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Thu10222020

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We like to group things: a covey of quail, a flock of ducks, a flight of swans, a pack of wolves. I spent last week attending two very different events where neighbors come in groups.

First, I had lunch with the Democratic Women of the Desert (DWD) to hear a discussion about the current and future state of Medicare.

The program, on Sunday, Sept. 15, featured our local congressman, Dr. Raul Ruiz, an emergency room physician who has been instrumental in providing health-clinic services in places ranging from Haiti to our own local poor communities; and Dr. Jeffrey E. Kaufman, an Orange County urologist who also teaches at the University of California at Irvine and has participated on the California Medicare Carrier Advisory Committee since 1997.

A streak of tigers.

Later in the week, on Thursday, Sept. 19, I attended an evening meeting of the Palm Springs chapter of Republican Women Federated (RWF), produced by Elise Richmond. (Elise does a conservative call-in talk radio show every Sunday morning just before my own show on KNews Radio.)

The Republican Women’s event featured author and filmmaker Joel Gilbert, presenting a showing of his film, Dreams From My Real Father: A Story of Reds and Deception, described as “the real history of Barack Obama and his family.”

The film purports to prove, via a combination of known facts and “re-creations of probable events,” that President Obama’s father wasn’t really his father, and that Obama is a committed Marxist-Socialist (with some “red diaper baby” Communism inexplicably thrown in, as if all three meant the same thing).

I had heard Gilbert interviewed before, and wanted to see for myself what his film was about. Given the opportunity within the same week, I wanted to compare the experience of the two partisan groups.

A rhumba of rattlesnakes.

Both events included women and men in attendance, although there was a greater percentage of men at the RWF event, perhaps because it was a “special event,” as opposed to a regular meeting.

Each group had a “social hour” preceding the start of the programs where members can meet and greet, renew acquaintances and catch up on news and gossip.

A murder of crows.

Food was part of each meeting as well. DWD was a lunch meeting, well-catered by the facility with a lovely table setting—in fact, extra tables had to be moved in to handle an overflow crowd. RWF had a buffet-style table with spicy wings, thick-crust pizza, garlic bread and salad. The wings were delicious!

A brood of chickens.

DWD’s attendance was diverse, with board members (including the president, Josephine Kennedy) from African-American and Hispanic heritages, spanning all ages. There were lawyers, teachers and retirees.

A drove of donkeys.

RWF’s attendance was, at least to my eyes, all-white. There were lawyers, teachers and retirees.

A herd of elephants.

DWD’s stated purpose is “promoting social, economic, and political policies that reflect women’s priorities.”

One of RWF’s stated missions is to “increase the effectiveness of women in the cause of good government through active political participation.”

To me, the most interesting contrast between the two groups is that DWD is clearly “Democratic” in identifying itself—part of a political party—while RWF’s website conflates “conservative” with “Republican,” as if the two were necessarily synonymous.

A business of ferrets.

The DWD meeting opened with Kennedy welcoming everyone, introducing club officers, noteworthy guests and aspiring candidates in attendance. None did more than stand and acknowledge the introduction.

A convocation of eagles.

RWF opened their meeting with a prayer, which included requesting God’s assistance to Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee to hold firm in the U.S. Senate on overturning the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). The prayer closed in Christ’s name. (Do they have Jewish members?) That was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, something that did not happen at DWD. Introductions of club officers were also made, and State Assembly candidate Gary Jeandron was introduced and gave a short folksy speech, calling Palm Springs RWF “my club.”

A pandemonium of parrots.

The discussion of Medicare at DWD was thoughtful, loaded with facts, and frank about threats to guaranteed care for the elderly and disabled, primarily due to rising health care costs.

It was valuable to hear, from the perspective of medical doctors, the impact on the medical profession of increased demand, lowered reimbursements, and a dearth of primary-care doctors. The discussion covered proposals to increase the numbers of primary-care doctors, as well as the expansion of medical services provided by physician assistants and trained health-care workers.

A colony of penguins.

RWF showed Gilbert’s entire film, after brief opening remarks by him. The film seems designed to scare rather than to inform. It includes a narrator, supposedly President Obama’s “voice,” reporting conversations that would have taken place privately between two individuals. Gilbert does not explain how he knows what actually occurred. Oh, yeah, there’s that pesky disclaimer, a “re-creation of probable events.”

A scourge of mosquitos.

A question-and-answer session followed each program.

At DWD, the questions (including mine) centered on budget cuts, health care for the poor, the expansion of insurance coverage, and a refutation of claims of rationing of health services, particularly to the elderly. The answers were not always what the audience wanted to hear, but included serious discussion about Medicare’s future.

At RWF, questions (including mine) about how some of the dots were being connected, often based purely on conjecture, were often responded to by writer/director Gilbert with, “Look it up on Google.” Yet, when one does, one finds primarily Gilbert’s own commentary, and similar conjecture without much supporting evidence.

A fever of stingrays.

