HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY, Dear Reader. And when you read this, I hope you will feel some sense of peace and some happiness.
I’m not counting on OUT AND OUT JOY! That’s a big hope. It’s a word I use to describe my wedding day, the birth of my children and grandchildren.
But this year of 2021, we have certainly BEEN THROUGH IT.
Some of you have lost family to Covid19. Many of your know neighbors, work partners and friends of friends who have lost someone. And loss has trickled down: loss of jobs; loss of investments (that trip you couldn’t take); loss of friendships, because of the turmoil in our government, the splitting apart of relationships because “I don’t need to be vaccinated.” Well, if you are going to be around me and my family, YES YOU DO.
I can deal with this stuff as it relates directly to me. But I get in the major “MOTHER BEAR” mode when I think that people against the vaccine, for whatever reason, might infect MY FAMILY. THAT MAKES ME CRAZY.
So on this FOURTH OF JULY weekend, I am wishing your health and safety, joy in family and friends. I also support each and everyone of you who decides to CHANGE IT UP. Maybe that family gathering isn’t for you this year. Maybe you are against fireworks, especially if they could cause fires in our “getting too warm” climate.
The one thing I might suggest, especially if you will be staying home this 4th of July: that you reach out to your neighbor. You know the one. He always helps carry in a heavy package, sometimes shovels your walk or let’s you know your car has a flat tire; she is kind to your children, arranges play dates, abides by your rules as to sweets and is always there when you need a friend or a mother, because yours lives miles away. It is that community that is built from house to house, street to street. It is that community that will do much to heal our American wounds.
Small starts are good. They will make each of us better. They will heal us.
These were neighborhoods that encouraged walking and friendliness.
The 99th Street Train Station
This is the story of three fathers in my life and the neighborhood that connected them. It is the story of a typical southside Chicago neighborhood where city blocks of various-styled houses marched along, occasionally interrupted by a cluster of stores–commerce that arose because of the presence of a Rock Island Railroad station at 95th, 99th, 103rd etc.
The neighborhood grew around access to the train and the city north. Sidewalks lined every block, slicing between the lawns of the houses and the lawns of the parkway where elm trees grew and short streetlights supplied only pools of light, because that was all that was needed. These were neighborhoods that encouraged walking and friendliness.
My father lived on the street with the simple name Wood. In the middle of my father’s block, three houses with three very different families lived side-by-side, fruit trees or a driveway marking off property lines. Of course each block had a house on either end—the proverbial corner house that had a certain cache. But if you turned the southern corner and walked past three other houses, you’d come to my father-in-law’s house that sat back from the sidewalk.
That’s how close these two men’s lives were geographically in the quiet neighborhood of Beverly Hills in Chicago. My father, Albert Pfordresher, was eight years older than Edward Havey, so they never attended either grade or high school together. They did go to the same church. And ironically, after each was married, they lived in those same houses, the ones where they had previously lived with their parents.
But my father died suddenly at the age of 45 when I was just a child, and thus would not be there when I rode my tricycle and then my two-wheeler around the block, past the house where Edward Havey was now living with his growing family—which included his first son, John—my future husband.
So you see, this is a story that can be repeated over and over in the lives of many folks in this country, folks living in farm towns or small cities, or living in the suburban areas of huge cities. It’s a story of bumping into people, of knowing them and connecting with them and finally NOT being surprised when the connection becomes deeper, becomes family. It’s a story that echoes with the phrase—it’s a small world. Because then, when I was growing up—it was smaller. People grew up and stayed—like my maternal grandmother who moved from a big Victorian home with her many brothers and sisters to a smaller house—again just blocks away. And lived there for over 65 years—content.
But Readers, you know all about change and far-flung relationships. You know all about the positives and negatives of insular living versus spreading your wings. It’s history, often family history. It’s life. It’s all very fascinating.
In 1931, a news article appeared in the neighborhood newspaper, the SouthtownEconomist. It was a review of a recent musical that occurred at the local church, St. Barnabus. Albert Pfordresher was the co-producer and Edward Havey took part in the performance. The article also mentioned Bob Singler, whose father was my grandmother’s brother. All families who would be intertwined.
But in 1931, my mother was only fifteen. I guess I wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye at that point in time. But so fascinating to imagine my father putting his hand on Edward Havey’s shoulder and saying,
“Wow, thanks for all that you did to make this performance go so well. It was great. We should get together more often.”
And my father-in-law responding,
“We should. Why you’re just around the corner from me. Maybe we could sit on your porch and talk about life and our futures.”
