Category Archives: WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND?

WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? THE PONY RIDE by Barry David

THE PONY RIDE

By Barry David

The ring was oval-shaped, and we stood about midway on one side watching the ponies.  It was a glorious fall day. We were in no rush.

My granddaughter held my hand.  She had not yet decided about having a ride; it’s scary to try something new.  So we waited as she carefully appraised each pony as it passed by with its mounted child.

There were brown ones and black ones, some with mixed colors, and others with patterns.

I wondered what she was thinking.   Was she intimidated by them, simply afraid, or was she considering what color pony she’d like to ride?  What goes through a four-year-old’s head?  Lots!

“Would you like a ride?” I asked her.

“Yes,” was her reply, and there was no question about it.

“But I don’t want to ride on a big pony.”

“Okay,” I assured her.

“But I don’t want a small pony.”

“Oh,” I mumbled.  Where was this outing going?

In silence, we watched a few more go by and then, she said, “Papa, I want to ride on a medium pony.”

“Okay!”

A medium pony.  Not too big or too small.  Moderation.  And, given the times we are in as a nation, not too far left or right.

The extremes we deal with each day can make most of us uncomfortable whether in a pony ring or in politics.  Whether we are four or eighty-four, white or black, male or female, conservative or progressive, we are all simply part of the human web that connects us.

When faced with complex choices, compromise most often points the way to a lasting solution.   Sounds pretty basic, and it is.  Not rocket science, if egos are parked at the door.

Too many of our leaders need to get off their donkeys or elephants and mount a ring full of medium ponies.  If they just go on pony ride, they will help us all get “there” faster and “fairer.”  If not, we need to send them home on their donkeys or elephants, never to return.  We can’t allow any leader’s ego and dated ideology to screw up what can be a good pony ride for America.

And, oh, yes!  The pony ride—on a medium, light brown and white pony—was a great success.

BOLLI “Matters” contributor Barry David

Barry says that he and his wife Liz began taking courses at BOLLI “almost from the beginning while winding down my career in the computer field as GM of ADP.  Love taking subjects that I’ve not had exposure to before.  Being snowbirds, we’re delighted that spring semester is build the five-week offerings.  BOLLI has been and remains an important part of our life.”

 

 

WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? ALLEGIANCE by Eleanor Jaffe

ALLEGIANCE

By Eleanor Jaffe

During Thanksgiving, I told my four Salt Lake City grandchildren about the lives, challenges, and sacrifices of my parents’ generation.  My mother, their Great-Grandma Fannie, had just died four months earlier.  I showed them documents and photographs of her grade school and high school graduations, my parents’ courtship,  and their young children, including me, their second of four.

I also told them about the generation that preceded my parents, the children’s great-great grandparents.  All four of them had emigrated from Poland/Russia.  All four of them suffered poverty and persecution, fear of conscription into the czar’s army, and traumatic family separations.  They had, in fact, survived the hardships of most Jewish immigrants to the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century.

I tried to impress on the children that we are all incredibly more fortunate to have grown up in the U.S. than in Eastern Europe.  Or even more to the point, the Holocaust would have ensured our deaths and the end of our lineage.  Their survival made our fifth generation possible.  We owe these great-great grandparents our gratitude.

They listened…

When the visit ended, my husband and I flew east across the vastness that is our country, and I thought about “allegiance,” loyalty to these great United States that enabled our five generations to not only survive but be educated and thrive.  I thought about my cousins, on both sides of our family, and realized–as if for the first time–that five of my sixteen first cousins had left the U.S. to live elsewhere.  One married a Frenchman and has live din Marseilles for almost fifty years.  One married a Japanese woman and has lived in Tokyo for twenty-five years.  Three female cousins, who grew up just blocks away from my home, moved to Israel.  In fact, two of my aunts and one uncle followed their children and are buried in Jerusalem.

What happened to their “allegiance” to the United States, their gratitude for what this nation made possible for our family?  What happened to their first language, English?  Was it supplanted by the languages of their adopted countries?  In what languages do they dream?  Are their attachments to the stories of what their grandparents suffered, the summer camps they attended, their colleges, and their loyalty to the land where three of their fathers served in World War II still strong?

I recall that, when I was young, the romance of becoming a “sabra,” a pioneer in the new land of Israel seemed heroic, almost compelling.  It seemed to be the Ultimate in Leaving Home–I could go without being challenged.  And yet, after all that day dreaming, the ties that bind me to the U.S. have held tight, and I have stayed.

