Friday, December 24, 2021


     Two months after buying our Center Orchestra tickets for the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, the big night had finally rolled around. Michael and I said good-bye to our son, Nick, his wife, Kate, and their two young children. Family, off limits for over two years because of the pandemic, was the real purpose and heart of our visit and we had enjoyed a wonderful weekend with them. The rest of this Sunday evening would belong to us, a bucket list fulfillment that we had added to our trip after we finished the initial planning. 

    We walked out of the subway at Rockefeller Center into a bigger mass of people than we had expected. Many were family groups and the chatter we picked up in passing told the story. 

    “Can we go skating, Mom? Can we?” 

    “When are we going to see the tree?” 

    “Can I get hot chocolate, too?” 

    The famous Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center had just been lit days earlier, the ice rink was newly opened, and department stores glowed with lights that danced to Christmas music piped to the throngs outside. Store windows were showcases of delight, with Christmas scenes and themes abounding. Despite the claustrophobic crowding, everyone seemed cheerful and buoyant.

    An abundance of caution over our ability to successfully negotiate the subway system resulted in our arrival two hours before showtime. We discovered the doors wouldn’t even open for another hour. 

    We hadn’t had dinner, thinking naively that we’d grab something at the venue. That plan quickly went off the rails and our backup plan, eating in a restaurant - any restaurant - clearly wasn’t doable with the queued up crowds waiting for seating. After several blocks of semi-aimless walking, we did what we had to do, buying hot dogs and bottled water from a sidewalk vendor. Even adding sauerkraut couldn’t overcome the insipid taste of a hot dog recently submerged in a pot of hot water, but it was an authentic NYC dining experience!

    The crowd-control staff had an excellent plan for crowd containment and management when the time came to open the building’s doors. They directed us to line up along the building, sent minions to check everyone’s vaccine records and ID’s, stamping our hands as proof that we were admit-able and then directed us to form three lines for the three doors leading inside. At those doors, attendants check purses, scanned tickets, and verified stamped hands.

    Finally, we made it! The foyer sparkled with lights, including a giant snowflake chandelier, and holiday music wafted over us, although it could barely be heard above the roar of the crowd. I wanted to buy a tee shirt from the assortment of ten designs featured in the shop kiosk, so while Michael went off on his own, I got into another line. 

    Even with five clerks, the line moved at a sloth’s pace. When my turn arrived, I asked for the cute red tee shirt that I thought was reasonably priced at $20. 

    “We only have that in Small.”

    So I moved up a price point to another snazzy tee shirt at $25.

    “We only have that in Small, too.”

    Okay, I tried for the cute one on the end for $30.

    “Oh, that’s only in youth sizes.”

    Gritting my teeth, I pointed to one I liked a lot but, at $40, hadn’t put on my wish list.

    “We only have that in Small. Would you like to see it?” 

    As she held up a tee shirt that would clearly never fit me, I asked if they had any shirts in a large.

    “Oh, yes. Those three in the middle,” she said pointing to the dreariest, least Christmas-y clothing in sight.

    With a sigh and a no thank you, I went to the meeting spot Michael and I had agreed on. Went is euphemistic. I battled my way through an impenetrable crowd, sometimes stalled in place for minutes at a time, unable to find any opening in the morass of people squashed into the area. When I did get to the spot, I felt like a turnstile. People pushed past me from the front and the back, trying to get to the lines for food, clothing, souvenirs,  drinks, and snacks.

    Knowing Michael probably had his own crowds to battle, I waited somewhat anxiously for him. Finally, I spotted him. We didn’t know which was our entry door and we couldn’t find any house staff to ask. But we couldn’t make our way to the doors anyway, although we did try to do that twice. Retreating to an out-of-the-way corner near a staircase, we decided to stay put until movement became possible. 

    The doors finally opened about 20 minutes before showtime and the crowds thinned like water draining from a sink. Many of the people jamming the foyer apparently had seats in the three upper floors. When they all went upstairs, the orchestra level suddenly and blissfully opened up and we found our seats quickly. The blonde woman in front of me wasn’t too tall - yay! -  and I settled contentedly into my seat.

    A few minutes before curtain up, there was a kerfuffle in that row. The blonde and her date got up and moved so another couple could take those seats. In a flash, I found myself looking at the broad, burly back of a very tall man! I never saw the middle of the stage again. I had to shift left or right to look around him. I probably exasperated the poor people behind me with my bobbing head! This could be chalked up to luck of the draw at the theater except for one detail.

    Despite several announcements forbidding filming or picture-taking, as soon as the Rockettes appeared, this guy whipped out his phone and held it up directly in my line of sight!! Now I couldn’t see anything on the right hand side of the stage. Finally, I tapped him on the shoulder and politely told him I couldn’t see because of his phone. Happily, he put the thing away without comment or visible reaction. I’ll admit to worrying a bit about how he might react.

    Michael and I saw a lot of people taking videos and photos throughout the performance, including three in the row in front of us. That surprised us because we never see that at dance performance venues in Houston and we go to quite a few. Are Houstonians more polite than New Yorkers? Are they more likely to follow the rules? Who knows, but boy do I appreciate Houston audiences after that experience.

