Family reunions bring out the old stories

My wife, sister and I met my brother at a large family reunion this weekend. The annual gathering is of descendents of my mother’s maternal grandparents who had eleven of their fourteen children survive to adulthood. This is the first time we have gone in many years and is the first one after my mother passed. To top it off, the three of us stopped at the home of family friends who went to college with my parents.

The old stories were wonderful to hear, many which were new to our ears. Here are a few highlights beginning with a couple we shared about our grandparents.

– My grandmother worked for a retail store overseeing the men’s and boy’s departments. When the CEO of the company visited, he was given a tour by the store manager for whom my grandmother worked for years. The CEO borrowed her pen and then put it in his pocket. She said “Sir, that is my pen; my boss is too cheap to buy us any pens. So, if you want any sales, you may want to give it back.”

– My step-grandfather would take us fishing leaving around 5 am. My Great Uncle would follow my grandfather’s truck and boat trailer with his. One morning my grandfather had to stop suddenly and my Uncle smashed into and crumpled my grandfather’s boat – we still fished, but had to rent a boat.

– One of the second cousins (the family was so large, the older children’s grandchildren were contemporaries of the younger children’s children) told a story about listening under the porch while her mother, grandmother and great grandmother sewed on the porch – it was too hot to be inside, so she heard all the gossip. Later, she said she helped them with the foot pedals as the sewers were too feeble to manually spin the bobbins of the old sewing machines.

– One of my mother’s cousins confirmed a story that my mother shared as her memory was fading. The cousin shared that she and another cousin hid in the backseat of the car in which my father and mother drove off to their honeymoon from the wedding reception. After a couple of miles the two culprits surprised the young newlyweds and they had to drive them back. As I told the confirmed story to my table, the wife of another cousin shared that she sang at my parent’s wedding. She recalled singing “Whither thou goest.”

– I confirmed with a couple of my mother’s cousins, that her younger sister was similar to Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” taking up for my mother when she was slighted. She was deemed a tad bossy at that age, but would give you the shirt off her back to help. Ironically, she was small in stature, but married a man who was 6’7″ making the oddest of pairs.

– The best reunion story relayed a piece of advice from the lone childless couple to his niece who shared it with us. He said don’t put everything off; go out and live. He lamented they have money and time as  retirees, but cannot travel. So, the niece said each time they felt they were saving too much for later, they remembered these words and went on a trip. This was voted the best story.

– My grandmother’s younger brother liked to do gymnastics. When a boy, he fell snd knocked out his two fronf teeth. Their mother, who was like a local nurse, sat him down and soaked a towel iin boiling water.  She let it cool a little and told him ti put that in his mouth as hot as he could stand it and his gums swelled. She then shoved his cleaned up teeth into the swollen gums and they held the teeth. To have that presence of mind is amazing.

– At the later gathering with my parents’ college friends, who we have known for years, they shared how hard they had to work at their college work study program. The two guys worked on a sawmill crew, where they took down trees for several days a week, loaded and trucked them back to the mill the next few days, then sawed them up later in the week. The women worked in the cafeteria, laundry and sewing areas. The work was hard, but it was the only way they could afford college.

I hope you enjoyed these vignettes. What are some of your memories of your older relatives?

Note: Looking over a photo of ten of the siblings, one of the cousins noted the older female siblings were much more conservative in dress, pointing to the closed toed and shorter heels. The younger female siblings had more stylish clothes along with open-toed and higher heels.

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Mom would have been 88

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 88 years old. Mom left us early Christmas morning in 2016. She was a Christian woman, grade school teacher and bible study fellowship leader. So, dying on Christmas seems fitting.

Maybe not ironically, my wife’s Mom died around Christmas a few years before. She was a converted Catholic. My wife says that made her extra devout. As a result, she grew up around the church, as did my family.

Mom would push us out of bed to go to Sunday school. For a kid, more school was not mission critical. But, off we went. And, like regular school, we had the same kids in your class year after year. The church service was actually the denouement, so we could relax some.

Mom loved teaching, so seeing her embrace BSF (bible study fellowship) was not a stretch. In college, she studied Education and Home Economics. The latter helped her raise three kids on a limited budget. Meals were planned around Dad’s paycheck every two weeks. She left teaching for a few years, then went back to first substituting, then full-time teaching after we kids got older.

She met my father in college and they were married for 55 years before he died in 2006, She had a good sense of humor and we treasured hearing them laugh. She was seemingly at every ball game, recital or school event that we three children had.

Mom was one of those “lights” in the community the first President Bush spoke of. She took care of people, arranged many a church food outreach when someone passed away, and was a good friend. One of her best friends died in her fifties and she survived both of her sisters and, of course, her parents. Plus, her mother had osteoporosis, so Mom frequented her often.

