Two weeks ago, the media reminded us of our history–particularly our veterans, living and dead, who gave this country their courage and strength. Among them, my father who joined the American Army in 1939, a year after his arrival from Budapest. I have bronzed in my mind the image of him in uniform holding his DD214, the honorable discharge certificate that entitled him to his prized citizenship.
But I am also thinking about the everyday heroes around us. The ones we need to take notice of and silently appreciate as they weave in and out of our lives. Truly hometown heroes.
The mechanic down the street who replaces a burned-out brake light at no charge, on a Saturday, in the rain.
The nice old guy at the hardware store who laughs with me when I tell a blonde joke. He then easily threads the new line into the weed whacker and thanks me for coming in.
The young couple across the street who brush the snow and ice off the top of my car because I have lost another inch of height since last winter.
The neighbor with the lilting Irish brogue who cuts my lawn and brings in the mail while I am burying my mother.
Heroes like these help to keep our small town safe even as the population doubles and the dump is no longer open for Saturday morning chats. I’ll never be a Townie, not even after 46 years, but I won’t be at home anywhere else either.
Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service. She says she “hails from Woosta–educated at BOLLI.”
Years ago, I wanted a “heavenly bed” from the Westin hotels. I searched for a discount and finally found one at an online retailer. I called customer service and spoke to Rita, an affable woman and a fellow opera lover. We spoke several times as I verified the details of the mattress and discussed recent productions at the Metropolitan Opera. I was easily sold. Would a person with such good taste in music lead me wrong? I don’t know what happened to the voice in my head that should have said, “Jo, she’s a saleswoman.”
The mattress came. It wasn’t heavenly. The retailer wouldn’t take it back. Out of frustration, I wrote to Westin. An executive there acknowledged I was sent the wrong product, and eventually I received a free, very heavenly mattress.
My friends were still talking about my free mattress years later when my back started talking back to me. It took eight tries to get the organic, foam, non-allergenic mattress I needed. My next to last purchase came from Essentia. As I walked into the store, I overheard the saleswoman talking about guruji, an affectionate term for one’s guru. Of course, meeting a fellow spiritual seeker and yogini assured me I was in the right place so I plunked down enough money to make the heavenly bed seem cheap.
I’m going to skip what went wrong. I returned the mattress, but I couldn’t get my money refunded. Finally, I did what any teenager knows to do: I tweeted the CEO and received an immediate call from the person in finance who hadn’t responded to my persistent emails and phone calls. She promised my money would be refunded the next day. But it didn’t happen for over two months.
Meanwhile, I had filed a complaint with my credit card company, and they ended up refunding me the money at about the same time Essentia did, so I had a double refund. Then I started round after round of phone calls with Capital 1 trying to give back the extra money. They asked Essentia to clarify the situation. When Essentia wouldn’t respond, Capital 1 closed the case and sent me a check for the full amount of my purchase. I argued with them on 3 different occasions because I felt the money wasn’t mine to keep, but they said it was. The money was about twice what I needed to buy my ideal mattress from Gardner Mattress.
I’d like to report that I learned a lesson about following signs, but, last Saturday, I was listening to the opera Romeo and Juliet while surfing the internet for a new cabinet. The one I liked best was called the Verona. I don’t know if I should order it…
Formerly known as Jo Ann the Phillies fan, Jo moved to the Boston area to be close to her grandchildren and a winning baseball team. After satisfying careers as an elementary school principal and a marketing research analyst, she now practices alternative healing modalities and enjoys yoga, the Boston Symphony, and frequent trips to the Metropolitan Opera.
He was slight, five-seven-ish, with a round, mottled face, watery eyes, wispy white hair, and a kind expression. Dressed in draw-string pants, frayed shirt and sweater vest, he sat on a cushion in a straight-backed chair, eyeing a pile of newspapers on the coffee table. “Did you see today’s Times? Mandela’s out.”
George Seldes, 99, investigative journalist, foreign correspondent, historian of the 20th century, author of 23 books, and press critic, still read four papers a day. Stories of injustice or ineptitude rankled him.
We admired his 18th century brick house at Hartland-4-Corners near Dartmouth. “You know,” he said. “I bought this house for $4500. Sinclair Lewis put up the money and said I could live here as long as I want. The only condition was that his family could buy it back from my estate for the same price.” One could imagine what the house would bring today.
“Sometimes I see Lewis’ granddaughter walk by en route to church. I imagine she’s impatient, waiting for my demise.” He chuckled, but his smile faded. “It’s hard being 99. The friends of my youth are gone. The friends of my middle age are gone. The friends of my old age are gone.”
And what friends he had. Isadora Duncan. Albert Einstein. Emma Goldman. George Bernard Shaw. Theodore Roosevelt. He interviewed William Jennings Bryan, Lenin, Hindenberg. He covered the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. He knew Mussolini when the future dictator was a reporter. Seldes got Trotsky to pose for pictures in Red Square. He was there for the Russian Revolution. He spent 18 months with Hemingway in a Madrid hotel during the Spanish Civil War.
Seldes believed that the American people, given the facts, could rise to any challenge. He started the nation’s first magazine of press criticism in 1940. It was called In Fact, and it fell victim to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting. My husband had used Seldes’ press criticism in a college course he taught. When Jim learned that Seldes was still alive and 2 ½ hours away, he contacted Seldes, and we went for a visit.
It would not be our last. In 1990, we did a month of interviews in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. We brought Seldes memorabilia from the first elections in unified Germany and posters from Hungary, where he had covered Nazi collaborator Cardinal Mindszenty. We talked more than an hour.
He checked his watch, prompting concern about his fatigue. “Cocktail time,” he said. It was only three thirty. But we were not about to decline his invitation.
He shuffled in his terry cloth slippers toward the kitchen. From the yellow wood cabinet, he took down three plastic glasses, the kind given away at gas stations, placed them on the counter and mixed martinis. I let the burning liquid slide down my throat, listening to him reminisce, privileged to share his daily ritual.
In 1995, George Seldes died at age 104. A journalistic titan, barely remembered.
After a long and successful career as an editorial and political news director, Margie shifted her focus to writing memoir and even fiction when arriving at BOLLI. In addition to Marjorie Roemer’s memoir course, she has taken Betsy Campbell’s fiction writing courses, and Sue Wurster’s “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” course in creative nonfiction writing. She has been an active participant in the BOLLI Writers Guild and is also a member of the BOLLI Journal staff. Margie still keeps her hand in politics and issues of the day on her blog which you can reach by clicking here.
A blog devoted to the interests of BOLLI members and potential members