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Saturday, August 4, 2001

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Frail brains and strong people

I went to my branch post office to get my mail this morning and it was closed even though it's suppose to be open in the morning. A lady sitting outside said that they were closed because they hadn't paid their electric bill. I don't know how the branch offices work, though I know they aren't actually run by the US Post Office, but I can't imagine one of them being allowed to not open because an electric bill hasn't been paid. We'll see on Monday. All our mail at work, which means most of the invoices the university pays, come through that post office and I don't think people would be happy about us not getting them.

I was riding my bike around and it was so hot today, partly because the humidity is very high. As I run my errands on Saturday I put in several miles and it was always wonderful to get inside a store even if I looked red enough to make people worry I might be having heat stroke. I picked up some nice purchases, though, as the coffee store had coffee $3.00 off a pound, which is a good discount and I picked up several things I needed at the thrift store so it was a good morning despite the heat.

It is so humid that the plants I got a week ago had mold on top and were still damp after a whole week. That is unknown in Tucson. Usually you have to water house plants at least every other day. It's dark outside this evening so maybe we'll get some more rain. We had a good rain Thursday night and then, as I was about to go to bed, I stepped out the door to see if it was still raining, it was, and then everything lit up with an explosion of light and sound, and suddenly the night went completely black, as the electricity went out. It scared me so bad as it sounded like the lightning hit right on top of me. Luckily the lights came on within a few minutes and the thunder started to diminish.

I finished one book last night and read another today. The first was "Any Given Day" by Jessie Lee Brown Foveaux. This is book written by eighty year old Jessie about her life from her birth in 1899. At the time she wrote it she had twenty three great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren, with a sixth on the way. She also wrote an epilogue for the book in 1997 when she was ninety eight years old. She wrote this as a project at the senior citizen center but when it was read by the writing instructor, he was so impressed he sent it to the Wall Street Journal who did an article on it and it took off.

I loved her description of her childhood filled with so much love though there wasn't much money. I was surprised by how much they moved. By the time she was in high school they had lived in Missouri, Arkansas, Missouri again, Anacortes Island in Washington, back to Missouri and then to Kansas were she lived for the rest of her life. Most of the moving was so her father could work and even in one area they often moved in order to be closer to her father's job or to help ill family members or be helped when they were sick. Despite what would seem like instability, most of the moves were still near family and they usually had close family and friends nearby that she could still remember clearly, even their names, children, etc., which is more than I can do for most of the people I knew as children.

She talks about World War I when she worked in the laundry room at an army base near Manhattan, Kansas. She lost her mother, who had been in ill health for a long time, and the young man she had planned to marry. She also was very sick with the influenza that killed off so many people and with encephalitis.

After the war she married a man she didn't love but she felt the man she had loved was dead so it didn't matter. Her husband turned out to be a control freak and an alcoholic who made her life a living hell but managed to give her eight children, all who were born at home. The thought sends shivers up and down my spine.

She went back to work at the base laundry room during World War II and also, finally, divorced her husband. She worked at a hospital after the war as a housekeeper and then a nurses aide while enjoying her children who started coming along. She finishes the book with little talks to all her grandchildren and a bit more moralizing that I cared for but considering what she had been though and survived I figured she deserved it. She still lives, or did when she was ninety eight, in the same house in Manhattan Kansas that she and her husband had moved to after the first few kids.

One cool lady. She also mentions in the epilogue that she visits her many great-greats, etc., by bus which I thought was so cool. She is opinionated, obstinate, and delightful.

The other book was "Defending the Cavewoman" by Harold Klawans. He is a neurologist and tells stories about interesting cases while commenting on how we got the brain that we do. I love books like this. They are a bit scary as we are a very frail species. He brings up the fact that human babies are born in a very juvenile state compared to most species so that our heads can get through the mother's pelvis. This means that our brains are so plastic compared to most species, but it also explains why children can learn language without being taught it. They can even learn several languages, if they are exposed to them, without even thinking about it. This, he explains, is why it is so stupid to start foreign languages in highschool since the window of learning languages ends at puberty. We increase our knowledge of languages we know, but not our ability to learn new ones.

He talks about a little girl who could not talk at six because she had been locked in a basement by her schizophrenic father who only barked at her, but within days of being rescued she was picking up language like a pro. He tells us about a patient who had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a close cousin of mad cow disease, a conductor who had massive brain damage from a stroke and can no longer talk but can sing, and conduct, with his left hand, why if we hurt a toe, or whatever, we are more likely to hit it again before it heals, parkinsons disease, huntingtons disease, and more. I couldn't put it down.

I just heard on television that in Japan you can have your picture put on vanity stamps that can be used to actually mail a letter. Wouldn't that be great if we could do that? Yeah, if you're a bill collector you can be shown shaking your finger at someone, or if it's more personal, giving them the finger. I don't know that might be using the us mail for obscenities. The possibilites are infinite but I'm sure we would pay highly for the privilege.

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Rachel Aschmann 2001.
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