Perhaps the strangest part of the movie was the claim that President Obama had plastic surgery to redo his nose so that he wouldn’t look as much like his “real” father. However, no proof is offered other than side-by-side photos.

A wisdom of wombats.

When I first told Elise that I planned to attend the RWF meeting to see the film for myself, she jokingly responded, “Be sure to wear a trench coat—you never know what might happen!” I asked that she not introduce me; I wanted to experience the event without prejudicing how others might perceive me or change their interactions.

However, after I asked a couple of questions, Elise decided she would introduce me anyway. This came after another attendee followed up on one of my questions with what seemed like equal perplexity at the illogic of some of Gilbert’s claims. (Perhaps Elise felt the need to make sure everyone knew I wasn’t really a Republican.)

A colony of bats.

Following the meeting, a woman commented on my “nerve” to have attended, and one gentleman, who introduced himself as a lawyer who occasionally heard my show, said that although we probably wouldn’t agree on anything, he was glad to meet me and was pleased that I was there. We had a brief conversation about the claims that had been made of Obama being “an avowed Communist-Socialist.”

I suggested that Obama had never moved toward a government takeover of all means of production (socialism); and that, in fact, Obamacare would be a boon to private insurance companies. And hadn’t the stock market rebounded nicely under Obama? The lawyer acknowledged that I had a point.

A host of sparrows.

What did I learn from these encounters?

The Democratic Women of the Desert, although admittedly partisan, seemed far more interested in getting and understanding information about issues.

The Republican Women Federated, although admittedly at an event with a specific purpose, were focused on trashing the president.

Before I left the RWF event, Elise thanked me for coming and showing “such courage.”

Why on Earth would anyone need courage to attend a public meeting?

A nattering of neighbors.

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

There are some things we don’t readily share with friends and neighbors—like having paid one’s way through college by dancing around a pole. Or that romance with the golf pro. Or the nip/tuck during a “vacation” last summer.

Or that my grandmother once performed an abortion on herself using knitting needles.

With restrictions increasing on the rights granted by Roe v. Wade, women are being encouraged to talk about their experiences so that young women know what it was like—and what it could be like again.

It wasn’t until 1960 that “the pill” was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for contraceptive use. In 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut struck down a state law that prohibited the use of contraceptives, because the law violated the “right to marital privacy.” Prior to that, even married women could not get doctors to prescribe contraception.

And if you were single? Forget about it.

June Pariano of La Quinta remembers well what those times were like.

“It was around 1969 in Racine, Wisc., and I was 23 or 24 years old.

“At that time, insurance did not pay for the pill, but broke as we were, I found the money and chose a doctor whose office was close to our apartment. When I went in and asked about a birth-control prescription, he gave me a sermon about how women were put on this earth to bear children, and it was ‘against nature.’ He finally agreed to give me a 6-month prescription and said he would not renew it.

“Six months later, I went to another doctor who asked me, ‘Don't you want to have children?’ I was so angry that I was being questioned about such a personal decision.

“I joined NOW (the National Organization for Women). We organized, wrote letters, drove to the state capital and fought like hell to get the politicians and the churches out of our bedrooms. Now it seems the politicians want to expand government to bedrooms again!”

Although abortions have always been a last resort for women (witness my grandmother), who have used everything from bleach douches to wire coat-hangers, it wasn’t until 1973 that the Supreme Court said the “right to privacy” protected a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy prior to “viability.” Before that, other options for American women were to go to another country, if they could afford to, or to seek out illegal abortionists—therefore risking their very lives to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

I did just that, in 1967, and would not wish the experience on anyone. It was sleazy, unprofessional and frightening—but not as frightening to me as continuing the pregnancy. I had given up a child for adoption when I was 17, and did not want to go through the daily agony of wondering whether I had done the right thing yet again.

I’ve never regretted that abortion, and react strongly to those who blithely say, “You can always give the baby up.” They’ve obviously never gone through it.

Dori Smith is a retired public-relations professional living in Palm Desert.

“In 1984, I helped my best friend’s daughter get a legal abortion when she was 18, and I realized how hard it is for any woman to even make the decision. She was so grateful. She went on to college, has two children and a great marriage, and even works with children now. She wouldn’t have been able to if we hadn’t helped her.

“Back in 1965, I got pregnant at 15 in my first sexual relationship, the one time we didn’t use any protection. I was so afraid. When I told him, he was scared. We didn’t know what to do.

“Abortion was illegal, so I asked him to find someone to do an illegal abortion. We never could find anyone. I finally told my mom after four months, and my parents gave permission to get married. I thought I was in love. What do you know at 15?

“We shouldn’t have been parents at that point in our lives. I was such a young mother; it was difficult for me to give my son as much as I could later with my daughter. I was so young and immature.”

Would Dori have made a different decision if she had been able? “Of course, it’s difficult to separate a living human being from what I wish I could have had as a choice back then. Because I was married, I couldn’t attend my senior prom, and I didn’t finish college until I was 32.