Imaging and wondering about conversations that could have taken place works for me. After all, I’m thinking about fathers today and want to say thanks to my father. Even though his untimely death took him, he left me with an amazing mother and my two loving brothers. And thanks to my father-in-law, whose courage and strength got him through WWII so he could come home and with my mother-in-law bring my future husband into the world. And thanks to my husband, my best friend, my advocate, my partner in all things.
To quote a writer whose words truly touched me: There’s something like a line of gold thread running through a man’s words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself. ~John Gregory Brown
Credit: Family photos and www.bapa.org Part of an ongoing Family History Project
I guess this was a day when I was not riding a bike.
The following “story” which is my creation, recreates a personal experience. The nonfiction passages below that, relates back to that specific experience, which is real and more common for pregnant women in today’s medical world.
Ella can feel numbness moving into her legs. She’s been sitting in the garden for about ten minutes, feet tucked under her buttocks, gloved hands probing with the iron weed digger. Her angle is wrong. She shifts, the tingly sensation of flowing blood bringing back legs, feet.
The baby also shifts, a slight, quick wave of motion. Ella pounces on the tiny elm tree still rooted among the coreopsis. She leans another way, continues to work with the digger, her mind plotting what to do next: repot the small begonia that lies on the ground, its clay container broken by running squirrels; then deep-water the newly planted Spirea that might die in this drought.
The planting is a game of distraction, and the hot sunlight, the intense thrumming of crickets and cicadas. But she loses the game at least once an hour, sometimes every twenty minutes. The amniocentesis results are due today. Her portable phone is on the picnic table. David will be calling at lunch, talking about other things, waiting for her to break in, tell him, if she knows.
The baby moves again. Ella throws the digger to the ground, works with some effort to stand, her body no longer lithe, elegant. She’ll have Steve, who mows the lawn, dislodge the elm with a pitchfork.
Months of her life have been taken over by a fierce desire to bear and deliver another healthy child, a child to deny her aging or loss of touch with this growing world. She will do everything to keep this child, and yet living is in match step with exposing oneself to loss. “No matter what the results, Ella, with the choice you have made, there’s nothing we can do. You realize that,” the doctor had said.
Yes, she does, always certain she wants to get pregnant, know the health of the fetus. But that time is now. The moment close. And yes, the irony of testing.
She’s carrying this baby around inside her and it’s moving now, and no matter what the words are at the other end of the phone, it will still be moving around inside her. If the doctor calls and says, “Ella, you are carrying a Down Syndrome child,” the fetus won’t disappear, it won’t begin to shrink and slip away like a cloud losing moisture. The Downs Syndrome baby, the baby with neuro-tube defects, the anencephalic baby will still continue to grow inside of her.
Ella walks to the shed, hunts in its mustiness for the pitchfork. The grass is brittle beneath her tennis shoes, waves of air touching her like solid warm hands. She walks back, looking like a perfect balancing act, moving about her tasks as if every breath in the last few years has been stored up to get her to this point. Ella isn’t just pregnant. She is experiencing an amazing fulfillment of a wish.
The cicadas hum. The phone doesn’t buzz. She works at the elm seedling with the pitchfork.
“Mom…” Sarah comes around the corner, her hair springing away from the right side of her head where she has tied it with a big pink ribbon that matches her pink tank top and shorts. Ella reaches out to touch the top of her daughter’s head, the two strangely silent with each other.
Even before this pregnancy, Ella had crazy moments when she would look at her two young daughters, seeing them as her own flesh, slightly changed blueprints of herself. Touching them, her body would expand, become warm like the bodies of pregnant women. Her breasts would soften against Carrie’s chest, her abdomen balloon out to hold Sarah. The physicality of motherhood shouted at her. She needed that again, needed to make her body work again. She argued against this. Educated women do not succumb to thoughts of being “baby machines.” But Ella did succumb.
Sarah has sensed a distance in her mother all week. She knows she can use it to her advantage.
“I want to ride over to Lockwood’s and buy a pop.”
“There’s some in the house, better yet, I have fruit juice.”
“I’m kinda in the mood to ride my bike. Can I take a couple of dollars?”
“Okay. Take what you need, but watch the sugar. You know how you get.”
Sarah comes and puts her arms around her mother’s disappearing waist, buries her head in her chest—just for a moment. Ella had tried before to have this third child and then miscarried. And though she sometimes thinks about it now, it’s not as painful, this new pregnancy altering that sorrow, the pain, the hours of Ella being silent, wounded.
Waiting for the amnio results is better than what she has already been through. She is sure of this. She’s lived it, learned from it. Fear is a destructive force that can work against your joy and hope. Her doctor was firm: set fears aside. Statistics: only one fetus, out of one hundred conceived by women over the age of forty, would come into the world with Downs Syndrome. And Ella had already delivered two healthy children. The doctor also reminded her that anytime a woman conceives, there are chances that she could give birth to a child with some anomaly.