Her mind was betraying her with Alzheimers when she died at age 84. The only saving grace is she still knew her children and grandchildren were on her team when she died, even though she could not introduce us. Yet, she could sing every lyric to spngs performed at her Memory Unit at the long term care facility. She loved singing aa she was in a “double trio” as she called it while in college.

In our loft area where my laptop sits, is a picture of Mom in the middle of her three kids and my wife. It was taken about a month before she died  in front of a favorite restaurant. She is beaming with a broad smile as she hugged us surrounded by her family.

Mom, we love you and miss you. My wife and i used to call her about 3 or 4 times a week, so I occasionally think of the need to call her. I think that sums it up.

The concerns we are not talking enough about

In the US, we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about whatever the President may tweet or say. And, since he is not known for being the most truthful person, we often chase issues that are over-stated, over-simplified or just not true.

Yet, what we are not talking enough about concerns me. Here are a few items that get too little air time.

– With global warming, coral reefs are in jeopardy. Coupled with over fishing due to territorial issues (like in the China Sea), fish populations are diminishing. This should concern us all, and will create conflict along with industry and food loss. *

– Also due to global warming, we are seeing heavier and repetitive weather patterns which are flooding our farmlands, causing more elongated droughts in drought prone areas, and sparking more forest fires. I read a forward-looking report from 2010 sponsored by the largest global pension trustees that predicted global warming causing more of these occurrences and the multiple tens of trillion dollars in costs to remedy them. *

– We also have a global water crisis that is rearing its ugly head in a number of places such as Capetown and Saudi Arabia. Aquifers are diminishing in certain areas and increases in population far exceed the ability for some areas to provide fresh water. Global warming is making the water crisis worse.

– Bee populations around the globe are in decline. The UN reported 37% of bee species are in decline with 9% now extinct. That is 46% of bee species. The bees pollinate many foods which will be in decline as well, which when added to other threats should raise alarm. Certain pesticides are one cause, but it is likely a more holistic problem, including global warmlng.

– Finally, as alluded to above, we need to be concerned about population growth. A scientist said a few years ago that if everyone consumed resources like the average Rwandan, the earth could support 15 billion or so. Yet, if they consumed like the average North American, the number drops to around 2 billion. We have about 7 billion now. Family planning and birth control have to be in the equation.

There are so many more things to discuss, but we need to discuss protecting our species and environment. Call me crazy, but I think that is important.

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* Note: I did see a few stories this morning that were encouraging and concerning. The Central US flooding is a recurrent issue for some towns and even barge shipping traffic on the Mississippi River has shut down until June as a result.

On the coral reef bleaching, I read that Florida and Australian scientists are sharing working approaches to save and try to revitalize dying reefs. That is encouraging, but is it enough?

A science teacher teaching climate change is actively identifying (and teaching her students to do so) the approx. 30,000 internet sources of misinformation on climate change using dated, refuted and untruthful information saying variations that climate change is a hoax. Also, several petroleum companies have provided free teaching materials, which downplay climate change and sell the advantages of petroleum. In contrast, there are about 700 reputable, peer reviewed scientific sites that are worthwhile. That smaller number reveals where the money lies.

Radical kindness

Last week, the excellent documentary called “Would you be my neighbor?” on the life and mission of Mister (Fred) Rogers, won an award from AARP’s Movies for Grown-ups annual ceremony. Morgan Neville, the producer/ director summed up his reflections of Mister Rogers with the words “radical kindness.” He noted we need his wisdom more today than ever.

In the film, Rogers, who was an ordained minister, puppeteer, and musician made it his mission to teach children about how to understand and address their feelings. His shows focused on issues that were previously avoided with children – anger, hurt. grief, confusion, jealously, greed, love, etc. He told these kids it is OK to be angry, but you should not hit others in reaction.

Through words and examples, often delivered through his puppets (and his modified voice), he discussed death, divorce, bullying and bigotry. A key example is his having an African-American in a recurring role as his Officer Friendly and friend. This sounds rather innocuous now, but he did this in the late 1960s. He made a further point of having both share the same wading pool to wash their feet, a purposeful lesson that could come straight from the bible.

Among several powerful moments in the movie, three stand out. The first is his testimony in front of a Senate committee chaired by the ornery Senator John Pastore to petition the committee not to cut $20 million funding of PBS. He focused on what he tries to do and asked if he could say the words to the following song:

“What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead ― and think this song ―

“I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime … And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

A visibly moved Pastore said he would make sure the funding continued.

The other two moments are more visual. He filmed an episode with Coco the gorilla who could do sign language. This enormous beast was quite visibly moved  by Rogers. Coco seemed to feel the radical kindness that exudes from Rogers, hugging and petting the man and signing that he loved Mister Rogers.

