Category Archives: WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND?

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…

 

WHAT’S ON MY MIND? Ursula K. Le Guin…

                                    URSULA K. LE GUIN:                                         WHO PROVIDED DIRECTION…

Science Fiction Writer Ursula K. Le Guin

from Sue Wurster

This week, we lost one of the brightest lights in our science fiction cosmos:  Ursula K. Le Guin.  Over the course of her 90 years, this prolific writer added more than 100 short stories, 4 collections of essays, 7 volumes of poetry, and 19 novels to our collective shelves.

While I devoured much of all that she provided us, it was two of those short stories and one speech that taught me how to see…and, thus, think.  The two stories are Direction of the Road and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.  Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons? she asks in a speech delivered in Clarion, Pennsylvania in 1974.

Direction of the Road  is a short, dramatic monologue about Progress beginning  with the line, “They didn’t used to be so demanding.”  The speaker is an oak tree who talks, essentially, about the relativity of motion–growing and diminishing for the drivers/passengers who travel her road.  As humans begin to travel that road at higher and higher speeds, her abilities are severely tested until, at one point, a driver “completely violates the direction of the road” and hits her.  It is in hat moment that the tree loses her immortality–the driver saw her in her fullest being and saw nothing else ever again.    It is this loss that the tree protests.  (to read the full story, click here:  Direction of the Road)

The story was apparently inspired by one particular tree that was situated along the side of a country road Le Guin often traveled in the Portland, Oregon area where she lived.  The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas was also inspired by her Oregon drives–specifically, the sign she saw, backward, in her rearview mirror:  “You are now leaving Salem, O.”  In this compelling short story/utilitarian philosophic exploration, Omelas and its inhabitants live serenely, happily, and without guilt…on a foundation constructed of cruelty.  (to read the full story, click here:  The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas).

Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons? was delivered at 1974’s Clarion writers’ workshop at Clarion State College.  In that address, Le Guin talked about the place (or non-place) of fantasy in our society.   I was totally able to relate to her opening story about going to the children’s room of her local library to find a copy of The Hobbit only to be told that “Oh, we don’t keep that in the children’s room.  We don’t believe that kind of fantasy is good for children.”  So, she went to the adult room only to be told that “Oh, we don’t keep children’s books here.”   For quite a long time in this country, we had this sort of “logjam mindset” when it came to fantasy.   (to read the full speech, click here:  Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?)

Le Guin, born Ursula Kroeber, was raised in Berkeley, California.  Her father was the noted anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber, and her mother was the writer Theodora Kroeber.  Clearly, intellectualism and scholarship were valued when it came to her upbringing.  And she reveled in it.  She graduated from Radcliffe and studied at Columbia University before settling in Portland, Oregon to write.

Several of her novels–including The Left Hand of Darkness, her first major work of science fiction–have been heralded for her ground-breaking and radical utilitarianism.  Other strikingly effective pieces include the powerful novella, The Word for the World is Forest as well as The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, and the children’s fantasy series, The Wizard of Earthsea.

Le Guin  received the National Book Award, five Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, SFWA’s Grand Master, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Howard Vursell Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the L.A. Times Robert Kirsch Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, and the Margaret A. Edwards Award.  She was a  finalist for the American Book Award (three times) as well as the Pulitzer Prize.

What did I learn from Ursula Le Guin that has stuck with me all these years?  To paraphrase a line from Direction of the Road, “if human beings will not understand Relativity, they must come to understand Relatedness.”

Thank you, Ms. Le Guin, for providing so many truly unique standpoints from which to view our world!

BOLLI Matters Co-Editor Sue Wurster

Speculative and science fiction give  me a chance to stand on my head in a way I was never able to do in P.E.  Other favorite writers include Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut, and, of course, that wonderful word man Ray Bradbury.

 

WHAT’S ON MY MIND? INSPIRATION

INSPIRATION

by Sue Wurster

I realize that this might come as something of a surprise, but I’m not exactly known for my athletic prowess.   That lack of prowess, in fact, had much to do with my transferring from Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio at the end of my junior year.   At Otterbein, I was facing a 5-term PE requirement and had already failed badminton, fencing, folk dance, bowling, skiing, horseback riding — as well as folk dance for a second time.   (I had an attendance issue — getting up for an 8 or even 9 am PE course was just not my cup of energy drink.)  Not only did OU have no PE requirement, but it also happened to have the top speech team in the country.   I’m not really sure which was the bigger draw.

BUT — despite my virtual disdain for all things athletic, I’ve always loved tennis.  Not playing it, of course.  Watching it.   Billie Jean won my heart in the 60s and has been there ever since.    Her pioneering efforts helped women get paid their due–as athletes, as professionals, and as partners.  Her strength and courage–in tennis and in life–have inspired me and countless women for fifty years.

