Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Vera DeFord Rau

Picking the defining trait of my mother daunts me. Could it be her generosity? She is, without doubt the most generous person I know. The quintessential example would be the time she took the whole family—22? of us—to Punta Cana for a Club Med vacation. It took place in 1992, and to this day, we relive the memories.

Yet, her love extends beyond her financial generosity. If any of us needed help, she’d give it, regardless of her personal situation. When cancer struck me, she drove the four hundred miles up her, took care of me for weeks, bought me clothes and yard furniture and brought me roses every day. She does the same for each of her six children.

Her devotion to her family and friends is unparalleled. As I write these words my mind says the phrase sounds cliché. But it’s not when it comes to my mother. She is easy going, gives in to other people’s desires, wishes to please above all things. But don’t mess with her family. We WILL celebrate Christmas together. When I make my summer trek to Long Island, we WILL have a get together. She’s happiest surrounded by her children (despite their ages—and I’m aged).

Adventure intrigues her. She’s scuba dived with my family, traveled to Russia and Egypt and Turkey. She’s seen Europe—both alone and with family.

And her art work is beautiful. Whether in oil, pastels or watercolor, my mother knows art. We spent hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art studying the masters. Our homes are decorated with her “cast offs” which intrigue friends who see them.

She’s been married three times and widowed twice. Sometimes her husbands created difficulties hard to bear. However, she never speaks ill of any. She understands human nature, sees the good through the bad and loves unconditionally.

Today, July 27, she turns 80. I can’t imagine life without her, so she better last at least another twenty years. Happy birthday, Mom.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Gridlock--Part 2

So I ran 9.3 miles along a beautiful course with bands playing, crowds cheering, boom boxes booming and water everywhere. The Boilermaker had the best supply of water stops.

I came to the end. Thought I saw Neil, smiled and waved to a gray haired, gray bearded man who never saw me before.

Then I funneled through the finish line. One hour, thirty-eight minutes and fifty-five seconds. Not great, but still considered locally competitive for my age and gender.

They funneled me into the biggest gridlock of my life—bigger than the NYC marathon, bigger than Patterson’s government. (And Patterson was part of the problem here, as well.)

I walked along streets crowded with finishers and discovered plenty of water, but the Sobe vitamin water was gone, the good soda—gone, the Greek yogurt—gone. Boxes of quartered oranges still lay—many of them with the eaten oranges tossed in with the uneaten. Oh—to be at the end of the pack is not a pretty thing.

My hip buzzed.

Neil called. He may not have been the lovely gent I waved to, but he was somewhere near him. He saw me cross the finish line, and a picture he snapped would show me looking his way, grinning at some handsome man.

He had a dilemma (aside from not being able to hear me over the din). The cops and race marshals wouldn’t let him pass the barriers. He couldn’t get to me.

I yelled into my phone. He yelled into his. Somehow I understood only that he couldn’t get to me. I’d just get my lunch and find him.

Finding lunch proved hard as throngs swarmed the Price Chopper truck for our lunches. I grabbed one, found a tree, sat under it and munched a banana.

My hip beeped.

The phone never rang.

My husband still couldn’t find me.

“I’ll find you,” I yelled.


“I’LL FIND YOU!!!!!”


I hung up the phone.

As I backtracked I discovered the rest of the food. With my arms pinned to my sides and shoulder to shoulder with about a billion other runners (and non-runners grubbing the food), I gathered a few more munitions, found a quiet road and rejoiced. No crowds. I turned a corner. Fewer people on this residential street. Porta Potties lay ahead and the Celtic Minstrel. Two landmarks. I’d call Neil. We’d meet there.

Of course he didn’t hear me.


I lied.

As I approached orange fence blocking the entrance to the finish line, a cop stopped me.

“You can’t go through. Governor Patterson’s leaving.”

A couple behind me became incredulous. “I’ve got to find my daughter.”

“Sorry. The governor’s coming.”

“You mean I can’t get my daughter?”