Today, huge political divisions assail our country.  Nevertheless, my sense of allegiance, of loyalty, to the land that made our family’s survival possible and democracy’s hopes still percolate within me.  They animate me to take political action because I can no longer take our freedoms for granted.

We cannot know what effects these family stories will have on our children and their children, but I hope that they are filled with awe and gratitude for those who came before them.  I hope their allegiance motivates them to make this country as great as it may yet become, almost as great as our grandparents hoped it would be.

Frequent BOLLI “Matters” contributor Eleanor Jaffe

“As I grow older,” Eleanor says, “I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of over 50 years, and my friends.”  To that end, she has led BOLLI study groups focused on aging, immigration, and more.  In addition, along with Elaine Dohan, she chairs BOLLI’s political action special interest group.

CONTINUING CARE COMMUNITY OR WHAT?

Continuing Care Community or What?

by Liz David

Recently, Barry and I received the phone call we had been looking forward to and dreading from a Continuing Care Community in our area.

Our name has been on their list for two years.  The marketing representative told us about a unit that was available that met most of our specifications.  We agreed to meet the next week.

Upon arrival, I asked whether the unit was empty or occupied (with furniture). The only way “suites” become available is when the resident dies. She responded that it was occupied.  It is in the North wing on the first floor with easy access to the main common areas.

Upon entering, we discovered that the daughter of the deceased occupant was there with another person who was sporting a clipboard. I surmised that he and she were deciding what to do with  her mother’s belongings.  The place was cluttered with stuff. There were spots on the carpet, kitchen utensils and dishes on the counters–all signs of a former life,  well lived or not.  Who knows?

She showed us around the “suite.”  If we didn’t linger, it would have taken five minutes.  The space is compact–a master bedroom that would fit a queen bed; another single small bedroom; a small but  efficient kitchen; a living/dining area; two full  baths, a walk-in closet and one other.   The unit doesn’t get the sun, and the patio faced a parking lot.

As we were leaving, I thanked the deceased’s daughter for allowing us to see her mother’s home.  She became animated and made it a point to show us the electric fireplace she had installed for her mother. She switched it on, and we saw the warm glow that emanated from the coils. It is a nice feature. Our marketing person suggested that we install recessed lighting around the living room to brighten things up.

After leaving the unit, we learned that another couple who are ahead of us on the waiting list would be looking at it the next day.  What a relief!  We hope they like it!

It was a stressful, depressing experience!  Believe it or not, we’ve never lived in an apartment; well, maybe once!   Since coming home to our eleven room “castle,” we’ve talked and talked and talked.  By the way, we declined the unit.  It turns out that being in a section where there is sunshine coming in through the windows is a must for us.

Of course, there are other factors involved with such a decision.  We are already giving away “stuff” we’ve accumulated over the years that we don’t need or can bear to part with; all those things that we may use “someday”, especially my clothes and Barry’s files of papers. The local shredder has been working overtime!  And then there are the books, books, books;  Native American artifacts, jewelry, jewelry, jewelry; my grandmother’s and my bone china tea cups, sculptures, art work, etc, etc, and so forth.   Get the picture?

Then there are the holidays. Recently, for Thanksgiving and Hanukah, we hosted our family of nine, sometimes ten, sometimes twelve, occasionally fourteen. After dinner, the kids, as always, went downstairs to the basement playroom while the rest of us schmoozed.  Those precious gatherings will not be possible in the same way in a “suite” of 12/13 hundred square feet.

Barry and I have 83 and 84 years of life experience and are in decent shape for the shape we’re in.  So, when it comes to continuing care–

To be continued.

BOLLI “MATTERS” contributor Liz David

Liz is a familiar face at BOLLI having been an active participant in both courses and committees as well as an SGL and a writer for the blog. 

 

 

WHAT’S ON LARRY’S MIND? FEAR

FEAR

By Lawrence Schwirian

Fear is perhaps the most primal of all human instincts…we are, all of us, brought into this world pre-programed to react to perceived threats by fleeing or fighting. Our initial response to a perceived threat might mean the difference between success or failure or even life or death. Fortunately, in this modern-age, many threats are not so immediate that our health and well-being are in instant jeopardy. But that does not mean dangers that are more protracted or abstruse should be regarded as any less menacing. Fortunately or unfortunately, fear itself can be used by those who brandish power to bend the will of their followers for practical benefit or protracted harm.