And at 73, she’s still at it — playing some tennis, coaching some tennis, mentoring tennis players,  organizing and administering tennis events,  and using her influence to work, wherever possible, for social justice causes — gender equality, social inclusion, “fair play.”

So, on a balmy Saturday in August of 2016,  I was happily ensconced, once again, at the Hotel Lucerne on West 79th Street in New York City.   This is a favorite located in my old neighborhood.   It welcomes me when I need a Broadway fix or the company of old and dear friends and can pretty much always be counted on to provide another round of the perennial NYC pastime known as “star sighting.”   My old friend Susan and I had just sat down at Nice Matin located just outside the hotel door.  It is one of those good neighborhood restaurants you used to be able to find all over the city.  We had met for an early lunch.

I had just been introduced to Susan’s beautiful new granddaughter (whose mother I had taught) when two women walked into the small, uncrowded space.   I could feel the adrenalin rushing to every corpuscle as  I leaned across the table to tell Susan who had just arrived in the restaurant.  And then,  I froze.  The hostess was leading Billie Jean and her friend to the table next to us.  Right next to us.  Oh, my God!  My heart lurched.  She’s coming this way!

And the next thing I knew, Billie Jean King was sitting on the banquette seat.  Right next to me.  Like, maybe, an arm’s-length away.   I had never been so completely starstruck.    But, I realized, so was her friend — with the baby.  She oohed, aahed, cooed, and asked all the right questions about this sweet little girl.   At that point, the waiter arrived.

“Are you ready to order, ladies?” he asked, his gaze sweeping all of us, as if we were a party of four.   And, suddenly, we were exactly that: a party of four.  Talking, laughing, sighing — as if we had known each other for twenty years and hadn’t seen each other for ten.

I had been one of Billie Jean’s most loyal fans for fifty years.  But now, I found myself looking at her in a completely different way.  What a warm, gracious, totally accessible woman–who seems to actually enjoy meeting her fans.   Well, actually, she seems to just enjoy meeting and talking to people in general–of all stripes.  She is genuinely interested in others and what they do, think, and feel.  She’s just…well, totally down to earth–real.  And a lot of fun.

The time came for me to get myself moving toward the matinee I was to see, but while I didn’t want this time to end, departing gave me the opportunity to say something I’d always wanted to say to my idol who has done so much for so many–just “Thank you.”

“Want a picture?” she asked.  Oh, be still my beating heart…

So,  when I heard that a new movie was coming out about Billie Jean in her legendary Battle of the Sexes match with that obnoxious little troll, Bobby Riggs, I headed for the internet to figure out when it would be coming to a theatre near me–so I could be first in line for my  discounted senior ticket.   (Oh, I’m sorry.  I guess my comment about Riggs could be considered disrespectful…sorry, trolls.)   No movie can possibly  do justice to either that event or Billie Jean herself.  But I’m applauding–for all that she has done and continues to do for sports, for women, and social justice.

Okay, Billie Jean, if you can say that it was your respect for Riggs that led to your being able to beat him, I guess I can “go high” myself.  Sorry, Bobby.

Click on this green phrase for Billie Jean’s Ted Talk–and enjoy!  

BOLL Matters editor Sue Wurster

Sue has enjoyed collecting and sharing BOLLI Matters for the past two years and hopes that BOLLI readers are finding our items to be both interesting and entertaining.  

Let us know what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT’S ON MY MIND? LOST & FOUND by Steve Goldfinger

Our Writers’ Guild prompt for this week was this “Keep Calm and Look in Lost & Found” image.  As always, some chose to use the prompt while others did not.  We all thoroughly enjoyed Steve Goldfinger’s approach, and  we felt that many BOLLI members might be able to relate!  

LOST & FOUND

By Steve Goldfinger

For a moment, my wandering brain lost the prompt, but now I remember.  Ah, yes.  “Lost and Found.”

Well, it’s easy to lose things.  Car keys, cell phones, shopping lists, hearing aids.  Names of people whose faces are imprinted in my skull, faces of people whose names are as secure in my mind as swallows in cliff dwellings.

I cannot find the treasured score card that documented the best round of golf I ever played.  I was 21 year old, knew I would never have so low a score again, and promised I would keep it to show my grandchildren.  But where is it now?  Hiding somewhere in my attic or moldering at the bottom of some forsaken garbage dump?

When I lost my virginity, I knew I had also found something.  But when I lost my wallet yesterday, the only thing I found was an empty back pocket.  My only consolation was that my credit card was not longer in it.  Once again, the piece of plastic was undoubtedly sitting next to the cash register of the last restaurant I ate at.  Again, I neglected to retrieve it after I signed the check.  Damn it.  I want it back.  Now, what was the name of that restaurant?