The other visual is of Rogers inviting Jeff Erlanger, a wheel chair bound young man on to his show. Erlanger explained to the audience what had happened to make him a quadriplegic, the result of a spinal tumor. In a very poignant manner the two sang a song together that left both my wife and me a little teary eyed.

Mister Rogers came along after my formative years. I would watch an occasional episode as I channeled surfed. Yet, seeing this and another documentary about his work, left me with a very favorable impression. As a producer noted, Rogers did the opposite of what other TV shows did. He talked directly to the children with radical kindness. We adults sure could use a large dose of that.

 

 

 

On the basis of sex

My wife, sister and I got a chance to watch the movie “On the basis of sex” about the early career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is well worth the watch and has several poignant scenes that paint a beautiful portrait of the Justice.

Trying not to spoil the movie, it focuses on her law school experiences through her tenure at Rutgers University as a law professor. Yet, the movie culminates in a tax court case against a male caregiver who is denied a deduction for helping his mother. Ginsburg’s husband Martin is a tax attorney who saw this case as an ideal way to break through the bias in the law toward women using discrimination against a man as the foundation. In fact, in 1970 there were 178 instances in the law that codified discrimination against women. This is amazing in and of itself.

Ginsburg is the ideal person to try this case in appeal, even though she had not practiced law as a professor. Her nervousness showed, but I will stop there and encourage you to go see how she overcame that inexperience. I will also mention the current environment of the burgeoning women’s rights movement which her teen daughter has embraced. Ginsburg tells her we must change the law to make a bigger difference.

A favorite actress of mine, Felicity Jones, plays Ginsburg. Armie Hammer plays her husband Martin and Cailee Spaeny plays her daughter who eventually becomes a law professor at Columbia University. Kathy Bates is excellent as the civil rights attorney Dorothy Kenyon and Justin Theroux plays a supportive and antagonistic role as the head of the New York based ACLU.

The movie is directed by Mimi Feder and the screenplay was written by Daniel Stephenson. Other key roles are played by Chris Mulky as the caregiver and Sam Waterston as the dean at Harvard Law and later a senior US Department of Justice figure.

I encourage you to go see it and/ or let me know what you think. Later in a comment, I will touch on the two scenes that touched me most.

We are ALL fixer uppers

As we stew over those extra holiday pounds and think of possible New Year’s resolutions, let me state the obvious. From one imperfect person to another, we are ALL fixer uppers. So, we could benefit from a few touch ups. All of us.

To remind us of how imperfect we are, here are few truisms to think about.

– Everyone thinks they are better than average, but in actuality that is not possible.

– The customer is not always right, but they are the customer. Yet, being the customer does not give you license to be a jerk.

– It takes at least two people to have a communication problem. It may not be 50/50, but both sides are almost always at fault to some extent.

– Opinions are like rectums. Everyone has one. (I cleaned this one up). It does not make them or you right.

– Saying it is my fault is not a crime. It is actually welcome to fess up. Others, with some degree of fault, might even admit theirs.

– Saying thank you is important, as we need to recognize people do not have to help you.

– One of the greatest gifts is the gift of time. Be generous with yours and try not to waste another person’s time.

– Finally, please remember the most intolerant of people require the most tolerance from others in dealing with them. Sometimes it is better to just reduce or eliminate exposure to such toxic people.

I hope everyone is having an enjoyable holiday season. Let’s set some reasonable and sustainable resolutions for 2019. We could ALL use some fixing up.

 

 

Remember who passed you the ball

Legendary college basketball coach Dean Smith preached to his players who scored to acknowledge the player that passed them the ball. Think about why that is important in a team game.

It can also apply to everyday life. So, at this holiday time, let’s acknowledge those who pass us the ball. Or, we could honor them by paying their kindness or help forward. Here are a few random thoughts.

Let’s start with teachers, who do not get paid near enough to do the many things they have to do. Parents should not expect perfection, but hope they have teachers who care and can reach the hearts and minds of their students. They deserve thanks.

Let’s move on to healthcare workers who tend to the basic need of patients whether it is at a hospital or long term care facility. They are not paid a King’s ransom to put up with people’s s**t, literarally and figuratively. Yes, we want our loved ones taken care of, but we should put what these folks do in perspective and offer them some appreciation.

Wait staff in restaurants are not on any highest paid lists. No question, we should want good service in a restaurant, as we are spending our hard earned monies. Being a waitress or waiter is hard work, especially when someone does not show-up and people have to cover for them. But, two golden things might help us all – that golden rule is one, while the other is honey. Treating service people with dignity and as a person, will improve your service.

I picked these examples as we seem to live in a world where people are more demanding and less kind to service providers. Of course, we should want good service, yet we could do ourselves and others a favor to understand the context. Acknowledge those passing the ball. It would be a nice birthday present to the guy who said that golden rule thing.