    On to the song and dance part of our evening. Fabulous! I expected a dance performance, but it was actually a variety show. The cast sang, danced, told jokes, and performed skits. The eye-popping staging and props kept us riveted. During one piece, the Rockettes performed on a double decker bus that drove an elaborate course around the stage. A stage-sized video tour of NYC played behind the moving bus and the effect looked so real it disoriented me.   

    Another piece that riveted me was The Twelve Days of Christmas. They didn’t sing, they tap danced! 30 lovely women took the stage and then they featured individuals with special steps for each line of the song. It was festive eye candy and ear candy! Tap dance is a favorite dance form for me and I rarely get to see live performances. There is a video online:

    Some of the other works included Wooden Soldiers, Dancing Santas, and Rag Dolls. A few dancers got en pointe for a dance from The Nutcracker that included dancing bears. We also visited Santas’s workshop and in another piece saw it snow. The Nativity scene included a live camel, donkey, and sheep!

    The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular wowed me. I am so pleased that we splurged on the tickets (I had trouble pushing that Pay button!!). It’s a shame they had to close early because of the Covid omicron surge. If you ever got a chance to see the Rockettes, don’t miss them!!


Friday, November 12, 2021

Out of Footprint

Dealing with the mundane aspects of my mother’s death has given me the unique experience of learning I was “out of footprint” from the bank that held Mother’s CD. In order to receive one’s share of a deceased person’s account, US Bank requires that named survivors present themselves at a bank office with a death certificate and ask for the money. For my five siblings, this presented no problem; however, as there are no US Bank offices in the entire state of Texas, it presented a significant problem for me. 

Upon explanation of my predicament, an agent on the bank’s customer service line told me she was very sorry for my loss and that they had an arrangement for people like me who were, as she termed it, out of footprint. Their Life Events department would, upon verifying my bonafides, send me a check by mail. This sounded excellent and I asked for the number to call. “Oh, you can’t call them,” the pleasant midwestern voice on the other end of my call chirped, “we have to send them an email and then they will call you in two or three business days.” 

The process began to sound less excellent. I imagined my sibs visiting their respective banking offices and collecting their portions while I waited for my phone call. But what were a few days of waiting, I chided myself? I would still receive the same windfall as my sister and brothers, after all. And to their credit, a US Bank Life Events specialist did call me two days later. 

After another expression of condolences, my specialist, Rebecca, asked me a series of questions to ascertain that I was indeed the Lane Devereux included on Mother’s list of children. Happily, we had no problems with this. “It seems that your Mother’s death has been verified with a death certificate at one of our branch locations, so I will not need you to send me a copy.” Phew, dodged an annoying delay there. “We will send your portion of the account out within three to five business days plus mail time.” Thanks to Louis DeJoy, that meant more than a solid week’s wait, but again, windfall. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Lane.

The week went by and I began to pleasantly anticipate the mail, which usually offers nothing more exciting than sales flyers and offers to buy our house. In our younger, more hopeful years, Michael and I would ask whoever had gotten the day’s mail, “Did our ship come in?” (And no, except for the very rare refund of an overpayment, it almost never had.) Now, there was an actual ship on the horizon and the mail was fun again. Until it wasn’t.

That happened the morning my sister called and asked if I had gotten my proceeds from US Bank? “No, not yet, why do you ask?” It turned out that four of my siblings had gone to their local branches and collected the anticipated amount with no trouble whatsoever. When the fifth sibling went to his branch, the banker cheerfully explained that everyone else had claimed their portion and he was getting the last payout. Then the banker gave him a check for twice as much money as everyone else. Do the math. My brother got MY proceeds in addition to his own!  

I immediately called US Bank and explained the problem. Again, I was told I couldn’t call Life Events, but the agent would send them an email detailing my complaint and someone would contact me in two to three business days. Unhappy with this, I looked for Rebecca’s number in my notes, only to realize she hadn’t given me a number. Not to be deterred, I went to my telephone service provider’s website, scanned the calls I received the day Rebecca contacted me, and found the number. Gotcha! I called her back. 

Apparently you can call Life Events, you just cannot speak to anyone there. At least, you can’t speak to anyone unless you know the specific 7-digit number of your Life Events specialist. If you don’t know it, they provide an email address to contact which they say will be read within two or three days, triggering a phone call back. (In fact, their email address - - tantalizes with the possibility of an even faster response.) 

The two to three day window on both the email from the official US Bank customer service line and the one from me directly have come and gone without any response. Maybe they don’t know what to say to me or perhaps they are just busy asking themselves the big question I asked: wtf?

Just for the record, there’s no problem getting my share from my brother. He’s an honest guy and perfectly happy to give me the money. The problem is whether or not US Bank is going to go after him to return the money they gave him in error so they can give it to me. Presumably in two to three business days plus mailing time from whenever.

