How Grandmother Won Granddad in a Beauty Contest

by: Brooke Allen

OPD 05/01/2006

My Grandma Anne was a southern belle born and raised in Dallas. Granddad Tom was raised in Chicago and sent from home at 14 to earn has way as a man. They met in New York City.

Anne had entered a beauty contest. In those days (before the bikini) young ladies were judged on poise, grace and intelligence. She won.

First prize: a week in New York. All expenses paid.

At first she was excited. Then it occurred to her that she didn’t know a soul in that Yankee city.

A friend set up a blind date for her first day in the Big Apple. She was to meet him under the big clock above the 42nd street entrance to Grand Central Station.

She leaned against the western wall as she inspected the young man standing across from her.

“Gawd,” she thought to herself, “let it not be him.”

It was.

At first they weren’t attracted to each other but they were both desperately lonely, for Tom had no friends in the city either. What’s more, on Sunday he was to be shipped out to Cuba by the United Press International, his employer.

They spent all of that week together and on Saturday Anne decided not to return to her life in Dallas.

That is how it came to be that my father was born in Havana.

They had picked the path that promised the most adventure.

The Right Woman

OPD 05/01/2006

© 2006 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine

I began trading in May of 1988. By the summer of 1990 I felt like I was ready for a change. My days were spent in the most exciting, least interesting work imaginable. At least we had some money in the bank.

Your mother and I made a decision. We would change careers.

Eve was accepted into a Ph. D. program in Marketing. I would take a Masters in education so that I might become a sixth grade teacher.

Then something happened…

One afternoon in mid-August at 2:00 PM, my boss swiveled in his chair to face me,

“Brooke, would you like to go to Japan?”

“Do you mean for a business trip?”

“No. I mean to do some work.”

“For a few weeks?”

“Nope,” he smiled, “For a few years.”

I was stunned. “That is a big decision. I have a family now and I wouldn’t spend that much time away from them. We could all move but my wife is starting graduate school.”

My boss nodded, “It is a huge decision. You must think about where the kids will go to school, what you wife will do, where you will live. I’ll tell you another thing; when you return from an overseas assignment you’ll probably have to start your career over again. Be thorough in your deliberations and consider all the alternatives. I’ll respect your decision whatever it might be. No pressure.”

“How soon do you need to know?”

“Oh… Just tell me by five.”

Wow! Three hours to decide.

So I called Eve on the telephone.

“Do you want to go to Japan?”

“Are you inviting me along on a business trip?”

“No. He wants me to go do some work.”

“For a few weeks?”

“No. A couple of years. We would all move to Tokyo.”

She was silent for a few seconds, “Gee. When does he want to know?”

“By five.”

“Well then, I guess we’d better discuss it now.”

We told him we would go within the hour.

If you’re going to pick the path that promises the most adventure, it helps to be married to the right woman.

Choose Adventure

OPD 05/01/2006

© 2006 Brooke Allen
Originally published May 2006 in International Family Magazine

My son and my grandmother.

In 1966 my sister, Ruth, and I spent eight summer weeks in St. Mawes, Cornwall, a sleepy fishing village with a population of perhaps 200 souls. My grandmother had fallen in love with a two bedroom thatched cottage that had been built in 1450 as sleeping quarters for the guards at St. Mawes Castle.

During that summer we had no television, no VCR, no CD player, no iPod, no Internet and no computer games. We didn’t even have a telephone; we used the payphone at the village square. (Eventually they did get a telephone and were assigned the number 414. In the USA we use 414 as the area code for the entire eastern half of Wisconsin.)

My sister and I did find a few books, but mostly we had our grandparents as entertainment.

We spent our days listening to their stories. I’d estimate: 4 hours/day, 5 days/week (assume weekends off), 8 weeks total. That comes to 160 hours of storytelling.

My sister and I were fascinated by their stories, however we were somewhat annoyed. In their presence we felt we had so few interesting things to say.

In that sleepy village, in that ancient house, we heard of how they: had survived three revolutions in Latin America, how they crossed the Andes on mules carrying short-wave radio equipment, and how they were in the Caribbean on a German tramp steamer headed for the Netherlands Antilles on the day the US entered World War II.