Her fertility is a gift, though modern medicine has played a part. And yes, she has walked down some dark passageways in her mind, but nothing will go wrong. She has set aside her fears. She will love this baby no matter the sex, the birthweight, the chromosomes. No matter any of it.
Back in the yard, Ella picks up the pitchfork, again works to loosen the elm sapling from her garden patch. If she is careful, and there are enough roots, she can replant it at the back fence.
And then, her phone rings.
P.S. Below is a passage by Ilana Lowy: from her Prenatal Diagnosis: the irresistible rise of the ‘visible fetus. Prenatal diagnosis was developed in the 1970s, a result of a partly contingent coming together of three medical innovations-amniocentesis, the study of human chromosomes and obstetrical ultrasound-with a social innovation, the decriminalization of abortion. Initially this diagnostic approach was proposed only to women at high risk of fetal malformations. Later, however, the supervision of the fetus was extended to all pregnant women. The latter step was strongly favored by professionals’ aspiration to prevent the birth of children with Down syndrome…
Debates on such dilemmas are usually limited to professionals. The transformation of prenatal diagnosis into a routine medical technology was, to a great extent, an invisible revolution. Read more here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24440137/
Picture Credit: Golden Light, Colleen Taylor. Thanks to FINE ART AMERICA
There is just something about Fred Calleri’s work that speaks to me. Certainly, nostalgia is a thing that even touched me when I was younger. Why? Because I like remembering, I LIKE looking back, counting the blessings of my life, the people I love, the friends that I have had, the places I have lived. Remembering is a way to once again get in touch with the people who loved me, supported me. Or the times when I was called to be strong, to strike out, make change, believe in the paths I wanted to follow.
So when I found Fred Calleri’s art on the net, I got that “you’ve been there in your life, in your dreams” feeling. I wanted to know how and why he chose his subjects, placed them in comforting, nostalgic scenes. I DID FIND THIS…
Fred Calleri’s experience at The Maryland Institute College of Art 1988-1993 was a watershed event artistically. The excellent training he received opened the window to all fields of art. Ironically, Fred took one painting class in college and only became seriously interested in professionally painting after the birth of his son in 1997. Then…in 2001…
after an extensive period in Graphic Design and Marketing, he decided to move to Flagstaff, Arizona, and take advantage of the history, scenery, people and especially the astounding light offered in the western regions of the U.S. What began to evolve was a blending of the representational with some quirky distortion, as well as an effort to create a deeper narrative within his work.
He writes on his website: I like to explore the figure, and representational painting in general. By adding a slight distortion, I am free to let the image create itself using each piece as a lesson that is used in the next piece. The historical or ‘period’ nature of the work lends itself to a style (and a palette) that I enjoy, and reaches back to a seemingly simpler time. This theme inspires me creatively. I use it as an opportunity, trying to incorporate the style into each challenge I confront.
As one looks at my work, it is easy to see that the subject matter of each piece can vary. (sometimes drastically). The things a person can find themselves doing in life also varies and I enjoy the challenge of injecting my figures into this world.
My influences are from a wide variety of genres, from The Masters to the great Illustrators and many Artists alive today. They remind me constantly that the journey never ends and there is great knowledge to be gained.
I work in a studio attached to my home in Santa Barbara. Using vintage reference photos, live models and imagination, the work is then created on Masonite Panel or Canvas. When using black and white references, much of the color is created from imagination.
Fred currently lives in Santa Barbara, CA. His work has been featured in: Southwest Art, International Artist, American Art Collector, Western Art Collector, Santa Fe Magazine, (NAZ) Mountain Living Magazine. Check out his website here: http://www.fredcalleri.com/home.html
Malcom Gladwell has so impressed the reading world with his analysis of life, that the term “Gladwellian intellectual adventure” has been coined.
But though I confess to not have jumped on his bandwagon before Talking to Strangers, when I saw he had written about Sandra Bland, I had to know his thoughts.
We now go through life with cable news. And then it was July of 2015. I’m white, Black Lives DO Matter, but hearing of a Black woman who had just arrived in Texas for a new job, a new life, had been arrested for a traffic stop, and then hearing just days later, that it was assumed she had hung herself in her jail cell—I was angry, had many questions, that to this day and even beyond this book, have not been answered. Why? Because we are still living in a time when these questions challenge us to give answers we don’t want to face.