Consider and contrast the presidencies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Donald J. Trump. In March of 1933, in his first inaugural address, President Roosevelt sought to assure the nation that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This was at a time when the USA was experiencing an unemployment rate of roughly 25% during the heart of the Depression. Over the next seven years, with the help of the New Deal, the unemployment rate would continue to decline until the US entered World War II in December 1941 when unemployment became a non-issue. In contrast, Donald J. Trump, in a campaign event in Texas, recently sought to instill fear into his loyal base by lying to his constituency that there were many middle-easterners, terrorists, MS-13 gang members, drug dealers, and rapists in a migrant caravan now making its way from southern Mexico to the US border. This at a time when the unemployment rate in the United States is at a historic low and migrant workers are needed in many parts of the country.

Clearly, Mr. Trump’s comments were intended to energize his base and not meant to unify the country, by pacifying disparate raging political dialog.  The recent bombing attempts of Trump opponents by an ardent Trump supporter as well as the recent mass murders at a Jewish Temple in Pittsburgh are clear examples of how crude, baseless remarks meant to generate “fear and hatred” can result in real-life tragedy.  This current president is the antithesis of FDR; his methods and objectives are more in keeping with historical precedents set by unscrupulous demagogues like Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.

My greatest fear is that our democracy is slipping away…that those who believe in compromise that results in positive change will not be sufficient in number or have the force of will to rise up to confront those who fight to maintain the status quo and who believe that winning is everything…even if it stands for nothing.  I, for one, plan to fight and to keep fighting until I am too weak to fight any longer.

Frequent “BOLLI Matters” contributor Larry Schwirian

Architect Larry Schwirian  has been an active BOLLI member for nearly three years–taking a variety of classes, leading architecture courses with his wife Caroline, co-leading the Writers Guild, and serving on BOLLI’s Journal committee.  

 

WHAT’S ON DENNIS GREENE’S MIND? HUMILITY…

HUMILITY

by Dennis Greene

When things are going great and I feel smugly pleased with myself, I try to remember the famous words of Golda Meir:  Don’t be so humble–you are not that great.

And, because I save stuff, I have the documentary evidence to remind me just how not great I am.

In 1969, five years after compiling an abysmal academic record at Lafayette College, I decided to stop being a mediocre engineer and become a lawyer. I took the LSAT, did reasonably well, and applied to most of the best law schools in the country. Two of these schools, Harvard and Columbia, each required a recommendation from the applicant’s undergraduate institution. I had no contacts at Lafayette who might remember me favorably, but I nevertheless forwarded the forms to Dean Chase with a letter acknowledging that he might not remember me but nevertheless requesting that he complete and return the required recommendation forms. I had been one of only seven students in my class on the Dean’s List in our first semester, and I hoped that he would notice that and overlook that, later, I was on both academic and disciplinary probation. But nothing slipped by Dean Chase, and he replied as follows:

Contrary to the first paragraph in your letter, I do indeed remember you. In fact, I  remember writing to you a letter, perhaps it was prior to your sophomore year,  explaining why it was not wise for a student to have an automobile. I believe I  pointed out that academic difficulties often arose when this became the case.

In light of what happened to your academic record at Lafayette afterwards, I am  appalled at my success as a prophet. While I am sorry I was accurate in your case, I can only wish that my track record were as good with everybody else.

These somewhat garbled comments were followed by rejections from Harvard and Columbia. I also received rejection letters from Stanford, Penn, NYU, Berkeley, and  Michigan. The Stanford letter, received only weeks after my application had been submitted, was the most crushing.

I am aware that we have not yet received all the documents required to      complete your application…. however, the Admissions Committee… acts on  applications whenever in its judgement the information available is sufficient to  permit a decision to be made.

I had received an “early decision” rejection years before such actions became routine.

Happily (and luckily), I was admitted to BU Law School, but just barely. My application for financial aid was denied. When I met with the Dean of Admissions to discuss this decision, he informed me, with little warmth, that I should feel fortunate to have been admitted at all, as I had the lowest undergraduate GPA of any student who had applied that year.  He then repeated, with emphasis:  I don’t mean the lowest who was admitted, I mean the lowest of anyone who applied.