“I’m mentoring a young woman right now who’s 15. I think about myself dealing with those huge issues at that age. If my mom had just talked to me about sex and birth control. That’s what bothers me about those against abortion—they’re also against sex education. It’s as if they want us to be punished for having sex.”

Priscilla Scheldt Richardson of Cathedral City was married with two sons, 9 and 12, when she got pregnant in 1981 at the age of 38.

“Babies were being born with severe conditions to women my age. I’m so grateful I had a doctor who believed in my freedom to decide whether to continue a compromised pregnancy.

“He said there was no point to an amniocentesis unless I knew I would terminate the pregnancy if the fetus was damaged. Otherwise, he wouldn’t risk my health or the fetus with the test itself.

“My then husband and I talked carefully and decided what was most important was to protect the quality of life for our existing sons.

“As it turned out, the fetus was normal—and we went ahead with the pregnancy. My children know this story; they understand that was our thinking at the time, and they respect that.

“Some might call our decision selfish, but having that choice is so important to protect. Without that choice, our lives might have been entirely different.”

Women who have gone through these decisions are married, divorced, widowed. They teach your children, play tennis with you at the club, volunteer at local charities, participate in your organizations. They’re your friends and neighbors.

Share your stories.

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

What do you do with all the “stuff” that’s left after someone you love has died?

As someone currently mired in combing through my late husband’s disorganized-pack-rat accumulation three years after his death, I’m plagued by the question. So I decided to talk to some of the women I know who have been through it.

Esther Crayton, who will turn 79 on July 27 and lives in Palm Desert, is one of the many Coachella Valley widows who has faced that issue.

First married at 17 just before high school graduation, Esther had the first of two sons about a year later, and remained in that first marriage for “about seven or eight years—it’s hard now to remember the exact dates.”

Why the divorce? “He said we had to move to Mexico, and I decided I’d rather end the marriage.”

Subsequent to that divorce, her children’s father “took the kids to Mexico, kidnapped them.” Esther was finally reunited with her sons when her ex came across the border to work and was picked up on the warrant for his arrest following a traffic violation.

Esther had always wanted to be a nurse, so in her late 30s, after her sons had graduated, she enrolled at College of the Desert in what was then their 2-year R.N. program. She retired after more than 20 years as a delivery-room nurse at Desert Hospital in Palm Springs.

”I loved that sometimes I would be at the market, and someone would come up and say, ‘You were my nurse when I had my baby!’” she says.

Esther’s retirement came after she successfully helped bring a nurses’ union to the hospital. After several years of intense wrangling, the California Nurses Association representation was finally approved.

“We marched out in front of the hospital to get a union,” remembers Esther. “When I was working in an aerospace company way back when, having the union was one of the reasons we got good pay and benefits, and I wanted that for the nurses at Desert. The amount of money the hospital spent to fight the union would probably have more than paid for the increases we were asking for.”

Esther was also very involved in the women’s rights movement, and had a leadership role in the local chapter of the National Organization for Women for several years.

After the end of a second marriage, Esther was reunited with a man she had met many years earlier, while working at the aerospace company. “Sunny” was married at the time they met, and he decided to stay in his marriage until his children were grown. Later, he and Esther lived together, eventually becoming “registered domestic partners” until his death eight years ago.

Why the nickname “Sunny”?

“It was funny,” says Esther. “His first and middle name were the exact same as my second husband. One night, we were out, and the music playing was ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ I told him that from then on, he would be ‘Sunny,’ and he was.”

When Sunny died, “his kids came and took some things. The one thing I remember we fought over was a painting. Other than that, I didn’t keep much of his personal stuff. I was in a daze, so upset, and not really paying attention to what was happening. The big problem was selling the house—his kids wanted to cash out his share, and I couldn’t buy them out.” Esther had to move.

Today, Esther now says simply, “I miss him. He had always handled some things, and I wish I had taken more time to figure it all out.”

Another woman who had to deal with what to do with the “stuff” after a death is Marilyn Mitchell, also of Palm Desert. Marilyn was widowed after 38 years of marriage to Gordon “Whitey” Mitchell, a well-known writer and jazz musician. Marilyn has distinguished herself as a long-time leader and supporter of the Palm Springs Women’s Press Club.

“I got rid of the socks and underwear first,” said Marilyn. “I did keep a tuxedo that meant something in terms of memories, and some other clothing items that had meaning to us based on where we bought them, or where he had worn them.

“Whitey was very organized,” she says. “That made it much easier, so it didn’t take too long to go through and decide what to keep. After some time, I finally sold his beloved bass to Neil Diamond’s bass player. Whitey would have been so upset, because it wasn’t going to be playing jazz!”

I asked Marilyn if she had any words of wisdom to help me in what seems like an insurmountable task. “I asked myself: Who will really care about this years from now? I know someone who kept absolutely everything for over 25 years. For me, it was finally time to just let go and move on.”

Good advice from one of our neighbors. 

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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