HOW TALKING TO STRANGERS IS ORGANIZED
Gladwell starts with Sandra and ends with Sandra. In between, he works to reveal the disconnects in society, by exploring, as only he can, history, psychology and the roots of evil in our society. Oh, he wants to come to some conclusion about Sandra, but before that, he explores how often we just don’t have the big picture. Why? Because we ARE often STRANGERS to each other, and that means there are no exact rules to govern human interactions.
He attacks the problem in sections: some being Default to the Truth where he exams in detail the Sandusky (sex with a child) Case. Another being Transparency which includes the Amanda Knox case and a fraternity party sex case.
But the most interesting section is Coupling,where Gladwell makes the case that often two things that go together are hard to separate. Suicide is often coupled. Suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge; Sylvia Plath and how gas was delivered to homes before safety measures were introduced; preventive police patrolling in Kansas City, Missouri and the interrogation of Blacks.
Gladwell concludes the coupling section with this: “There is something about the idea of coupling–of the notion that a stranger’s behavior is tightly connected to place and context–that eludes us. It leads us to misunderstand some of our greatest poets (Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton), to be indifferent to the suicidal, and to send police officers on senseless errands. (Sandra Bland.)
SANDRA BLAND Note: All parenthesis are mine.
Then Gladwell asks, before the last chapter, when he discusses the Sandra Bland case…
“So what happens when a police officer carries that fundamental misconception– (that people are going to break laws, do wrong, especially if the are Black)–and then you add to that the problems of default to truth and transparency? (That by their very nature, police can make us feel afraid, feel wrong when we are right, liars when we are truth tellers, especially if one is a person of color) YOU GET SANDRA BLAND.”
YES, SADLY. You get that two personalities who view the world differently, should not be thrown together in a tense situation. And, unfortunately, as a reader and a human, we are left with this: “If you are blind to the ideas that underlie our mistakes with strangers—and to the institutions and practices that we construct AROUND those ideas—then all you are left with is the personal…and now Sandra Bland, who—at the end of the lengthy postmortem into that fateful traffic strop…somehow becomes the villain of the story.”
Traffic tickets. What did I do wrong? Wanting to immediately defend myself. Not knowing how to act, what to do. I don’t have a weapon; I’m a female driving a car!
I’ve had four encounters with police and none of them felt comfortable. Why? Well it’s the police. Okay. The police make me nervous. But some of you reading this might have fathers, husbands, sisters, brothers who work in law enforcement. So, what’s my point?
Actually, it was made this morning in a column in the Chicago Tribune. Columnist Eric Zorn writes about his encounters with police and how we can improve things. But first let me tell you about mine.
FIRST: It happened on a circular drive in a shopping center in Matteson, Illinois. A policeman pulled me over. I guessed I was going 30 in a 20-mile zone. I immediately dialed my husband on my cell phone; he actually answered. Now the policeman is at my window, yelling at me to get off the phone. So, I did. FIRST ENCOUNTER, not going well.
He told me I had gone 30 in a 20. There was nothing more to say. He wrote out a ticket. I went on my way.
SECOND: I am now an RN, working at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Around noon, before my shift, I drive to pick up my son at grade school. I pull up in my car along the schoolyard fence. Just as I do, a child FALLS of the swing that is at a great height. I leap from my car and go into the school yard to help this child. He is shaken, bruised, but he is okay. While I am caring for him, a policeman pulls up behind me and starts writing me a ticket. WHY?
He’s ticking me for leaving my car running….I am about 10 feet from my car, we are on a leafy street with no traffic. I go out and argue with him. It makes absolutely no difference that I was leaping out of my car to help a child. None at all. It would have been nice to just get a warning. But I don’t appeal the ticket. I’m too damn busy.
THIRD: In this same neighborhood, we have moved, remodeled a very old home from the 1920’s. New roof, windows, doors, newly poured patio. New gardens, not to mention every room in the house has new plumbing and we have a new boiler etc etc. BUT…
While purchasing wallpaper in the community, giving my address….the woman waiting behind me says right out: “Oh, you’re the house with the bush that grows over the sidewalk.” I look at her. Turn back, pay, leave the store. Thinking, what a b…..
We contact the village to pay for new sidewalk squares (it’s a corner house) so that people don’t trip while they are walking near our house.
But then it happens, the same policeman who ticketed me for helping a child, pulls up, rings my bell, writes me a ticket for the bush growing over the sidewalk. AND HE ISN’T EVEN NICE ABOUT IT, when I show him how we have improved THIS house, even redone the public sidewalk.
FOURTH: This last is the least of all three, yet in some ways it might have turned out to be the worst. It all depends on the person you are dealing with.