After driving to the MFA to see the new exhibit that so excited me when I read the review in The Globe, I forgot which one it was.  When a large sign reminded me and told me where it was, I had to ask a guard to direct me to the stairway I had marched to directly so many times in the past.  It was a great exhibit…fine paintings and etchings by…oh, shit!

And what have I found?

Perhaps a new internal tempo that allows me to drive more slowly, aware as I am that, in front of me, the lane seems to have narrowed, and too many dents and scrapes have appeared on my car.

Or the magic of the remote, being able to put a ball game on a 40 minute delay so I can then zip through the commercials to get to the action.

Or the ability to justify my lifestyle–couch potato, bacon and eggs, steaks, morning croissants, and evening ice cream–by “Hey, I’m 82 and just back from Alaska where I survived a strenuous hike.  Good genes.  Thanks, Mom and Dad.”

Or how easy it has been to depart from the world of medicine.  A satisfying six decades, but in the end, too many directives separating me from patients, too many memory lapses, too many teaching moments falling short of my expectations, threatening my pride.

Or my ability to respond to writing prompts in perhaps a better way than I have responded to social ones over the years.

Writers Guild member, Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI nearly two years ago, Steve has been exploring new ventures.  He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre).  

Interested in joining either one yourself? During the fall term, the Guild will meet on Wednesday mornings from 9:45-11.  And CAST will meet on Fridays from 12:30-2.  All are welcome!

WHAT’S ON MY MIND? ERMA BOMBECK

Recently, our Writers Guild prompt consisted of a line from Erma Bombeck about house guests.   I made one false start after another on the house guest theme and finally gave up.   Eventually, I realized that what I really wanted to write about was Bombeck herself.  So,  this is what I ended up with–and I thought that some of you might be able to relate.

ERMA BOMBECK:  CHOICE WORDS

When LBJ was signing the Civil Rights Act in Washington in 1964, Erma Bombeck was signing a contract with the Kettering-Oakwood Times to write two columns per week for a sum of $3 each.  Five years later, in 1969, that column, “At Wit’s End,” was being nationally syndicated, appearing in over 900 newspapers across the country and lifting the spirits of suburban moms everywhere.

But in 1969, we suburban kids mostly didn’t get Bombeck’s “homespun” wit.   At breakfast, Mom would turn to Erma’s column in Cleveland’s Plain Dealer and chuckle over whatever the humorist was skewering that day—carpooling, one drive-through-something or another, meat loaf.  Reading bits and pieces aloud, Mom would attach her current favorite to the refrigerator door, and we would provide obligatory smiles in response.  For us, though, lost socks, dirty ovens, and teenage zombies drifting through the house opening cabinets and never closing them just weren’t particularly funny.   Didn’t cabinets, after all, just close themselves?

I guess we didn’t really think all that much about how our parents spent their days.  Our dads mostly “went to the office,”  but what they did there, if we thought about it at all, was something of a mystery.   Our moms mostly stayed home and took care of the house. (Apparently, in those days, even Erma’s kids didn’t really quite get it.  When he was asked what his mother did, her young son Matt indicated with a clueless sort of grimace, that “she’s a syndicated communist.”)

In the 60s and 70s, it just didn’t seem to occur to most of us kids that our moms might have found their seemingly perfect, Leave-it-to-Beaver style suburbans lives to be boring or, worse, depressing.   But Bombeck knew that life welll—and she was able to find humor in all of it.  In The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, for example, she wrote about “Loneliness,” saying:  “No one talked about it much, but everyone knew what it was.  It was when you alphabetized the spices on your spice rack and talked to your plants, who fell asleep on you.  It was a condition, and it came with the territory.”

It was territory that Erma, my mom, and my friends’ moms knew all too well.  It consisted of their homes, their appliances, their husbands, children, neighbors, and friends…their lives.  Motherhood in suburban America.   Fertile ground for humor with an edge.

By 1978, Erma Bombeck’s unique ability to find humor in what so many of us thought of as simply trivial or mundane, if we thought about it at all,  had taken her from earning $3 per column to garnering million-dollar book advances.  Every single one of her fifteen books was an instant best-seller.

So, it came as something of a surprise to me when Bombeck said that the initial inspiration for her column had come from none other than the early feminist Betty Friedan.  As the story goes, in the 50s, Bombeck heard Friedan give a speech about the dull and dreary chaos of the life that women like Erma and her friends were leading.  Bombeck said that she kept waiting for the story to shift into humor and was horrified when it didn’t.  What Friedan had detailed, Bombeck said, “just had to be funny.  Without humor, after all, how could it be endured?”

