Smart Women

Can’t Bear The Thought

On a recent getaway to Nova Scotia, my friend, Marian, and I decided to rent bikes and explore some of the “off-road” Trans Canada Trails. The TCT are repurposed defunct rail lines that snake through parts of Canada. It’s a cool way to traverse the country while taking away the danger of biking on paved roads. I’m not a fan of biking in traffic. It makes me so anxious.

Five minutes into the trail, we were deep in the woods, with not a person in sight. Our well-worn hybrid bikes had seats that were super hard on the tushy, so I insisted that we only go 30 minutes out and 30 minutes back to prevent our precious pelvic floor from too much trauma…after all, the trail was a little gravel-ly. You could feel every bump.

I noticed a small bell on our handlebars and I started dinging it. Marian thought I was being annoying.”It’s a bear repellent”, I teased. “Or, a Moose repellent”, I added. And I dinged some more.

As we rode deeper into the woods, Marian accused me of being a drama queen.

“For someone who loves the outdoors, you sure have some issues”, she rightfully accused.

Marian didn’t realize that behind our idle biking chatter, I was having visions of getting trampled by a moose and being eaten by a hoard of wild coyotes.

About five miles out, and without seeing a soul in sight, we decided to turn around. We stopped at a clearing and took some pictures…mostly of each other taking pictures. A mile into our return, and about 20 yards ahead of us, a seven foot black bear came out of the woods and blocked the trail. We both saw it at the same time and abruptly stopped. The bear looked up at us and under my panicked breath I said, “Marian, we have to turn around”.

Without looking back, we took off like a rocket and biked away from the bear. I have to say, for us old bitches, it was Tour De France qualifying. We must have gone about two miles in the other direction when we came across a place where the trail intersected a paved road. We ran into a local on an ATV and trying to catch our breath, we told him what happened.

“Bears won’t do you no harm” he said, “but you have to watch out for the pack of wild coyotes. They ate a young girl here two years ago.”

So.Over.This.Ride.

We called the hotel and they sent two people to come get us and our bikes. The kind local stayed with us until they arrived.

Wouldn’t you know it, that the first thing everyone asked us when we got back was DID YOU GET A PICTURE?

WTF?

Now that a week or so has passed, I’ve used my emerging photoshop skills to recreate what Marian and I neglected to photograph.

marianbear.jpgThis is Marian taking a selfie.

But…because I’m a DRAMA queen, I did two other versions:

marianbear2.jpgLook closely at the left.

And finally, my favorite of the trip:marianbear3.jpg

Bears aren’t the only things that shit in the woods.

 

 

 

Aging Superpower: THE SHAPE SHIFTER

As we age, our bodies take on new shapes.

D’uh, I’m not telling you anything new. We collect some around the middle, boobs fall, asses drop, upper arms wing-out… it can cause a lot of grief, especially when you stand naked in front of a mirror and say WTF happened? The worst is when you droop-shame yourself. You got older, that’s what happened.  If you’ve ever had to get yourself out of some Spanx with a crowbar, you know what I’m talking about.

I signed up for some Art School.

Who would have thought that spending time in a figure painting class would give you a new appreciation of the human body? I want to sound like an academic painter here, but I’m not, so let me begin by saying:

Perky boobs are just not fun to paint.

If there is one thing I can take away from my art class it is that bigger is better because bigger captures light, creates shadows, adds dimension and is fucking beautiful. Period.

No offense to really thin models, but they make you feel like you’re in a medical drawing class. Pass.

The female body is amazing…shape shifting and all. We need to start a new movement. Our changing bodies are a superpower…at least on canvas.

 

 

The Great Grandma Google

Seven years ago, I wrote an essay about the time I accidentally threw away my Great Grandmother’s cherished engagement ring in the garbage and how I luckily found it in the dump before it got sent out to sea. It was a miracle of sorts and an episode that I revisit from time to time when I think about what I would have done if I hadn’t found it. That ring conjures up so many memories of my growing up in Pittsburgh with my loving, but oh-so-domineering, Grandmother. Who would have thought that some old jewelry could do that to you?