Here’s why, and remember, no one has ever told me the rules. I am driving through the streets of Des Moines, on my way to pick up my son from his music lesson. I notice a police car is following me. Well, it’s not me, I tell myself. But when I pull into the parking lot, he does too, it’s me. I pull into a parking space, he pulls into the space behind me. So what do I do?
I do the exact wrong thing that I don’t know is the exact wrong thing, I get out of my car and walk back to him. His window is down—“You need to get back in your car.” I don’t think he yelled, but he’s angry. And it’s me, Beth Havey, who hasn’t done anything wrong. “Officer, what have I done?”
He gives me the same answer, get back in your car. I do. I wait. About five minutes later, he walks up to my open window.
“Your registration is out of date. You don’t have your sticker on your plate.”
“I’m so sorry,” I tell him, “I must have left the notice in a pile of mail. I will take care of this immediately.”
“And he, nods, walks away, so that after I get my son, I drive oh so carefully until I can get home and hide my car. I won’t drive it again until I have my NEW STICKER.
LOOKING BACK and FORWARD
I’ve been driving for YEARS. For my 3-11 shift at Mercy Hospital in the city of Chicago. Back and forth from Des Moines to Chicago, alone. Many times to Iowa City, alone. Across country to California, with my husband. I’ve navigated the 405, the busiest road in California. BUT I HAVE NEVER BEEN TOLD THE RULES. I learned them through negative experience, and by reading the paper, watching video of others, watching police deal with Black men, Black women, young kids, etc etc. Don’t get out of the car…Get out of the car!!
NO ONE TOLD ME THE RULES when I first got my license. And not when I renewed. The tests in California are always about SIGNS and more SIGNS. Same in Illinois.
ERIC ZORN writes that a new measure in Illinois, co-sponsored by three African American lawmakers, requires that the RULES OF THE ROAD manual include instructions on “appropriate interaction with law enforcement officers” during a traffic stop. They claim that these instructions are in the booklet. I don’t remember being tested on that point. Signs, all the tests are about signs.
CONCLUSION: the following should be front and center:
If you can’t quickly pull over, activate your hazard lights to signal your intent to comply.
Don’t rummage for your license, etc don’t make a quick phone call about anything. These movements can alarm the officer, especially with the prevalence of guns in society. Instead, turn on your dome light if it’s night and put your hands on the wheel at 10 and 2.
When the officer asks for documents, tell this person where they are, move slowly.
Don’t argue with the officer. That never goes well. If you get a ticket, sign it, avoid arrest. Save your argument for the judge.
Zorn then says: But we as drivers should also know our rights. Such as:
The right not to answer questions about where you’re going, where you live or your immigration status as well as the right not to respond to accusations or insinuations of wrongdoing.
The right to deny consent to a search of your person or of your vehicle (though officers may conduct such a search anyway, if they claim probable cause.) This happened to a person I dearly love and he was arrested.
The right to learn the officer’s name and badge number.
The right to refuse to take a blood, urine or breath test if you are suspected of impaired driving (though such a refusal is almost certain to result in a one-year license suspension.)
My final thoughts are like Eric Zorn’s: courtesy and respect during a traffic stops can be and should be a two-way street. Lawmakers ought to put that in their guidelines as well.
Also, I’ve been damn lucky! I was in a bad accident years ago. I made a bad turn. My daughters were injured. They are fine now, but it took me months to forgive myself. But that’s another blog post. https://boomerhighway.org/reclaiming-motherhood/
Please share your interactions with the police and how you handled them.
The ability to love everyone starts with children. We are blank slates. We see the world bathed in equality—until, as we grow, we begin to become aware of differences. Or they are pointed out to us. Regardless, there is always hope.
In a world where we are truly now a global nation, where we could look like the United Nations, differences should not be an issue.
But there is something in an individual’s DNA that makes them cling to those first times when we see differences or feel different or are taught to claim a difference. Why? I don’t have an answer.
EVERYONE HAS SOME PREJUDICE
There are people on this earth who claim that they have no prejudices. That everything in their purview is equal. I say, that’s impossible. Maybe you are or have always been comfortable with the differences that exist in humanity regarding skin color. Awesome. Wonderful. But I proport there isn’t a person walking this earth that isn’t prejudiced in some way. And it may be as simple as food choices.
Because life is about choice and within each of us is some small voice telling us that THIS is better than THIS. It just depends on what we are talking about. But we must be honest.
HOW PREJUDICE BEGINS
As a child, I lived on the southside of Chicago. But—in a neighborhood that was all white. The people of color I knew were few. There was Jenny, the Sioux Native American who cared for us when we were very young. (read here). And there were the two Black women who cleaned and ironed for us. (read: here.)
OPENING MY EYES
But what did I notice as I grew up in Chicago? (I am doing my best to be honest.)
