When Healthier Roots Prevailed

The American Dream was the prevailing mindset:  there were opportunities for those who sought them and a political system that – in its purest sense – erased social classes via the ballot box.  Thus had the quintessential republic become a world beacon for opportunity, not opportunists; and this young country flourished as long as those tasked with governing maintained the disciplined checks and balances needed for a healthy milieu to support free enterprise.

Some old country practices and expectations naturally slipped right on through Ellis Island into the new country.  A family member contributed to support of the entire household, sometimes at the expense of a shortened, formal education.  Daddy was one of nine who had grown and matured, understanding full well the responsibilities of earning one’s keep as part of the workforce in the family’s laundry business.  As one of the babies, my father was lucky enough to finish high school, and then enter a trade school.  Not so the older daughters; many of them married early and became homemakers themselves; more often than not they, too, worked outside the home.  Two of my aunts had married foreigners who became naturalized citizens.   In keeping with another customary practice, my father and mother were married only six months when they moved “back home” to take care of his aging parents.

My father had his dreams like any young man of his generation.  He’d had the chance to tour the Orpheum Circuit.  As one of a barbershop quartet, he lost the big chance when one of the four decided he couldn’t commit to traveling the country, so went into hiding for several days; his action was long enough to permanently break off any remaining ties of a permanent contract with the entertainment circuit.

A marriage and two children later, Daddy was too old to enlist for WWII, so worked for the war effort at home.  After the war, he and Mom opened up a floor covering business.  Daddy understood the labor movement from both sides now, and was reforming his previous union mindset.  My father changed his voter registration to vote for Ike.  Eventually, my uncle joined as a full partner. By the mid-fifties, the linoleum shop was supporting two families and growing.

While not easily fooled by smooth-talking orators, Daddy liked men who told it like it is (and touched his own emotions).  Spiro Agnew was a particular favorite.  I can remember my father chuckling at Spiro’s deft handling of the press; that is, until the first American Vice President with a Greek lineage was exposed for federal tax evasion, then struck from the nation’s memory in quick form!  Daddy had voted for the Nixon-Agnew ticket.  We’d never let Daddy forget it.

The Brat and I guaranteed old Spiro would forever remain in our father’s conscience; a metal trashcan with Spiro’s cartoon image would ensure the proper place for additional garbage – political and otherwise.  We presented it to him for Father’s Day.  It stayed – well hidden but serviceable – under the shop’s main desk for many years.

When the Vietnam War was aired on nightly television, Daddy insisted that we watch Cronkite’s coverage each evening.  My brother had already received an honorary discharge, but others’ sons were fighting; thus, my father insisted that we remember the toll being carried by our fellow Americans. This was difficult for us around the table; several times, we asked if we couldn’t dispense with the war coverage just for one night.

My father was insistent: our young men were fighting in a terribly difficult terrain and under very divisive circumstances here at home; the least we could do was stay informed.  The news would stay on during dinner.  End of subject.

A Fork in the Road

I wanted the silverware more than I ever imagined, and they have proven to be magical wands full of memories.  I do not mix a can of tuna or turn a slice of meat in the pan without remembering the mannerism that I watched and absorbed all those years in the kitchen next door.  Our Italian neighbor could cook an entire meal and never have one dirty dish or pot left to show for it!  She was incredibly clever at keeping the counter clear and clean.  Unfortunately, neither her daughter nor I picked up that particular good habit.

But there is not a time that I pick up one of the forks that I don’t recall the tuna and red onion, or the breaded zucchini in the sizzling olive oil; or brains breaded and slowly browned on top of the stove; or anchovy paste, rubbed into the bottom of the salad bowl; or the celery sticks laced with her special cheese spread that decked the holiday table year after year.

Picking up a piece of the old silverware has nurtured my heart and comforted me when money was tight; I could always mix a can of tuna and smile. With a bit of luck and planning,  I can even go out into my own summer garden and cut fresh chard with the well worn, mis-sharpened blade of their old kitchen knife…and once again, transport myself next door…

Political Passionist

My principal in elementary school must be rolling over in his grave.  Today, the Pledge of Allegiance is not necessarily a daily routine; few school children across our nation can recite it.  Some districts suggest that replacing older, thread-worn flags isn’t in the budget, so they do not exist in all classrooms.

