from Sandy Needham

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Tulsa '07 Dispatch

December 8, 2007

You can see that I am determined to get through all my trip dispatches before our Christmas holiday begins with Jake's arrival in Natal in a few days. I am also itching to write about Brazil again, now that we've been home for a month. Here's the last dispatch from our five-week travel marathon:

This trip to Tulsa was primarily spent driving to Little Rock, Arkansas and back. My Mother's best friend since high school, Jean Richter, also 93, lives in a retirement community there. All the summers I was growing up my family participated in the annual "four couple reunion." This consisted of my Mother (Laurene), her twin brother Lawrence, Jean and her brother, Kenneth, and their spouses, all of whom went to Oklahoma State University together. They graduated in 1937. As you may know already, I was named after Jean: Sandra Jean. My fondest memories of these reunions were watching Jean draw pastel portraits of some of the attendees, including me! I was even inspired to try my hand at pastel portraiture as a teenager, but never pursued it further. My Mother still has two large oil paintings by Jean in her apartment at the Methodist Manor which hung at our house on 22nd Street: one of a zinnia still life, and one of a Colorado Rockies breakfast in a clearing of pines with the small but recognizable figure of my father in a baseball cap among these "four couples." We also have a pastel portrait by Jean of Elise at age three in a kimono from her Japanese preschool pageant. Needles to say, Jean was always one of my idols for art, but also for more: she was a professional journalist in Norman, Oklahoma and Garden City, Kansas, among other places. She is also, like my Mother, quite beautiful, as you can see in this photo, taken February 14th, 2006 on the 69th anniversary of Jean and her sweet husband, Cebert, who passed away last August.

The drive from Tulsa became increasingly hilly as we headed toward the Ozarks. I noted a marked change in people's accents, as well, as we stopped along the way for provisions. It was so much fun to visit Jean's cottage, in which she lives independently. Besides walls full of her paintings, she has a large collection of carnival glass and books describing the many unusual pieces she owns. We went to dinner at her daughter Holly's house 20 minutes away. En route, Jean pointed out some Little Rock sites, including the new Clinton library. (It is not so attractive architecturally, but Jean said it is very nice inside.) Holly and husband, Doug, live in a beautiful house they built themselves. I was in awe of all the unusual sinks they had found on the internet. I loved using the clear glass one where you can see your feet as the water goes down the pipes! They served an amazing spaghetti dinner with pecan pie, despite the fact they each have jobs and hobbies that take up more than seven days in a week. Back at Jean's house later, I settled in on the sofa bed while Mother and Jean had their slumber party in Jean's room. I had to wonder, considering that they both wear hearing aids they take out at night, if they could actually hear each other? Regardless of this question, I could hear the conversation down the hall going for a while and picking up the next morning, reminding me of overnights with my best friend in high school! I just adored sitting at the dining room table with them all morning in our pajamas, listening to their stories.

Back in Tulsa, even though my energy was flagging, I enjoyed running errands that took me through the old part of town, full of trees and mansions and about as pretty as a city gets. Mother and I took it easy with the Manor routine. She was experimenting with pain medications to alleviate an arthritic neck and a torn rotator cuff in her shoulder, so was experiencing the trade-offs of heavier doses. The annual talent show was coming up, so Mother was preparing jokes for her stand-up comedy routine, for which she is famous there. I always feel a little guilty that she gives up all of her bridge games when I visit, as this is her true gig! She is well cared for at the Manor, thank heavens, and totally adored by the staff, who appreciate her friendship. Mother has not taken up the computer, but is able to receive printed out e-mails via her phone on a Printing Mailbox from HP. We got a kick out of receiving more of Newton's 'Scenes from Asia' while I was there, though we were sorry that his cough was no better:

Korea: Looking at Koreans (John is one of them) trying to figure out what to do with 4 forks, 3 knives and 2 spoons at a formal Western dinner.

Korea: Back at the formal dinner – an image kept creeping up on me that I would start coughing with my mouth full of food and it would go everywhere. I guess I had nothing better to think about.

Japan: Having lunch today I saw this lonely Japanese guy order two beer bottles and two glasses of white wine all at once. He consumed it all during lunch, plus had tea to finish it off. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Japanese eat so much. They kept bringing one dish after another.

China: Riding the Maglev (train on magnetic tracks) at 431 Km/h (270 MPH) – what sensation!

To meet Newton, I flew from Tulsa by way of Houston and Newark to Madrid for one day and night there before returning to Brazil. Newton had connected from Tokyo through Paris. Just two flights to go now! Luckily our taxi drove through the gorgeous Plaza de Cibeles coming in and returning to the airport, because we were not in any condition for sightseeing! After waiting in a cafe for our room to be available, we crashed and slept the whole day. It was fun to wander through the crowded center that night and pick out a place for dinner, but we can't really say we know much about Madrid. I was sorry the Prado wasn't open in the middle of the night when I was awake! The upgrade to business class that Iberia Airlines bequeathed to us on the oversold 11-hour flight to São Paulo was just about the best gift we could imagine. The food, champagne, pampering service, and miraculously designed reclining seats were like a dream! The 7 hours at the São Paulo airport waiting till 3:00am for our delayed last leg to Natal sort of burst the bubble, but we did, indeed, get home - missing only one suitcase.


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