My wallet!" "You took my wallet!" "He has my wallet!" He broke into a run. I was running after him yelling, "Give me my wallet!!" "Give me my wallet!!" "Give me my WAAA-LET!!!"

All I could think of was the little money I had, my checks, my cards, my ID, everything I valued that HE had no right to. He was very tall and easy to see loping through the crowds. His thin head towered above everyone, and the shoulders of his light tan jacket stood out above the crowd. My voice surprised me, a foghorn magnified in the subway tunnel. A couple of men took up the chase. I was hoping for a man, a policeman, anyone ahead to stop him. I felt I was running like the wind and took three stairs at a time coming out of the subway to the street. There I met the men who had chased ahead shrugging their shoulders. He had disappeared.

I knew I had lost. The closest man pressed two quarters into my hand, apologized for my trouble and insisted I call the police immediately. At least, he said, I could claim the loss on my income tax return.

I was still trembling with adrenaline when I returned to Katie. I felt strangely invigorated. I had always wondered what my reaction to theft would be. Now, I know. It would be mindless and uncontrolled. Why would I expect control when I had never been controlled?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

“All I need is a crowbar …”

My mother was infamous for her “little projects.” Pay attention to the dates in this series of excerpts from various letters. As I recall, this particular project started with a cracked tile in the shower of the master bedroom.

March 1, 1997

[T]he shower is still torn out, but I woke up this morning with wonderful plans for remodeling the whole bathroom. Dad is terrified. All I need is a crowbar. You will love this bathroom. It will add to the value of the whole house! It's similar to the kitchen remodel. Take out walls. Let in light and air. Add a tub and tiled floor. We can do it. We watched a video on doing the floor. Easy. It just takes work and time and not that much money.

July 9, 1997

We are making inside home repairs. So far, we’ve made a major mistake with every improvement. We are putting in sun tunnels--compromise sky lights. Glenn did a great job on the first part but continued working after he was tired, lost his balance, and put his foot partly through the ceiling. We are nearly finished with the master shower I ruined last February. We’ve been down to one shower for a long time. I have to grout the new tile, and I am afraid to start. It should be easy. I have watched videos and read books. All that’s left is doing it. There is something exciting about these projects but frightening, too. All are learning experiences.

July 21, 1997

Dad put in a new shower floor, and I fixed the new row of tile. I am worried that I have chosen tile that will actually attract mildew, but we will see. Today, I put sealant on that grout and pick up a new shower door. I never would have torn things up as much as I did if I had known the cost or the time involved. It has been a great learning experience. I am actually enjoying our construction projects. It is interesting to me to see how things have been put together. I am convinced we can do as well as any builder if we just know what to do and get the right tools together--and the physical strength.

October 6, 1997

The bathroom we finally nearly finished has inadequacies. Some kind of acid is in the old paint and leaches through any new paint we put on the wall. So, this morning again, I painted with KILZ. I hope it kills the stuff, and we can be done with this project.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Mary Ellen Edmunds

I love this tribute that my mother wrote to introduce one of her good friends, Mary Ellen Edmunds, at a conference in 1990. It manages to say a lot about Mary Ellen and my mother at the same time.

I first met Mary Ellen Edmunds in Hong Kong in 1963. In spite of her hilarious letters welcoming me as a missionary to the Southern Far East Mission, I wasn’t quite prepared for her. My defenses were down. When it came time for me to meet the Mission President for the first time, I was hiding behind a door barefoot, wondering what to do. Sister Edmunds had tied my shoes to the 20 foot ceiling of the mission home. I didn’t have a clue how to get them down. I didn’t come out until my mission president was really irritated. When I finally did come out, he thundered, “Sister Davidson, WHERE are your shoes!!!

The next thing I remember him saying was, “Sister Edmunds, see me in my office after dinner.” She wasn’t scared. She was as much at home with him as she would have been with my little brother. So, that’s one side of Sister Edmunds: she plays mean tricks.

Mary Ellen was prepared early in life for such things. One morning-- just to see what her reaction would be--her own mother threw a pie in her face.

Eventually, we were companions in the Philippine Islands for 9 months. I got to know her well. I learned she doesn’t sleep as much as most people. She kept me up working all night and then made fun of me when I fell asleep on a bus the next day. She said she couldn’t decide whether to hold my legs together or to hold my mouth shut to keep me decent in public. Once she tended a little boy all night in a primitive hospital while I slept in the nurses' quarters.

There are several things Mary Ellen does not like: she can’t stand pessimism, she can’t stand being late, and she doesn’t tolerate dishonesty. I remember a dishonest taxi driver who should have known that before he let her into his cab. Because he guessed we didn’t know the territory and was driving us all over town, she grabbed the back of his neck and shook him. He was glad to stop the cab and let us out without paying his outrageous fee. Mary Ellen has the courage to stand for truth and righteousness under any circumstances. You would want her next to you in a good fight. I have seen her take on a whole gang of ruffians single handed, just because one of them was harrassing me. As a result, she earned the admiration of the whole gang.

Mary Ellen has an elephant-sized heart. That is what drives her to stay up nights, to be a champion of righteousness, and to work with all her might, mind and strength ... literally. She came home from Africa--her 4th mission--in a wheel chair. She loves people. She loves all of us, even though she notices our idiosyncrasies. She is equally at ease with the famous and the infamous, the wealthy and the poor, with the suffering and the dying, with the disfigured and the disabled. All are safe in her presence (except those who are pessimistic, those who are late, and those who are cheating). Her love is irresistible. It takes away all fear. Everywhere she goes she has a following, like the pied piper. Her following includes children and old people, men and women, sick and well. I am one of her followers. I love her and consider it a great privilege to be able to introduce her tonight.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Harvard Humility

June 29, 1996,

We’ve just come back from a business trip to Cambridge, Mass. We stayed in an old house called “A Friendly Inn” run by a Chinese family almost on the Harvard campus. Couldn’t have been closer to the old school. Dad was America’s representative there to an international medical standards group--the only American and the only non-doctor--to decide on the international standard for suction.

We took a tour there, guided by a Harvard Junior in English, who was absolutely certain Harvard is the only school in this country worth talking about. Their motto “veritas” (truth) apparently does not include humility. He also said that the only book saved from a fire in the Harvard library in 1856, The Christian War Against the Devil and his Hosts and the Flesh (approximate title), “Certainly didn’t interest him in this day.”

* * * *

I don’t remember when I have spent four such idle days. While Dad attended his sessions, I was left to myself. Most of the time, I walked the campus, the arts and science museums and the little downtown area known as Harvard Square. There are many old frame houses of all colors--mostly three stories high--and many picturesque churches in the area. I found the Cambridge Ward on Brattle Street. We were told Julia Child lived in the area and “many other famous people.” It was home to Henry James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Louis Agassis. The Longfellow house still stands. Memorial Hall at the center of campus has the appearance of a gothic cathedral erected to knowledge--beautiful stained glass windows, and a regular cathedral transcept in the center with marble plaques on its walls commemorating the Harvard Civil War dead. A large part of the building is a dark wood dining hall decorated with marble busts of philosophers and other great intellects. The exterior includes the latin learning of men mingled with scripture. In some bygone day, someone chiseled, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” over the doorway to Emerson Hall. I am not sure that is the sentiment of the current freshman class.