But for the children attending Laurel Elementary in the fifties and sixties, the Pledge was recited daily and immediately followed by our principal Mr. K’s favorite song, “I Love You, California” at each and every assembly.  We all groaned but we sang it loud and clear, never once realizing what made this song so great.  It was years later before I fully realized the song’s importance.  Mr. K was a veteran of World War II; in his eyes, we children had good reason to sing about the wonders and fullness of our Golden State.

FOOTNOTE; MAY 2017

Dear Readers:

These are two veterans’ organizations that serve our military families past and present that I am particularly fond of!  One is Honor Flight which transports WWII,  Korean and now also Vietnam Vets  to Washington D.C. to visit their respective war memorials.  The other is Veterans Airlift Command, a group of volunteer pilots who transports our current wounded military members’  families to the hospital (often several hundred miles from home) in fully modified planes to accommodate the loved ones and, upon release, their very own hero or heroine in perfect comfort!

Our service men and women serve year round and their needs are greater than the traditional May and November months in which they are traditionally remembered; please give WHATEVER you can, WHENEVER you can, to an organization of your choice.  Remember that within any gift in any form you share, the smiles are free…

the FrogHavenLady xoxox

Did You Have History When You Were Little?

My daughter was learning her manners and just barely past two years old at the time of this conversation:

Mommy, tie shoes PLEASE?

Okay, Honey.  And what is the nice word you are going to say to Mommy when she is finished tying your shoes?

DONE, Mommy?

When she had reached fourth grade and was learning about US History (or some of the highlights), she came home one afternoon and asked me:

Mommy, who was president first… Lincoln or Kennedy?

BOING!!!!  Help me, God…I’m becoming my mother….

History is REAL.  As I learned too quickly, it is REAL for those who lived through the headlines; it only STAYS REAL if SHARED…   SO?  What to do this Memorial Day?

JUST BE AVAILABLE.  While military tributes are on-going across this great land of ours during Memorial Day Weekend, recall that Veterans from  WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq War will be in attendance; and some of these survivors are not completely healed themselves, yet are there to honor their fallen comrades.

Hence, it is incumbent upon us all to stop and reflect upon the ones who grieve among us.  Don’t underestimate the value conveyed in the simplest expressions of a supportive arm or a respectful nod… or a sincerely expressed “Thank you for your service.”

 

Sense of Recall

This year, I am recalling all the construction heart valentines I brought home as a child; and the woven May baskets that we filled each year from home gardens. I am literally recalling them, playfully distributing my own child-like creations to a flock of individuals whose smiles and services have touched my life here in Frog Haven territory.

I am basking in the memories of great teachers, loving neighbors, caring mentors, dedicated medical staffers, and fellow Rotarians who have welcomed me here and proved to me the old adage that everyone does indeed have a twin; I have recognized enough smiles to believe with my whole mind and heart:  I have been placed here for a purpose.  God has once again transported me into a land five decades removed.

The names have changed, but I am, nonetheless, in an amusement wonderland of Fifties Americana, where customs and culture are unabashedly civil and painted with heavy layers of sentimentality and pride.  Libraries and museums thrive here, greatly cherished; their atmospheric oxygen is infectious! Even the shops along the historic downtown corridors evoke a time when destination was as much a part of the shopping experience as the items looked for; before “to shop” became an addictive “to have”.

In this time zone, there breathes community: and the wave of a hand from one driver to the next continually works the ground for the next generations; with enough left over that even an occasional transplant might digest a bit of local soil and comfortably take root.

 

 

Because We Are All One

For many of us born between 1946 and 1964, World War II was relegated to the history books; not because veterans didn’t live among us, but because too many who had served had experienced a private hell on earth.  They had seen too much, and could not speak of the horrors without reliving the moments; so they spoke seldom and far too little.  War widows, like my youngest aunt, moved forward, raising her young son with help from family until she remarried; and my cousin once again had a father.

Apart from personal stories like this, much of World War Two’s history came to some of us baby boomers from the printed pages of encyclopedias and historical textbooks.  I emphasize some of us.  I didn’t know my grandparents because they had passed away years before I was born.  But my friend Elaine Karen – whose Hebrew name was Elka – never knew her grandparents because they had died in the Holocaust.

