James Edward Alexander and Bev Moss Haedrich
James Edward Alexander, a native of Valdosta, Georgia, retired from the USAF in 1971. Afterward, he held management and sales positions in commercial broadcasting. He entered law school at age 52 and passed the California Bar Examination on the initial attempt at age 56. His books, biographies of a wonderful life, include Halfway Home from Kinderlou, Forks in the Road, I Wish You Had Been There, and WE. He lives in semi-retirement in Bluffton, South Carolina.
James Edward Alexander
When you travel, you should have three travelling companions: patience, stamina, and money. As you get older, the need for those essentials increases.
Patience: My most recent travel began when I made round-trip airline reservations for a Saturday departure from Savannah, Georgia (SAV), to Santa Barbara, California, (SBA). A few days before travel, I changed the return reservation to depart from Los Angeles (LAX) rather than SBA. The reservation agent made the requested change. When I attempted to check-in and print my boarding passes, I was electronically informed that I should get the changes at the check-in counter. So on Saturday morning at 4:10 a.m., I reported to SAV, to be informed that my departure date had been changed to the next day, Sunday.
My habit is not to blame workers at counters for corporate mistakes. It is not their job to correct somebody’s errors. While the supervisor tried for at least forty minutes to do her best, I still returned home.
On my drive, I patiently outlined my next approach. I telephoned the airline and told the robot that he was not yet able to address my problem, and I was eventually transferred to a live helper. Again, I patiently and calmly asked for a flight, if not to SBA, at least to LAX. The Savannah agent had also requested the same adjustment. Within five minutes I was asked to return to SAV for an 11 a.m. flight to LAX.
I reserved a rental car for the drive from LAX to Santa Barbara. Because of airline and baggage handling delays, I reported to the rental-car counter an hour later than the requested time for pickup. The agent informed me the cost would be another $150. It was a company I had never used before. End of patience.
Stamina: I refused the new rental-car terms and walked out, carrying, at age 84, a large golf-bag carrier and a medium-sized piece of luggage. Both seemed heavier than they did last year. My intent was to stand at the curb on busy Century Boulevard and hail a taxi to take me to another rental-car counter. Then, my patience having been exhausted, defiance and determination engaged my stamina. I began to roll my luggage to an alternate car-rental agency two blocks away. Twenty yards from where I started to walk to the alternate car-rental, I spotted two men sitting and staring at the fast-moving traffic. Anything moving seemed faster than their idleness. I hastily determined by their appearance and posture, they had not eaten a meal that day, or their intake might have only been a bottle of wine. I might have been wrong, which is often the unfair consequence of rash judgment.
Money: I also had miscalculated my stamina, so I called forth my third travelling companion. I stopped and asked, “For five dollars, which of you would like to help me with my luggage to the car rental?” All of us could see the distance as nearly two blocks. The down-and-out don’t have accessories to hide their discomfort and the aging process, so I guessed it was the older-looking man who rose and accepted my offer.
He stood erect, steadied himself, put on his hat, and took my bags. I followed, admiring his engagement which countered my earlier assessment. I was witnessing a man whose resources seemed depleted. But he was not poor. His last asset was his most valuable—his dignity. For five dollars, he promised to perform, and I watched as he carefully maneuvered the luggage to the edge of the curb. He was a man hired for a brief encounter, and he was performing with such pride in his employment. When we arrived at our destination, I offered to assist him with the luggage up the steps. He declined. I immediately withdrew, recognizing my assistance would have diminished his moment.
As I handed him two five-dollar bills, I acknowledged his zeal. He said, “I ain’t got much left, but I did well enough for you to pay me double what you promised. I thank you, mister.” His smile reinvigorated my patience, and his toil preserved my stamina.
Dignity is an asset that is not devalued by poverty.
“Dignity” © James Edward Alexander (2019), from Reflections
Bev Moss Haedrich uses her experience as an ESL instructor in Taiwan and later in the US to build creative lessons for those interested in writing their own life stories. Believing each of us has unique stories to share, Haedrich has created an online presence to help others. Follow her on Instagram @cultivatorofstories or at WriteStoriesWorthSharing.com.
Bev Moss Haedrich
The Mahjong Cat (an excerpt)
“Oh, I’m definitely not ready for that!”
“You’ll be among friends,” Anna assured me. “Just study your card and all the possibilities.”
Mahjong is an ancient Chinese game I had wanted to learn for years but didn’t have the time nor anyone to guide me through the maze of the one hundred forty-four designer tiles. It’s a game of challenge, strategy, and a bit of luck—or so I’d been told.
After a few private lessons with some friends, I was invited to join their Thursday afternoon games. I was such a novice, I didn’t even know what questions to ask. One of my mentors gave me some handwritten notes outlining the use of the more prominent tiles. They were serious players and had been at it for years. I knew I was out of my league.
This was a game I had watched many times on the overcrowded and bustling streets during my travels to Taiwan and Hong Kong. Players pulled up tiny stools at tree stumps that became game tables among the often toothless competitors. A few bills were jammed into a jar kept between the bare feet of the dealer. The clicking of plastic tiles, cursing in the native tongue, and occasional screams of “Mahjong!” reigned in their daily ritual. Rolled cigarettes gripped between thumbs and forefingers left dingy stains as they strategically slammed the dirty tiles as if in protest. Those were the days, I thought.
“You’ll do fine. The best way to learn is to play,” my mentor said, winking and patting my forearm gently.
My greatest fear was not of losing. That was inevitable. I was such a novice and had so much to learn that it could be months before I enjoyed a win. No, my greatest angst came from delaying other players. Whenever it was my turn, I hesitated. Staring blankly at the line of thirteen tiles, I hoped one of those strange-looking beasts would pop up and say, “Discard me!”
I had practiced with a borrowed set the last several weeks. I scattered the smooth tiles on my dining table, arranged them along my starting wall, and randomly chose tiles to play with. I worked toward a win over and over to familiarize myself with the nuances of the game. I would rub the tiles gently, feeling their smoothness. This is a clever game for the intelligent, I thought.
Before I could say “Mahjong,” it was Thursday. I took a deep breath, rang the doorbell, and stepped inside. Anna’s living room had been transformed into Mahjong Central. Three card tables replaced a coffee table and side chair. They were each dressed with racks, overturned tiles, and a pair of dice. A delicate floral napkin stood guard to capture any droplets of condensation from drinks.
“Sit wherever you like,” Anna said, motioning me to sit near Tracy. “You can whisper any questions to her. She knows more than I do.”
“If that’s so, I must be at the bottom of the Mahjong pool.”
She laughed. “You’ll do great, I bet,” reassuring me. “You understand the essence of the game, and that’s important.”
Hanging my purse on a straight-back chair, I pulled it out and was startled by a trim svelte black cat. She jumped down and scampered from the room. Good riddance, I thought, smiling. Funny how cats always sense I prefer dogs.
“Don’t mind her. Some of us believe she brings a stream of good luck,” Barbara smiled.
“Really?” Okay, maybe I’ll have to make an exception for this one!
“The Mahjong Cat” © Bev Moss Haedrich (2019), from Reflections