In 1969, my friends and I were protesting an ugly war and watching television news reports of civil unrest in our cities.  We were too busy to give a Dayton, Ohio housewife any more attention than the obligatory smiles we managed when our moms read us bits and pieces from her columns or attached them to our refrigerator doors.

But now, it’s time for us now Medicare card carrying kids to give her credit for the role she played in the women’s movement.  She was a champion of women’s rights, working tirelessly for the passing of the ultimately doomed Equal Rights Amendment.  But her greatest form of feminist activism was her humor.  By providing women like my mom the opportunity to laugh at the details of suburban family life in the 60s and 70s—including the boredom, loneliness, and depression that came with it for many—she showed them that they were not alone.  In so doing, she helped a generation of women discover that they had choices—and not just when it came to floor wax or what to pack for their kids’ lunches.

I think we owe Erma significantly more than an obligatory smile.  And what might be the most fitting of tributes for her?  A  permanent spot on the refrigerator door.

BOLL Matters editor Sue Wurster

 

Like the late Bombeck, Sue is an Ohio native–whose respect for good humor runs deep…

A TRUE AMERICAN HERO…

A TRUE AMERICAN HERO:  JOHN McCAIN

Thoughts from Editors Lydia Bogar & Sue Wurster

Senator John McCain

You don’t have to be a member of the Grand Old Party to care about Senator John McCain. Certainly, we East Coast Liberals do not tend to be among his constituents or his friends, and yet, we are saddened and fearful whenever a notable member of our generation is given a cancer diagnosis.

Senator McCain returned to Congress on Monday, bruised from surgery for glioblastoma, one of the most malignant of brain tumors.  This past week, hundreds of Americans were united in their response to a New York Times Op-Ed piece by Jessica Morris who has lived with glioblastoma for the past 18 months.  While hiking in upstate New York, she had a seizure.  Within days, she went through surgery and was given that dreadful diagnosis.  She hopes that reasons for optimism come to fruition—not only for herself but also for Senator McCain, and in memory of both Ted Kennedy and Beau Biden.  Her inspiring blog can be accessed by going to: https://jessicamorrisnyc.wordpress.com/about/

When Senator McCain returned to the floor in Washington this week, he generally spoke clearly, with little hesitation.  Yes, at first, he voted the party line on the vote to open debate on the Republicans’ health care bill, but he also drew a line in the sand, “Let’s trust each other,” he said. “We’re getting nothing done, my friends.”  He voted to extend the conversation.  Then, when it came to the most crucial vote on the “skinny repeal,” he put party politics aside and voted his conscience–for the American people.

So we want to thank this real American hero for all of his service to our country–in the military, in war, and in the halls of government. We want, in fact, to see him continue to serve–as the conscience of his party, the party of Abraham Lincoln.  Perhaps the party will continue to unravel before our eyes—but that just might make it possible for the real conversations to begin.

Thank you, John McCain.  Here’s hoping you will continue to kick butt–on both sides of the aisle–as we all move forward!

BOLLI Matters co-editor, Lydia Bogar
BOLL Matters co-editor Sue Wurster

HELLO? IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?

A PLEA FROM YOUR BOLLI MATTERS WRITERS…

“By the way, I’m really enjoying BOLLI Matters,”  a BOLLI member commented yesterday, mentioning a recent featured article.  Of course, it was terrific to hear it, but it also seemed like a perfect opportunity to ask the question that has been on the minds of all of us here at BOLLI Matters:   Why not leave a comment for the writer?

That member looked slightly puzzled and replied, “I didn’t have anything to add.  I just liked it.”  Oh, please!  Don’t let that stop you from leaving comments on the items you read here!  We’ve been “live” on the internet now for over a year–and we’ve received only a handful of responses (that means under ten…) to the host of items we have featured here.

We bloggers very much want to hear from you!   Of course, we love hearing what you have to say in response to our items.  We are always happy to have your suggestions either about the pieces you’re reading or about what you’d like to see in future pieces.  But it is also important for our writers to feel acknowledged.   (After all, says Linda in Death of a Salesman, “attention must be paid.”)   It can be a little discouraging to keep creating material and putting it out there for all to see–only to have no response.  Please keep our writers going by letting them know that you are appreciating their efforts!

It’s an easy thing to do.  Below any item, you’ll see a box–just leave your comment, however brief, in that space!   And, by the way,  Lydia says she’ll provide a coveted prize in the form of a beautiful new Ticonderoga #2 Pencil to each of our first ten responders–now, how can you pass up an offer like THAT?!

BOLL Matters editor Sue Wurster

Writing on behalf of our wonderful volunteer writers:  Lydia Bogar, Liz David, Eleanor Jaffe, Abby Pinard, and John Rudy. (And Marilyn Brooks who graciously lets me “mine” the archives on her mystery blog.)