Recently, we’ve been thinking about the wide range of volunteerism in which BOLLI members engage and would like to highlight them in this venue. Are you involved in a program that you find particularly rewarding, especially one that would benefit from additional volunteers? Share your volunteer experience with us! Here’s Lydia to start us off–
THINKING ABOUT VOLUNTEERING SOME TIME AND ENERGY?
Two Suggestions from Lydia Bogar
The storm warnings came across the bottom of the TV screen before the 5:00 news. I checked the radar on my computer and went back to washing the kitchen floor.
Within minutes, my old memory stem woke up as I put the mop on the porch. Tomorrow would be the anniversary of the Springfield/Brimfield tornado. The video of that tornado as it crossed Memorial Bridge in Springfield remains as vivid today as it was then…
That old memory stem also brings back the first responders from across the state, and, most especially, the contributions made by two groups of volunteers: first, SKYWARN, severe weather spotters, all trained volunteers connected to the National Weather Service in Taunton (www.weather.gov/box/skywarn) and second, the Worcester area CISM team (www.centralmasscism.org).
My first SKYWARN training was in October of 1999 when I was a disaster services volunteer with the Worcester Chapter of the American Red Cross. It was a very interesting training–especially good for campers and boaters. Glenn Field from NWS Taunton gave us a lot of information about clouds, reading radar, and thermal convections. As a civilian, retired from the Red Cross, I have continued SKYWARN training and strongly recommend it to the BOLLI community. You can contact Rob Macedo at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule SKYWARN training for any community group with a membership of 15 or more. It is very much worth three hours of your time.
I’ve also spent 16 years training and volunteering in CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management), a peer support network for first responders. There are 15 teams in Massachusetts, covering all police, fire, and EMS personnel from North Adams to Provincetown. Our teams consist of trained peers as well as fire department, clergy, and mental health professionals. It is an amazing global system that includes volunteers who served in New York in the fall of 2001, Boston after the Marathon bombing, southern Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, and the western part of Massachusetts after the tornado in 2006. If you are a retired mental health professional or retired member of the clergy who is interested in volunteering, please contact me at Toehead8@verizon.net, and I will refer you to the Team Leader in your residential area.
Former English teacher and health care professional Lydia Bogar provides BOLLI Matters with a wealth of material on a variety of subjects including her own regular feature “Lines from Lydia.”
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.
Like the late Bombeck, Sue is an Ohio native–whose respect for good humor runs deep…
CONFESSIONS OF A BBC BINGE WATCHER: CALL THE MIDWIFE
By Sue Wurster
Years ago, I was having lunch with actor friend John Newton at my local corner diner in NYC. It was one of those places which tends to be stuffed with at least three too many tables, and on this particular occasion, every seat was filled.
John had just landed a role on the then popular soap opera, The Doctors, and was bemoaning his fate. “I have to confess,” he said. “I hate being a doctor.” And when I asked why, he replied, “Well, I can never pronounce the diseases, and all of my patients die.”
There was a distinct gurgling sound from our right as a woman struggled to down the gulp of coffee she had taken before John’s admission. And there was an even clearer harrumph from our left. Glowering looks galore–and an elbow to John’s right ear as a tall, thin man in a three-piece suit maneuvered his way out.
I have to confess as well. I have never liked medical shows. I know, I know. That makes me probably one of the only inveterate couch potatoes in the universe who did not get into the likes of Dr. Kildare, Marcus Welby, ER, or Gray’s Anatomy. As a naturally squeamish being, I spent just way too much of their air-time with my hands over my eyes. So, how on earth did I end up watching this season’s Call the Midwife on PBS? I’m still not sure–but I think it may have been a simple case of mistiming. I was headed for Masterpiece Theatre and got there an hour early.
However it happened, I was soon hooked, and I found myself looking forward to each new episode in a way I hadn’t looked forward since, oh, probably Downton Abbey. And, upon the season’s close, I ended up hitting Netflix for more. So, what makes this one work for a squeamish viewer (who still turns away during most of the actual birthing parts)? The characters, the setting, the writing…
So, if you have not partaken of this particular BBC gem, it’s well worth your time to do so. Based upon the memoirs of nurse Jennifer Worth (who, sadly, died shortly before the first episode aired), this family drama is set in Post-WW2 London’s impoverished Poplar district. Nurse Jenny Lee arrives at Nonnatus House, a nursing convent in the district, to take on a job as midwife. A host of truly engaging and endearing characters, played by an outstanding cast, provides multi-layered interest and appeal.
Sister Monica Joan, for example–played by Judy Parfitt (Jewel in the Crown, Pride & Prejudice, Girl with a Pearl Earring to name just a few credits)–is a brilliant, and compassionate yet eccentric older sister beset with bouts of dementia. The equally quirky Camilla “Chummy” Fortescue-Cholmondeley-Browne–played by actress/comedian Miranda Hart (perhaps best-known for her semi-autobiographical series, Miranda) –is a gawky, uncertain midwife who has just finished her training and finds her niche, leading her to defy the expectations of her aristocratic family. Beyond the lives and loves of the inhabitants of Nonnatus House, we are immersed in Poplar of the late 1950s and 60s–with all of the social issues that such an environment hosts.
And the writing, of course, is top-notch. From the voice-over narration of “older Jenny” (provided by Vanessa Redgrave, which may, in itself, have been what pulled me in) to the ensuing dialogue, the language is both rich and real. When dealing with the complex issues that accompany poverty and the altering of social structures and values in changing times, there is no cloying or preaching note.
It’s a wonderful ride, this series–well worth a good binge!
A confirmed snow day couch potato, Sue has an affinity for the British approach to both film and TV.
by Liz David
The soil of the feminine soul runs rich and deep,
Watered by undercurrents invisible to those dwelling only on the surface,
Women who face the challenge of the softening of their soul soil,
Who allow themselves to become vulnerable,
Who invite the surface streams down into their depths,
Who expose their roots to the fructifying moisture from above and below.
They are the warriors of today – the catalysts of transformation.
They risk death of psyche, body, and soul
in order to experience fully the transforming powers present
in the domains of their deepest fears.
They emerge as does the phoenix —
Motivated, activated, determined to find the courage to create their lives,
To choose to live as individuals committed to self-awareness,
Self-centered women, centered in themselves,
Committed to voicing and acting upon their ideals in the world–
A world that does not ask for change, to be turned inside out,
A world that silently and loudly cries for nurturance, for sustenance,
A world that cries for those beings with the strength of heart and the will
to carry out the tasks of transformation.
They are the Women Warriors.