I’m scratching the surface here…

At the end of that summer I asked my grandmother, “How do we ever get to have so many stories of our own?”

She said, “Live an interesting life and collect your stories. Do that and when you are our age you will have plenty to say to your grandchildren.”

“But, what do I have to do to have as exciting a life as yours?”

She said:

When you are faced with choices that are the same in all other aspects, choose the path that offers the greatest adventure.

If I Were Running for President

Last night’s presidential debate depressed me.

EmptyStageI slept poorly.

I awoke this morning upset and tearful.

Must we be treated like shareholders in a proxy battle for the management of the largest enterprise on the face of the earth?

Do none of us want our passions stirred for our own good?Is there no leader here who might motivate us with their thoughts on how we might collectively be a nation?

If I were running, I would say:

My fellow Americans,

We once had terrorists and their sympathizers in our midst, yet we did not hire a foreign force to invade Chicago to find the Chicago Seven.  We did not inspect every black looking for Black Panthers. And we were able to forgive Patty Hearst for taking up with the wrong crowd. We did pursue those terrorists and we made them ineffective and marginal. When aging 60’s radicals finally came out of hiding they were more the subjects of our pity than our scorn.

Japanese prisoners of war thanked us for saving their lives for they had been the products of an evil indoctrination that advocated suicide over a change of heart. Our goal is for middle aged Muslims to thank us one day for saving them from the evil indoctrination of their youth. Our goal should not be to hunt down and kill every last one of them. I doubt that they will ever thank us for bombing their villages as we looked for evil doers among them. We can deal with terrorists for we have done it before, and hopefully war never need be used to that end.

A nation should not take the decision to go to war lightly, and it is not the equivalent to hiring some professional police to maintain the peace. A nation at war requires complicity from all its citizens in the violation of the Golden Rule as it makes it a national mission to kill other people’s loved ones. If the day ever comes when we need go to war, I shall hold hands with you, kneel, and beg forgiveness for our own failure to find an alternative. In the meantime, I solicit help from every one of you in seeking a better path, and I shall never say that, just because I personally can not think of an alternative, then there are none.

Many of you wish to import American made drugs from Canada because our drug companies sell our drugs cheaper there. As chief executive I intend to vigorously enforce the unjust law that prohibits such importation, and as you leader I encourage all of you to violate that law as an act of civil disobedience. Then collectively we will present ourselves to those drug companies, millions strong, as their own customers who have been criminalized in support of their greed and we will stop them from perpetrating the biggest injustice of all by charging what the market can bear, rather than working for our best health. When we are victorious, I promise to pardon all of you of your crimes. My approach does not require the consent of Congress and the drug lobbyists will be powerless against us.

Our desire to litigate is out of hand, and we all must reassess our relationship with responsibility and risk. A life may be of incalculable value, yet accidents do happen. We do want our doctors to have insurance in case their negligence causes us harm, yet we want them to be able to afford that insurance. The solution to these problems may involve capping awards but it also involves us capping our own expectations and behaviors. If you wish to be reflective, I suggest that you decide if you personally have enough insurance to fairly compensate someone if you cause them harm. I also suggest that if you hate ambulance-chasing lawyers who advertise on TV then you tie up their toll free numbers with your opinions of them.

We do have a health care crisis in this country, and part of the problem is that we are becoming increasingly unhealthy because of the choices we are making. As your President, I intend to protect your investment in me by exercising every day. I ask C-SPAN to cover it live. If your President can find time to keep fit, so can you. Won’t you join me?

I am pro business, and it has been said that the business of America is business. But when it comes to your relationship with your government I do not want you to think of yourselves as shareholders of a corporation entitled to benefits without liability, and voters in an occasional proxy fight for a change in management. I want you to think of yourselves as partners in an endeavor sharing not only the benefits but also the effort and the responsibilities. I want you to wisely identify leaders in your midst.

God has blessed America and I hope we can act in a way to justify his continued blessing. Like many of you, I am not even sure I believe in God, but I say these words because they best express a feeling in my heart.

As I write these words, I cannot help but cry. As I listen to our presidential candidates, I cannot help but cry out.

Note: This was originally posted on October 9, 2004 under the title A Friend Writes on

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