I asked if I could defer admission for a year so that I could  earn enough to pay tuition, and he coldly informed me that he would not recommend it.  I would be required to re-apply, and the way the BU applicant pool was improving, my board scores might not be enough to gain me admittance again.

I accepted admission in the class of 1973 and figured out how to make it work.  I finished the first year near the top of my class, worked hard,  got some breaks,  and have had a wonderful life, so far. But I might just as easily have ended up spending my life scraping the barnacles off the hulls of rich people’s sailboats.

I’m not that great.

Prolific “BOLLI Matters” writer Dennis Greene

Whether it’s pop culture, sci fi, memoir, or whatever is on his mind at the moment, Dennis provides us with his own blend of humble humor–which is, of course, great!

 

 

 

WHO CARES ABOUT THE ADA?

WHO CARES ABOUT THE ADA?

By Cindy Wentz

Who cares about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?  I do, and you should as well.  OK, OK–perhaps it’s not as pressing as flipping the House or whether Kavanaugh gets confirmed… or is it?  I maintain that it touches many more aspects of our daily lives than many events of the day.  Moreover, it is influenced by all three branches of our government.

Did you know that 20% of Americans have some type of disability?  I have seen a figure as high as 35% for seniors.  Under the ADA, the term ‘disability’ refers to a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities regardless of whether said impairment is current, is part of the individual’s history or record, or is a perception by others.  Hence the disability may (use of a walker, blindness) ) or may not (mental illness, hearing loss) be visible to the casual observer.  Do YOU have a disability?  What about your family members?  What about your fellow BOLLI learners?  It has been said that disability is the only minority group to which one can gain membership at any time.  So, if you don’t have a disability now. . . just wait. . . or maybe not.

The ADA is a fairly straightforward civil rights act for people who just happen to have disabilities.  It was signed into law in 1990 by then President George H. W. Bush.  I will defer to Josh Mendelsohn, our October 9” Lunch & Learn” speaker, to provide more specifics.  Josh, an attorney, has worked for the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and currently heads up the Community Living Division at the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.  Josh happens to be Deaf.

Instead, I will attempt to convey what the ADA means in my life.  As some of you know, I have very poor vision.  I can’t read print, can’t see traffic lights, don’t understand those scenes in movies that lack dialog, and encounter challenges in a hundred other commonplace activities.  Under the advent of the ADA, the subsequent Telecommunications Act of 1996, and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (amendments 1998), I can now expect to be able to use the ATM at my local bank branch by plugging in a headphone and having the information on the screen read to me.  I can hope that those traffic lights have audible signals indicating when the light has turned green.  Increasingly, I can access audio description for current films and, sometimes, even for theatre productions.  BOLLI will make any class handouts available to me in an electronic format so that I can read them using VoiceOver.  Most course readings can be downloaded to be read in large print or listened to in human or synthesized speech.  Most importantly, the ADA has contributed significantly to changing my perceptions.  No longer do I regard these fairly simple accommodations with gratitude as I rather apologetically request them.  No!  I have a right to them.  It’s the law, and I utilize them with dignity and pride.

What about you?  Do you or a fellow BOLLI student encounter any difficulty in hearing he SGL, in maneuvering your walker or wheelchair around the BOLLI space, in seeing/hearing those audiovisual presentations?  Do you have any other need caused by a disability?  If so, speak up!  Your tuition payment is as good as the next person’s and you need not shortchange yourself.  I assure you that Avi, Megan, and Lily are ready to assist as am I (BOLLI’s Inclusion and Disability Liaison).  And do come to “Lunch & Learn” on October 9 for a more in-depth look at the ADA.

BOLLI member and Advisory Council Inclusion & Diversity Liaison Cindy Wentz

Cindy’s  passion for and  her commitment to disability rights and independent living led to a 40 year career in rehabilitation.  Though happily retired,  she has found  gigs that allow her to continue to contribute to her professional interests.  In addition to BOLLI, Cindy enjoys traveling, hiking in the fall,  attending local theatre productions, and countless other pursuits–some of which she hasn’t even yet discovered.

WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? THE MICRO-STORM

THE MICRO-STORM

by Dennis Greene

Safe inside our well-constructed home sand surrounded by an amazing network of electronic communication systems, we generally feel protected from those forces of nature that threatened and terrified our forbears.  Even when we hear about earthquakes, cyclones, or tidal waves somewhere else, and we feel some level of concern and sympathy, we don’t feel the gut-wrenching fear of those who came before us and knew nature better than we do.  But every once in a while, Mother Nature gives us a little nudge to remind us that she is watching us and can, with a gesture, wipe out our secure little nests at any time.

About six weeks ago, I got such a nudge.  After leaving BOLLI at noon, I rushed to the golf course to get in a quick nine.  The weather was sunny and warm, but there was a chance of some thunderstorm activity in late afternoon.  I spent a pleasant two hours strolling the fairways at Nehoiden and then headed home for a nap.  By 4:30, I was fast asleep next to an open window, oblivious to the world. I had given no thought to the approach of a violent “micro storm.”

At 5:15, I was startled into consciousness by a soaking wall of water driven through my window by violent wind.  I was in bed, facing the window, and as my eyes popped open, I heard an explosion and saw a bright flash of white light surrounded by a red penumbra. It looked like a bomb exploding right outside my window, and there was no interval between the boom and the flash.

The house shook, but since I saw no other damage, and our lights remained on, I rolled over to the dry side of the bed and tried to continue my nap.  It didn’t last long. Eileen yelled from downstairs that we had no internet or television service, all our phones were dead, and a message on her cell phone indicated that some isolated areas were experiencing severe micro-storms. I guess we were one of those isolated areas.

Hours later, I learned from a message on my cell phone that the “outage” in our neighborhood lasted for forty minutes, but service had been restored.  Many hours after that, at 3:15 a.m., I reached Comcast to let them know that the outage continued at my house. They confirmed that our house had no service and offered to send a technician, but since they had numerous other calls, the earliest available service would be no sooner than Thursday afternoon. For the next two days, our household was barely functional.  I couldn’t use the internet or read emails, and I missed the Celtics playoff game. On Thursday evening, after a very responsive young technician worked at our house for almost two hours, we learned from him that our modem, three tv control boxes, and all our telephones had been rendered inoperable.  When he returned on Friday morning to replace the modem and control boxes, we discovered that our new 55” smart TV and our Apple Airport router had also been fried. The next day, we began the daunting task of replacing the five telephones, beginning the warrantee process with Costco for our TV, and trying to reconnect all our devices and printers to our home network. The disruption seemed interminable, but after four frustrating weeks we were finally reconnected and back to normal.  But we are now much more aware of how subject we are to nature’s whims.

This is a warning to all of you to retain some of that primeval fear you were born with and to respect Mother Nature. She has her eyes on each of us and can hurl devastation upon you before you can blink.

BOLLI Matters feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He’s been writing blog articles for BOLLI Matters in quite a variety of genres:  science fiction, movie and video picks, creative nonfiction, and memoir.  And now, he’s even taken on the weather!

 

 

JULY WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? LEGACIES

WHAT WILL I LEAVE MY CHILDREN?

by Eleanor Jaffe

As we age, we consider what we will leave behind for our children and grandchildren that has lasting significance and meaning. Undoubtedly, we have all thought about finances and what estate will be left for our children to share. Perhaps you have thought of treasured antiques–your mother-in-law’s fine china or sterling silver,  your father’s World War II medals, perhaps.  Maybe you will leave your children property.  Maybe you have thought of leaving some writings that you have put together, your memoirs of successes and failures, family joys and sorrows.  All of these have significance to you and me and to our children.  But, lately, a new legacy, one I have heretofore taken for granted, seems of utmost importance: the legacy of a functioning democracy.

We belong to the same “cohort.”  That is, we grew up at the same time, lived through the same U.S. history (give or take twenty years). I can recall the end of World War II.  I can recall the formation of the United Nations, the promise of Israel, and NATO.   We were filled with the idealism of our age.  We would help to build a better, wiser world following the cataclysm of World War II with its millions of victims and its death camps. “Never again!” We believed in these ideals, and, as a cohort, we profited from the expansive, booming economic times that ensued. The U.S. was a benevolent victor and helped to rebuild conquered territories—for the good of us all.  Here in the U.S., laws were passed equalizing opportunities for minorities and women.  Incrementally, the U.S. expanded the rights of all citizens.