That all our neighbors, the people who worked in stores, the kids in school, the people in church, our doctors—they were all white.
That when my mother drove me through neighborhoods to downtown Chicago (before the city built the Dan Ryan Expressway, which was geographically laid out to separate many Black neighborhoods from white ones) that the sidewalks were crowded with people walking; that there were people missing limbs, people in wheel chairs, maybe even people who had lost hope. READ: people who had to rely on public transportation; people without good healthcare. People who lived in food deserts and healthcare deserts. Please note that in certain decades THE CAR was everything. This was before we began to look on public transportation as a positive way to travel. I did live three blocks from the Rock Island train that zipped my mother into Chicago for her job. From that train, I could look out upon housing, old apartments, yards bare of grass, sometimes filled with trash… Okay—poverty.
What did I notice during my years of education?
Well, I’m certain I would never have looked around for a Black child in my grade school. That possibility wasn’t even on our radar. There were two girls in my class whose skin was actually tan all year long: read, darker than mine. Damn, that I noticed that. Is there something in our DNA that points that out?
But after high school, working in the city every summer in downtown Chicago, the variety of people along the sidewalks was fascinating.
What did I notice off and on just living and working in Chicago and its suburbs?
That even though I was white, there were sales women in high-end stores that were not interested in helping me return a blouse or search for a size. Because prejudice can move through all tribes—I obviously wasn’t dressed in a way that indicated my buying power. That memory still stings. But GET OVER IT, You Privileged White Woman.
That working in an integrated high school in Chicago Heights, Illinois and then much later working as an RN at Mercy Hospital in the Bronzeville area of Chicago, were some of the best years of my life. If there was some ignorant, leery, unsure person hidden inside me—those career choices made me push her aside.
MY FIRST JOB INTERVIEW
“Some of our students have knives,” the Superintendent of the high school where I was interviewing told me. I needed the job. I said that was okay. I spoke out of ignorance. What did I know about dealing with a student who might be carrying a knife? I learned to be open and caring of all my students. Was I lucky? Yes. But there were so many students throughout my teaching years that showed me their humanity.
It was the same at Mercy Hospital when I first started working in maternity. I might be nervous walking into a room to help a stranger deliver her child. But the bond of the female species, of motherhood, of helping someone in pain—damn, humanity was flowing through those rooms and continued to do so.
“Gresham went over night.” You would have to live in Chicago (or maybe a different urban city) to know what THE HELL that means. Translation: the white folks moved out and the Black folks moved in. THIS IS OUR HISTORY. It’s Chicago’s history and it is the history of many cities in this country. It is wrong.
Other terms are contained in one blistering sentence (a friend said this): “Yes, for sure there is gentrification going on in that neighborhood, cause they are getting rid of the slum.”
Definition of Slum: a densely populated usually urban area marked by crowding, run-down housing, poverty, and social disorganization.
Actual Definition: an area of a city where people unable to find good-paying jobs are forced to live. And regarding history, people of color are forced to live there, a place where houses are abandoned because of job loss; stores and hospitals close. When I grew up, the hospital where I was born was a quick drive away. I took that for granted. Again, from a recent article in the New York Times: Now you drive through communities like Englewood and see empty lot after empty lot… And I recently learned that the south suburbs of Chicago do NOT have a trauma center. They have hospitals, but not a trauma center. The trauma center is Christ Advocate Trauma Center which is three miles from me, within the city limits.
EDUCATING MYSELF BY READING…
There was James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker. But now there is Ta-Nehisi Coates. Thanks to my daughter-in-law, I read BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME. Then I read WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER, which wasn’t just about the Obama era, but about Reconstruction, the freedoms initially given to freed people of color and then taken away. The continuation of brutality, of lynching and home burning. The device of red-lining which is to refuse (a loan or insurance) to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk. Short version, because they are Black.
When Black folks left the South, looking for employment and better lives for their families, white men devised ways to isolate them in run-down neighborhoods, to prevent the breadwinner of the family from getting ahead. White people have always been able to get ahead by buying a home for their family, which provides them with shelter, but also the possibility of increasing their initial investment.
Getting ahead is the key to everything, for everyone. In America, each one of us should have that chance.
But could a dream send up through onion fumes Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall, Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms
Even if we were willing to let it in, Had time to warm it, keep it very clean, Anticipate a message, let it begin?
From Kitchenette Building by Chicago Black poet, Gwendolyn Brooks
PS Fighting prejudice must be an ongoing but oh so worthy effort.
Photo: Monument in Bronzeville, Chicago, Illinois. Honoring the World War I 8th Regiment of the Illinois National Guard.