The other morning, I was thinking about how little I knew about my Great Grandmother, the original owner of that ring. She died the year I was born and nobody really talked about her. I kind of remember my Dad telling me things like, “She wasn’t very nice” and my Mother’s recollection which was a little more descriptive: “She was ten times meaner than your Grandmother, and that’s sugar coating it.” But for the most part, she remained a mystery. My Grandmother never spoke much about her except to tell me that she was extremely smart, followed by a knowing wink. It was almost if she was letting me in on a secret, without telling me what it was.

There was one unusual thing that she did mention to me back then, but I never really followed up on that because I thought it fell into the pool of my Grandmother’s other expert exaggerations like, If you cross your eyeballs they’ll freeze, Your Dad could have been a professional tap dancer, Sit up straight or you’ll be a hunchback by the time your 20, My podiatrist is madly in love with me, and so on. But today, in this easy age of Google, I felt like this story was worth looking into.

When I was ten years old, and practicing my memorization of the Gettysburg address, my Grandmother told me that during the Civil War, her mother’s family was kicked out of Kentucky by Ulysses S. Grant because they were Jewish. Why this came to my mind now, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s all this immigration talk in the news or maybe it’s because I don’t sleep and have many early mornings to sit and think about life.

It took more than a few hours on the Internet and a couple of phone calls to Paducah, Kentucky to find out that THIS WAS TRUE!

My Great Grandmother, Bertha Livingston Newman, was born in Paducah, Kentucky on June 18th, 1877. Her father, Mangold Livingston came from Germany around 1850 and settled briefly in Smithland, Kentucky. When the railroad came to Paducah in 1850, he relocated there and set up a wholesale dry goods and fruit operation, the M. Livingston Co. (think early Costco). He married his wife, Amelia Friedberg, also from Germany, around 1861. During the Civil War, Paducah was a Union stronghold but it became the place of smuggling and illegal trading with the Confederate South. Apparently, Ulysses S. Grant was super pissed about that. Some reported that Union soldiers were the ones doing the illegal trading, but somehow the Jews got blamed for it and Ulysses S. Grant issued his infamous, anti-Semitic General Order No. 11 in 1862, which expelled all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Given 24 hours to leave, Jewish families had to pack-up and head north. Bertha wasn’t born yet, but her parents and older siblings began to make their way toward Ohio. A Paducah man by the name of Cesar Kaskel, immediately traveled to Washington to meet with Abraham Lincoln and report this unconstitutional decree. Upon hearing this, Lincoln ordered Grant to revoke the order. Within a week, the Jewish families returned to Paducah and resumed their lives. My Great Grandmother was born there 12 years later. She grew up in Paducah, met her husband, Sam Newman, a businessman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Enter the ring…hello, 1895) They relocated there (that’s where my Grandmother was born) and eventually moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1900’s, where my Great Grandfather started the Keystone Grinder & Manufacturing Company, an outfit that made gadgets, which fixed busted Railroad Tracks. Old documents, county certificates and voting registries enable you to track movements, but without primary sources or saved correspondence, it is impossible to investigate “intelligence”. All this great history and my Great Grandmother didn’t leave a trail. What made her “smart”? Why didn’t I follow up on that with my Grandmother while she was still alive? The only thing that I can surmise is that Bertha had something to do with my Great Grandfather’s successful business, but I have no way of fact checking that one. We all know that behind-the-scenes women were seldom recognized in those days. Is that what the knowing wink meant?

I have to believe it was. Bertha deserves a story.

The photo I’ve attached to this essay is Bertha’s wedding picture. To think that she was wearing the ring that I tossed in the garbage in this beautiful shot, gives me eternal chills…especially when I envision her supervising the repair of broken railroad tracks.