Now, we are experiencing the loss of our idealism, the loss of the sense of U.S. “rightness,” the faith in our democracy that we once shared.  We believed that our democracy could be shared among the nations of the world.  The U.S. could be open-hearted and open-handed. Yes, there were military clashes along the way: Korea and Vietnam (where we almost lost our way). But nothing in our memory, not even the McCarthy era, has decimated the American Dream like the current Trump Administration.  It is this American Dream and its almost 250 year old reality that is the most significant legacy we could possibly leave our children and grandchildren.

Many of our grandparents suffered in steerage and then in poverty so long ago when they emigrated to the United States. The United States was a dream, hard fought for, but worth the struggle for our parents and then for us. We now have an obligation, a sacred trust, to struggle to maintain these democratic principles of fairness, the rule of law, equal opportunities, a place where people–even would-be immigrants and asylum seekers–are treated with respect and fairness.

Nothing has so tarnished the reputation of the United States in the eyes of the world—and in our own eyes—as the systematic, deliberate cruelty of this Administration in separating children from their parents, in keeping children in cages, even of losing track of where the children have been sent!  What has happened to our American Dream? And how can we salvage the tattered remnants of our honor as a country? (And this is just the latest – but surely not the last – of Trump’s outrageous attacks on our democratic, hard fought for ideals and laws.)

The legacy of a proud, just, and fair United States is one I desperately hope to leave to my children and grandchildren. I will work to help these helpless immigrants most of whom are seeking asylum.  Were we not all once “strangers in a strange land?”—no matter when our family members emigrated to the U.S.?  I will work to overturn this Administration so that we can once again have a fair and just system of government, a government that responds to the loud cries of protests from its citizenry.  I strongly encourage all of you to do the same.  This remains the bedrock and foundational legacy for all our children.

BOLLI Matters feature writer Eleanor Jaffe

One of BOLLI Matters’  “Senior Moments” feature writers, Eleanor has become increasingly focused on “Making a Difference” in our current climate.  She and Elaine Dohan, in fact, have founded a new BOLLI Special Interest Group to explore how we might all be “Making a Difference” today.

 

How I Learned to be a Racist by Lois Biener

HOW I LEARNED TO BE A RACIST

By Lois Biener

I parked my car with my dog inside in the small lot behind Peet’s Coffee to run in for some beans.  Leaving the car, I noticed three black men hanging out, probably on a smoke break from their work in the attached building.  I double-checked to make sure my car was locked.  As I walked around to the front door, I chastised myself for my automatic response.  I rarely lock my car.  Why did I do that?

Lessons in racism started early.  I grew up in a neighborhood that was not only racially segregated, it was 60 to 70% Jewish.  I could tell my mother was much happier when I played with the Jewish kids than with the few non-Jews.  No explicit reason was given, but the subtle message of invidious group distinctions was delivered.

The only black person I knew in my early years was Willie Mae who cleaned our house and took care of me after school.  I was very fond of her, as she was of me.  My parents referred to her as “the schvartze,” but not in her presence.  Her daughter, Gweny, was my age, and Willie Mae brought her to our house now and then.  Being invited to Gweny’s 5th birthday party caused my parents great consternation.  I really wanted to go, although I can’t remember if I actually did.  They told me that her home was in a dirty and dangerous neighborhood and that I wouldn’t be comfortable there.  I recall Willie Mae expressing resentment to me about the attitudes white people had toward her.  I felt torn in my loyalties to her and to my parents.

My father, a small-time criminal lawyer, dealt primarily with “colored” people who got in trouble for numbers running and other petty crimes.  Although he was proud to have their respect and appreciation, I had many opportunities to hear about their terrible living conditions and people referred to as “dumb shines,” but at least not “niggers.”

Until high school, I had few opportunities to see or relate to black people.  My high-school was about 50% black and 50% Jewish.  Most of the black kids were tracked into vocational courses, so I didn’t become friendly with many of them.  The one area where race seemed irrelevant was choir.  This was a 3-day a week commitment with frequent concerts in and out of school, often at churches during Christmas, much to my parents’ dismay.  I loved being in the choir, and I had the experience of participating with excellent African-American singers.  I remember anticipating with pleasure the place in the program where a wonderful soprano would perform a solo aria from Handel’s Messiah.