I will be able to hear my mother’s voice on Mother’s Day, even though she died in 2013. And no, I’m not hallucinating, but I did receive an early Mother’s Day gift from my brother Bill. The gift: being able in 2021 to hear the voices of my mother and father which were recorded when I was only two.
My father loved new inventions and taught himself how to “cut a record”. These recordings were later preserved on tape and eventually digitized. My younger brother, a musician and music producer, knew how to do this magic. Thus the gift of hearing my mother’s lovely voice.
I am wishing for all of you this Mother’s Day, some meaningful connection with family. It might be talking with your mother, grandmother, daughter. It might be carving out those quiet moments for yourself that include a favorite tea, a glass of wine or some chocolate. It might include a walk to enjoy the bounty of spring or even a nap!
Whatever your choice today, I wish you connection with those voices in your life that give you joy.
What does a book published in 2002 by Alice McDermott have to do with a new release by Margot Livesey? The answer: they reveal the strong and vivid seeds of adulthood in their adolescent characters.
Alice McDermott captured my attention with her short but amazing novel, THAT NIGHT. Published in 1987, McDermott explores suburbia of post WWII where life should be perfect, where parents have created families and a culture that cannot be challenged. But when it is, when a “guy” who doesn’t meet the picture of a future husband is determined to have a family’s daughter, we read this:
“That night when he came to claim her, he stood on the short lawn before her house, his knees bent, his fists driven into his thighs, and bellowed her name with such passion that even the friends who surrounded him, who had come to support him, to drag her from the house, to murder her family if they had to, let the chains they carried get limp in their hands.”We can picture that era, the leather jackets, the sideburns. But the passion translates into any age.
In a CHILD OF MY HEART, published in 2000, McDermott’s the main character, Theresa, is on the cusp of change, wavering between the security of childhood and the lure of the life that adults lead, and of course, sex. The novel begins with Theresa’s voice:
“I had in my care that summer four dogs, three cats, the Moran kids, Daisy, my eight-year-old cousin, and Flora, the toddler child of a local artist. There was also, for a while, a litter of wild rabbits…They were wet and blind,…so small it was difficult to know if their bodies moved with the beating of their hearts or the rise of their breaths.”
And maybe it was difficult for Theresa to know where her developing body, her own beating heart’s growth might take her. She watched these children on the seashore in summer. People bare their skin. Children do too, and she is there to protect them. Because later in the novel, when Theresa finds herself enthrall to an older man, she tells us:“You could reimagine, rename things all you wanted, but it was flesh somehow, that would not relent.”
Adolescence is definitely that period in life where you are torn between the rubric of home and the lure of any place, activity, person—who is not a metaphor for family, rules and order. It’s a vivid, surprising time. No wonder talented authors take advantage of it.
Thus, I fell in love with the writing of Margot Livesey when first reading EVA MOVES THE FURNITURE. The tale begins on the day of Eva’s birth, which is also the day of her mother’s death. But over time, some companions that Eva cannot see, arrive to protect and guide her. Eva reflects: “…but my loneliness was like the slow gas bubbling up from the pond in the woods, poisoning even the sweetest of days. How could I turn away those two who wanted to be my friends when no one else did?’‘ The novel is the story of the choices Eva makes and how the “companions” guide her in those choices. It is a beautiful story.
Livesey’s latest novel, THE BOY IN THE FIELD, once again probes the whims, fevers and worries of adolescence. It also casts a darker cloud over what can be a tempestuous time in life.
Reviews promise: (thanks to Jenny Rosenstrach in the NYT) In the broadest sense, Margot Livesey’s …“The Boy in the Field” is a whodunit. Who attacked this boy in the middle of the day and left him for dead in a field? What would have happened if three unsuspecting siblings walking home from school hadn’t caught a glimpse of his red sock from the road? Why this boy?
Three sibling, Mathew, Zoe and Duncan come upon the above scene. They do what they can: one stays with the boy, one waves down a car on the road to call for help. One wanders the scene. Their gestures are open and fearless. Their gestures are the seeds to their growing. But what they do not know, and what Livesey probes in this fascinating story, is that seeing the “boy in the field” will change all of their lives. That change will even spread to their parents, the mother a solicitor (this is England) and their father who works a forge.
“You’re going to be all right,” Zoe said.
The boy gave a small sigh. His lips moved. The sigh became a word.
Each of them caught it. No more words followed.
But that was all it took for these three children’s lives to become attached to change.
Our 44th president, Barack Obama, recently spoke with Ava DuVernay about the publication of his book A PROMISED LAND. The first of two volumes.
This event was part of the Virtual Community Book Club sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.
