Guardian Angel I

guardian angel by Prayitno / Thank you for (11 millions +) views, on Flickr
Great were the results of my mother’s prayers. She always got what she prayed for, or so we kids thought. When I complained that prayers didn’t work, Mom insisted that, while God answers all prayers, his answers aren’t always what we want. And then she would remind me of the nights she sat on my bed while I said my prayers, to remind me to ask for God’s help to stop biting my fingernails. And I remembered.


Years later, I stopped praying myself, but I know Mom never did. And I believed her prayers directed a guardian angel for each of her children.

For example, when my brother returned from his four-year Navy stint, Mom prayed he would meet a woman like a newcomer at her church. A year or two later, while my parents were away, my sister hosted a party at the house, and my brother dropped in and met that church newcomer, a friend of one of my sister’s classmates. My brother and that newcomer have been married for more than 30 years and have three sons and a granddaughter.

As for me, at 21 I married, graduated from college, and left my parents’ home. Even at that distance, I felt a protecting spirit. My husband and I arrived in Berkeley, California, with enough money for one night in a motel room and the cleaning deposit and first month’s rent for a tiny apartment we found the next day. Had we not found that apartment on that day, or had the landlord required first and last month’s rent, we would have been out on the streets. That night, I thanked my guardian angel.

Good fortune has limits, however. As we entered our third year in Berkeley, my husband decided the marriage wasn’t working. He moved out; I kept the apartment. He took our tent, a sleeping bag, and a bicycle; I kept the borrowed bed and the car I was still making payments on. I had never felt so alone.

To keep in touch with the few people I knew, I wanted to keep the same phone number. The phone company wanted me to set up a new account with a new number. Business practices at that time required I get my husband’s permission to keep “his” number (since another business practice was to issue all accounts in the husband’s name). Businesses presumed an angry wife would run up large bills on her husband’s accounts before a divorce.

I didn’t know where my almost-ex-husband lived and was close to giving up when, suddenly one day, he stopped by the apartment. He signed the form, and I kept the phone number. Such a little detail, but oh, so important for the rest of this story.

By this time, I had decided to go to graduate school and had been accepted at California State University at San Francisco for the following January. I didn’t know how I would pay for it. I would have to quit my job in Berkeley and assumed I would have to find a part-time job in San Francisco. Instead of worrying, I decided to wait to see how things turned out.

Then, one early November morning, I overslept. I was already late, and my hand was on the doorknob when the phone rang. I almost ignored it. But these were the days before answering machines, and my curiosity over who was calling prevailed. I answered the call. On the other end, the producer of a San Francisco television program, Pippa’s Prize Movie, explained my phone number had been selected at random from the phone book (remember those?), and she asked if I was willing to take part in their contest. She mentioned a consolation prize, complimentary dinner for two at a San Francisco restaurant. My mind began running through the names of people l knew, searching for someone I could invite to join me for dinner, as the producer explained she would call me back in five minutes for the contest itself.

During those five minutes, I recalled having read a piece by my favorite columnist, Herb Caen, where he mentioned this contest. I found the newspaper, reread the column, and located what I thought was a clue before the phone rang again. Pippa played a song, barely audible through the receiver of the phone (I didn’t own a TV). When she asked me to name the tune, I said, “I understand it is the theme from the movie, ‘They Call Me Mr. Tibbs.’”

“You’re right!” Pippa said.

“I am?” I asked.

All those events, set up by my guardian angel, and I didn’t know I had the answer.

The next day, Herb Caen mentioned me in his column; Pippa’s Prize Movie became Pippa’s Morning Movie, altering the format by eliminating the prize; and I had five minutes of fame as I received, on air, a check from Channel 7 for $2,219. More than enough for my first semester of graduate school in 1973.

Thank you, guardian angel!

S is for San Francisco

From January 1973 through March 1975, I lived in San Francisco while studying at San Francisco State University. Before I enrolled, a package from the registrar’s office arrived with a list of what I needed to bring with me on the day of registration. One requirement: the result of a chest X-ray not more than 6 months old. Since I hadn’t had a chest X-ray in several years and I received the letter in Minnesota, I had to schedule one before I returned to California.

I made an appointment at the Fargo Clinic where I had been a patient as a child. When they finally called my name, the nurse told me I needed a doctor’s order to get a chest X-ray. I showed them the letter from the SFSU registrar that said I would not be allowed to register unless I had the report on a recent chest X-ray. I didn’t have enough time to schedule a doctor’s visit. They relented and for about $80 (a near fortune at the time), I got my X-ray.

But when I arrived to register, I saw a sign that directed those who didn’t have chest X-ray results to join the line to the left. Those with results were directed to the line at the right. What was the first stop for the line on the left? A free chest X-ray. So much for not being allowed to register without one.

The letter from the registrar also spelled out the order of priority for registering for classes, depending on one’s major, minor, and years remaining to complete a degree. Seniors, for example, had priority for classes in their major because they were in their final year and this was the last opportunity to complete all their required classes. For graduate students, the course of study was the most important. From 8 a.m. to noon, for example, I had priority to register for English classes. After noon, I could try to line up classes in other disciplines.

So I headed to the line for graduate level English classes.

Once I had signed up for a number of English courses, I headed for the Psychology Department. There I discovered the rules were quite different. The doors to the registration hall were closed, with a teaching assistant blocking the way to prevent everyone from entering.  Every half hour, someone came out and taped sheets of paper with two or three letters on them to the outside wall. Those whose last names began with one of those letters would then be allowed into the registration hall. It didn’t matter what the person’s major was, or how close he or she was to completing a degree.

I needed a psychology class to meet the requirements of the masters program. I didn’t need a specific psychology class, just one would do. But by the time the W went up on the wall outside the registration hall, none of the courses that would meet the requirement were available. With a last name that began with W, I was used to being among the last called on, but that wasn’t an excuse this time. The letters were being drawn from a hat to ensure their order was entirely random. But that random order had absolutely nothing to do with the instructions in my letter from the registrar.

A few years later, when I was teaching at Southern Illinois University, a cartoon in the local paper showed two boys walking across the campus where a sign on the lawn said “Wipe out illiteracy.” One boy asks the other what the sign says. The other responds, “I think it says ‘Keep off the grass.'”

My first thought on seeing that cartoon was of my registration experience in San Francisco where what was written wasn’t followed. Little wonder that students didn’t bother reading, if they could.

Book Review: The Black Velvet Coat

theblackvelvetcoatFive StarsTwo for one! The two tales interwoven in this debut novel are connected through a black velvet coat, something that was ordinary in the life of Sylvia, the central character of one of the tales, and extraordinary in the life of Anne, the central character in the other tale. No matter how different their circumstances, both women share the experience of facing challenge and each needs lessons on how to stand on their own, to make their ways in the world as independent and fulfilled women.

This book inspired and intrigued me in several ways. The stories take place largely in San Francisco, my favorite city, one I had hoped to return to, but haven’t yet. One of the characters speaks a version of British English sharedthe doll by my husband. How else can I explain her use of the term gobsmacked, one I hear often from my husband? I also made a black velvet coat for the doll I plan to give my granddaughter for Christmas. After meeting the author, I added a sparkly snowflake pin to the finished coat.

I loved this book.