I can’t remember when I first started to actively reject the notion that black people were inherently “less than.”  The civil rights movement of the 60’s occurred when I was an undergraduate, and all the media attention to the injustice in the south was certainly an important factor.  Graduate school in the late 60’s and 70’s and all the political movements of that time led me to intellectually reject racism.   Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, and other writers of the black experience were important contributors to my growing understanding and empathy.  The more recent sickening repetition of the killing of black men by white policeman has been a tipping point in sparking my motivation to be more proactive.

Now I’m trying to deal with the unconscious reactions that led me to go back and lock my car door in the Peet’s parking lot or the avoidance of eye-contact when passing black men on the street.   Rooting out this behavior takes conscious effort.  It is important to bring into awareness the subtle perceptual biases that many of us white people have internalized over our lifetimes so that the source of those biases can be examined.

Riding the train from NYC last week, friends and I were looking for facing seats.  I found one six-seater occupied by a young black man.  I looked at him, smiled, and sat down.  I’m trying.  We all must do much more.

BOLLI Member Lois Biener

A social scientist by “trade,” Lois enjoys her time at BOLLI, sings with two different groups, throws pots,  spends quality time with her daughter and grandson, and  relishes planning the next trip with her husband.

WHAT’S ON MY MIND? A Strange Anniversary

STORMS COME IN ALL VARIETIES: A STRANGE ANNIVERSARY

By Sue Wurster

On April 11, 1965, we huddled in our basements as a whirlwind headed straight for the town of Oberlin.  Twenty minutes later, after the tornado had blown by, the all-clear sounded.  Oberlin was unscathed, leading me to believe that the story about Oberlin’s “saucer rim” might not be just the stuff of legend.  Supposedly, a shallow, man-made ridge of land rings the town and picks up tornados by their tails, leading them to rage around the rim until they eventually either lose steam or carom off the arc—which is what must have happened that day.  Oberlin was unharmed, but nearby Pittsfield was gone.

Oberlin is a unique place—and not only because of its “tornado bowl.”  It is a grain of idealistic liberalism to be found amid fields of cynical conservatism.  It houses the county’s only four-year college whose conservatory of music is considered one of the nation’s finest–as is its art museum as well.  It houses a National Association of College Bookstores warehouse, an FAA air traffic control center, and a small manufacturer of specialized medical instruments now owned by Corning. In the past few decades, closing steel and car manufacturing plants in the county have resulted in rising unemployment, deepening poverty, and ever intensifying racism.  The latter is not a recent development.  Most of the county is made up of small “sundown” towns consisting, still, of only white people.

Oberlin takes pride in its long history of diversity.  The college was the first in the country to enroll women and the first to admit blacks.  In the 1800s, the town, considered an abolitionist stronghold, was a stop on the Underground Railroad where runaway slaves were sheltered and protected.  Many simply stayed.

One of those runaways was a young man named John Price who arrived in September of 1858.  Not long after, two Kentucky slave hunters sneaked into town, kidnapped Price from First Church where he was being hidden, and carted him off to nearby Wellington—just beyond where Pittsfield had stood.  There was no jail in Wellington, so Price was placed under guard in a hotel room until his forced return to the South.  But a small army of impassioned Oberlinians—students, professors, farmers, former slaves, a bookstore owner, a minister, and a shoemaker—took to Wellington to negotiate his release.  When that effort failed, they stormed the hotel, took Price by force, and had him conducted safely to Canada.  A federal grand jury indicted 37 of those Oberlin men who argued in court, without success, that the Fugitive Slave Act was unconstitutional.  That confrontation between Price’s rescuers and the U.S. government captured national attention and, like the Dred Scott decision, furthered the abolitionist cause.  Oberlin became known as “the little town that sparked the big war.”

Strangely, on April 11 in 1865, one hundred years before that tornado flattened Pittsfield and two days after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender, President Abraham Lincoln gave his last address to the American people virtually ending the Civil War…the country’s biggest whirlwind of all.

“Underground Railroad” sculpture in Oberlin, Ohio

 

History Sources:

Ohio History Central.  http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/John_Price

Fradin, Dennis Brindell and Judith Bloom Fradin.  The Price of Freedom:  How One Town Stood Up to Slavery.  Walker Children’s Books, 2013.

BOLL Matters editor Sue Wurster

I have  a feeling that our family’s move to the town of Oberlin in 1965 made all the difference.  For the first time, I lived in a truly diverse community (with the key word being “community”) and learned how important it is to speak out.  Hard to believe that 2019 will bring my 50th Oberlin High School reunion…