Ava DuVernay grew up in Long Beach, CA. Her production of the film A Wrinkle in Time highlighted her being the first Black woman to direct a live-action film. She created the Netflix drama series WHEN THEY SEE US, based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case, when five young black men were accused of rape. The series was nominated for an Emmy and won the Critics’ Choice TV award for best series.
When the discussion began, DuVernay mentioned that she had always appreciated Barack Obama using his honest response I don’t know, when he didn’t have a definitive answer to a question from a news person or anyone interviewing him. This was a great start to their discussion.
DuVernay: What is the most important best step in overcoming our current problems?(note I have shortened some of Obama’s answers, but have not changed his message.)
Obama: In the book, I was tracing the deep-rooted divisions in our society, which came to the fore and maybe were even exacerbated by my election: the fault line of race and the fault line around equal opportunity and class. To me, as a writer and a human, you don’t completely overcome our differences. We are a complicated democracy, there are always going to be clashes of idea, notions of what comprises the good life and how we should organize ourselves in government.
But we can work to see each other’s humanity, understand that we are all deserving of dignity and respect. We can try to resolve those differences.
When I ran in Iowa, there were few Black people, but still we were able to bring together young Black followers, Jews, Asians and whites. We listened to them, eager to know what they needed. We formed bonds and trust in Iowa. It is all part of listening, understanding others.
DuVernay: Tell us about your loss when your first ran for a position in Illinois.
Obama: I can still feel the disappointment, and I asked myself: Why am I doing this? I might have to put aside this dream for something else. A valuable lesson is what you have control over, WHAT YOU DO. But of course, there are lots of variables. I try to be tough on myself if I’ve been lazy or inconsiderate. Things that I can control. And you learn. The sun still comes up. Then I ran for US Senate and it helped when I told myself not to be concerned if I didn’t win. The cause is larger than my success.
DuVernay: Any thoughts on marriage, leadership?
Obama: (laughs) Clean up after yourself. Leadership. How do we learn? Challenge your own assumptions. Understand what your mission is. Reflect on what this is about. Because your decisions are about what your first principles are.
DuVernay: When you were president, how did you deal with difficult problems on your desk:
Know your first principles.
Have people smarter than you working for you. Remember that you don’t have to be seen as the most important person.
Your junior staff know a great deal; you are the facilitator. TAKE YOUR EGO OUT OF IT.
And yes, be accountable. Get rid of people who don’t follow those rules, who take ideas of others as their own. There are those who often do that to women.
What would you like to be remembered for?
Obama: The Paris Climate Accord. To fight Climate change. (then he offered some opinions on this process) Getting elected. Is this about doing what I think is best and long term for the country? Is my goal to get activists off my back or try to solve problems? KNOW YOU FIRST PRINCIPLES. You are going to make decisions that are sub-optimal. Nothing arrives on your desk with the perfect answer.
Then later, a young woman named Grace, calls in, asks Obama specifics about the Paris Accords.
Obama: Legacy in the context of the presidency–its hard to get distance or perspective. How will this all play out? It might take 20 years. The Paris Accords. You had to take specific actions to reduce Greenhouse gases. It was a big lift, a big achievement. We got China to partner. Then India, even though they stressed that they didn’t cause the problem of greenhouse gases. But we were able to set up the structure. Then my successor pulls out. We are the one county…but it didn’t fall apart. Cities and states continued to adhere to the goals. Car companies followed the rules.
DuVernay: What is something else you would like to be remembered for?
Obama: It’s hard to gauge. I modeled our leadership that whatever mistakes we made, we showed it was possible for someone elected president to do so without scandal and with a message of inclusion–a government that operates with integrity. Because so many of our problems occur when we don’t have trust in the people in power.
Think about what happened on January 6th, the riots that threatened Congress. We have gone outside the process entirely of whoever gets the most votes. If we set aside those norms, that my tribe will do whatever it takes to overcome the norms, then we will have a hard time coming together, a hard time learning how to listen to each other’s stories.
THANKs to Ava DuVernay and President Obama
My Comment: I do want to read A PROMISED LAND. I applaud DuVernay for her questions and President Obama for his answers. They give us a look into the book’s content. And President Obama is already working on a second book, continuing this important discussion of his years as POTUS.
FINAL NOTE: In this first book, he talks about Pastor Moss, an older Black pastor who encouraged Obama when people were saying he couldn’t win. He was being told that he should drop out. The cause belonged to the Clintons. It was likely someone would shoot him. But Pastor Moss lined it up this way: the beginning struggle for Black people in America was the Moses stage. Obama was now leading the Joshua stage. He was bringing all of us closer to A PROMISED LAND.