That’s Life (Events)!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

It’s Warm Where I’m Going

    I watched Mother’s funeral Mass on YouTube Wednesday. (One blessing that’s come out of the pandemic is access to events from afar.) It felt strange to be at home, watching and listening as people spoke about Mother, seeing the photo of her with Dad, taking in the small (so small) brown box of her ashes. She had belonged to her parish for more than 20 years, was well known and well liked there. The priest spoke warmly, from long acquaintanceship. But there is one thing he said - or didn’t say, rather - that needs to be added to the record.

    Every winter for many years, Mother would go to my sister Janet’s house in December and, in January, she would come to Texas with Janet and her husband Dave, who snow-birded in Port Aransas. They’d stop at our house on their way and drop Mother off with Michael and I for a month or so. What a joy for me to have those weeks with her and share her with my friends over the years.

    The priest mentioned her trips to Grand Forks and Texas when he spoke about Mother. He said he could never understand why someone would leave Montana in the winter and go to Grand Forks. (FYI - that’s in North Dakota.) He used to tease her about it after her last Mass the weekend she would leave with Janet and Dave. He remarked on her Grand Forks trips laughingly at the funeral, but he forgot to share the rest of the story. 

    Every year when he teased Mother about it, she always replied, “It’s warm where I’m going.” You see, Mother was never just going to Grand Forks, which is indeed a frigid place in winter. No, she was going home, literally, to the place she raised her family, because she was going home with Janet, who lives in the house my parents built more than 50 years ago. She was going home to the community where she earned her degrees and taught school. She was going home to share fond memories with her many friends of  bridge club and Altar Society and PTA, of the cocktail parties her generation made famous and the gourmet dinners that often followed them. 

    I felt sad not to be at her Mass in person, but there will be another service next summer that I will attend, when our extended family gathers in Mandan, North Dakota to inter her ashes next to my Dad’s. We’ll laugh and remember and tell stories to each other and to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren about this wonderful woman who raised us. It’ll be warm there, too.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

 Obituary for Jeanne Paul Gustafson

Jeanne (Paul) Gustafson, beloved matriarch of her large family, died peacefully on October 12 at the age of 99 at her home in Helena, MT surrounded by family. She was born in Edgeley, ND to Donald and Florence (Petrie) Paul on August 29, 1922, the oldest of five children. 

Jeanne attended college at NDSU for two years, then left school to marry Arthur Gustafson.  During their 60+ years of marriage, they raised seven children together while living in Grand Forks, ND. Jeanne devoted many years to her family. Besides being a loving wife and attentive mother, Jeanne was a talented seamstress, expert bridge player, and excellent cook. 

When her youngest child started school, Jeanne returned to college at UND. She earned a degree in elementary education, then went on to earn her master’s degree. She was on the dean’s list every semester and graduated with honors. Jeanne taught for 15 years before retiring, first at St. Michael’s Catholic school in Grand Forks and then at St. Joseph Catholic School in Mandan. Primarily a first grade teacher, Jeanne could proudly say that every child she taught learned how to read.

Jeanne and Arthur lived in Escondido, CA for many years after retirement before they relocated to Helena, MT. In retirement, Jeanne began quilting. Over the next 30 years, she designed and hand-quilted more than a hundred stunning quilts that are cherished by her family, including more than four dozen crib quilts for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

Jeanne was preceded in death by her parents; her four siblings; her husband; her son, John and his wife, Jean; and her grandson, Stephen. She is survived by six children, Paul (Ann), Mark (Judi), Lane Devereux (Michael), James (LuAnne), Janet Weisgram (David), and Robert (Lynn). Jeanne has 19 surviving grandchildren and 40 great-grandchildren.

A funeral mass for Jeanne will be held at Our Lady of the Valley on October 20 at 11:00 A.M. Interment will take place in Mandan, ND at a later date.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Saying Goodbye to My Mother

 I just said goodbye to my Mother, who is 1800 miles away, unresponsive and no longer eating or drinking. The hospice staff said that unresponsive people can still hear and understand, so my sister-in-law held the phone to her ear while I said my last words to her. Mother is 99 and this turn of events isn't unexpected, but I am still hurting. I saw her in May and she was in good shape. Michael and I had a lovely time with her. I have no unresolved issues with my Mother, no conflicts or remnants of past problems to cloud our relationship. For that I am thankful.

She started her decline over the summer, getting fuzzier about events and information, eating less and less. She held up her end of a telephone conversation fine as recently as two weeks ago, although she would sometimes respond to a question with "Now that's hard to know." She lost interest in food last winter. She has weighed about 145 pounds for a long time (a nice weight for her), but when we saw her in May she was down to 125 pounds, and now she only weighs 80. She will probably be gone in the next 24 hours. 

I made plane and hotel reservations to visit her in Helena in mid-November. I'll be cancelling them, of course, but I can't bring myself to do it until Mother is actually dead. My brother who is in charge of the details of her passing asked me to write her obituary a few months ago. I did, but it was hard. After she passes, I'll post her obit. She was a remarkable women and I'd like everyone to know it.

Mother wanted to live to be 100 and I wish she had. She came damn close. If there is a Heaven, she'll be in it soon, hopefully with my Dad by her side.