“That’s right.”

I didn’t try to argue. I turned around and headed back to the mob. Before I reached it, Neil called.

“I’m behind the Price Chopper truck.”

“I know where that is. Stay there.” I flipped my cell shut. I’d find my husband. The right husband.

I got to the truck, but had one dilemma. I didn’t know where “behind” was. It all looked the same. Was it at the back, where the long side bordered the trees near the empty street I now backtracked on? Was it in front where all the other food courts lay, was it facing the family reunion or the street that funneled the runners in.

Only one solution since Neil couldn’t hear me. I walked around and around and around. Then, I caught sight of a good-looking, gray haired, gray bearded man with a cell phone stuck to his ear. Mine began buzzing once more. I trotted over, tapped Neil on the shoulder, startled him. He grabbed my hand and we attempted our escape.

The rest of our trip. Just ordinary.

It was a great run—but a lousy party. I’m glad I ran the Boilermaker, sorry I never met any of my training buddies there. Never even had the chance to get tempted with the free beer—if trying to get a sample of Greek yogurt had been a contortionist’s nightmare, can you picture the beer tent?

Thanks Governor Patterson. You even gridlock family reunions.

Monday, July 12, 2010


It doesn’t pay to be kind. Believe me. I tried it and it gave me an ulcer.

I trained for the Boilermaker—an elite race of 13,000 crazies who run the streets of Utica for 9.3 miles (that’s 15K in runners’ speak). Neil, as obligated for a dutiful spouse, drove me the four hours to Utica and would drive the subsequent return. (I wasn’t going to stay in Utica, believe me).

Morning came. The wake-up call beckoned me at 5:30 a.m. I arose, washed, drank coffee and had my devotion time and let Neil sleep. He’d have to stand around in the heat and try to find me in the running throngs and snap attractive pictures of me as I past—all sweaty and exhausted. At 6:45 I woke him. He showered. Chatted with the hotel personnel about a Corvette museum. I should have realized trouble brewed because the parking lot of our sold-out motel was empty.

The start line lay only five miles away, and I had fifteen minutes to get there. No sweat. I hit the Garmin GPS and settled back. We’d drive the backstreets because the course would be closing to vehicles for the race.

Little did I know, they closed ALL the roads. The implacable cops wouldn’t let us pass a major artery and drive down the road that cut across to the start line. We had to backtrack. Found Highway 5. Headed north.

On our way to the start at last, I couldn’t settle. Ms Garmin told me I’d arrive at 7:47. I was supposed to be there by 7:45. And by nature, if I’m not fifteen minutes early—I’m late.

We hit traffic backups because cars c navigate couldn’t get on to the closed streets. I contemplated hopping out and jogging—but still we were five miles away. I had barely trained for the nine mile course—fourteen would kill me.

At last we crawled to our exit. Ms Garmin tried to navigate us back onto roads closed to vehicles. We shut her off.

At last, with five minutes to race time, we arrived near the starting area. Of course, no cars could get closer. Before Neil stopped our Sebring, I hopped out, asked directions and jogged down the short street.

At last, I turned the corner and there stood 13,000 people—headed by scrawny, young African elite runners waiting for the starting gun.

I jogged on.

I made it!.

“You can’t go there.” A guard stopped me.

“But how do I get to my race start?”

She pointed down a side road. “Go that way, turn right.”

She minced no words.

Two minutes to go. And another detour.

I ran. As did other latecomers. I turned the corner. Ahead of me lay a field. Beyond the field a fence and a line-up of runners with numbered black bibs attached to their shirts. My corral.

Over hummocks, through weeds, I wended my way. I nudged into line. Wiggled my way that warm morning between hot bodies. Stood shoulder to shoulder (almost haunch to paunch as Tom Wolfe would say.)

Final instructions reverberated. Wave to Governor Patterson as you cross the start line.

Governor Patterson.

Not only did he gridlock our government—but the start of the Boilermaker as well.

I thought all was well. But time would tell.

To be continued.