Thank God Eisenhower requested that Congressional members and Allied leaders visit the death camps.  As Commander of the Allied Forces, he desired no more than all of humanity be reminded: such atrocities were real and had occurred from the hands of men.  One quotation featured in the Hall of Remembrance of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is from the man who was known affectionately as Ike:

 

 

The things I saw beggar description…The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were…overpowering…I made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’

Written by General Eisenhower after his visit to the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp, it is one of many quotations featured in the museum.  This year, from April 7th thru 14th, marks the 75th official Day of Remembrance, also signified by the motto, NEVER AGAIN.  Take a few minutes, in between checking emails and other daily routines, to peruse the United States National Holocaust Museum’s website .

 

Because we are all one; and today we are all Jews…

 

Accordionist Angst

I began music lessons on April 9.  The good news was that I had talent and an ear for music.  The bad news was that I chose to learn the accordion…in the Year of our Lord 1961.

My father was delighted!!! An Accordion carried the melody…it was a REAL instrument.  So, at the age of nine and for the next seven years, I committed to lessons every Saturday.  What had begun as a means of fitting in (my best friend from third grade played accordion, too) eventually backfired; the Beatles arrived on the American scene in 1964.  Music was changing; cultural changes were “blowin’ in the wind” and by sixteen, I was beginning to realize: I was definitely outside my generation’s norm.  My “era” was quickly passing me by.  I would never actually “fit”.

I had made my choice.  My musical ability wowed the folks and their generation!  I could live with it; just another way of making people happy…no harm in that, I thought.  I would eventually sail through this rite of passage and become a normal, functioning citizen of society.

Gradually, I began to realize that there were some logical, though not very serious, side effects from having spent Saturdays with a keyboard during my early formative years.  So, I sought therapy as others my age did.  It was time to find myself.  I shared the following concerns with my therapist:

Make yourself comfortable, Annette.  What brings you in?

All in all, Doctor, I like to think of myself as a fairly average, well-adjusted individual.

What causes you to question yourself?

In hindsight, I can identify some terribly hurtful and/or embarrassing moments for me that started to domino once I committed to taking accordion lessons…

Tell me about it.

Well, Doctor, for example:

The day came to “pick” my own junior size accordion!  I had graduated from the very small, rented, marbleized red one, so I gravitated toward the black with the shiny silver trim! It was beautiful!   Immediately, I was reprimanded,   “What’s the matter with you?  The white and gold-trimmed accordions are for girls, Annette…” so, I chose the white one instead and said I liked it when I really didn’t.   I never confessed this until now, not even in confession.

Sounds like a simple case of Gender Confusion, Annette.  Go on…

Auditions were open the next year for our elementary school music.  I was very excited to tell our school’s music teacher that I already played accordion!  I would love to participate in his class.  When I shared this with him, he responded in no uncertain terms:  “We don’t allow accordions; you’ll drown out the orchestra! “  My fellow school mates laughed at me.

But my baby sister Winifred learned from my humiliation.  She was always daring, so she kept her mouth shut about her accordion experience, and two years later chose the violin; she successfully eased right on through the school orchestra application process.  Even our cousins were impressed and thought she was really cool, especially working with cat guts and all…

I see; so you were Shunned by Public School Music Teachers and Humiliated by Peer Pressure; please continue…

After a couple of years, Winifred exceeded my musical talents… the folks would later take my original instrument for her, but they promised me a larger accordion of my own.  Daddy came home one day and presented me with a very expensive but second hand full size accordion he’d purchased from one of his floor covering customers.  Apparently, their daughter didn’t want the instrument around anymore.  Her father claimed she hadn’t played it in several years.   I was now the proud new owner of this fancy, silver-trimmed, white accordion with their daughter’s name TINA emblazoned boldly down the front in silver lettering.  We were supposed to replace it (sniff..sniff) with my own name (sniff…) but we never did…

I understand, Annette…you were simply experiencing an early Identity Crisis; it’s very common.  Here’s some Kleenex…feel free to continue when you are ready…

Thank you, Doctor… (sniff…sniff…)   It wasn’t long before I began to realize that I had other talents my school friends didn’t.   Why, I could win at game shows, not just with my grade student aptitude (in the ninetieth percentile) but also with my secret arsenal of knowledge…

Secret arsenal?  Annette, what did you have in this knowledge bank of yours?

My best category was Polkas for $500.00.  What a thrill it was for me to take the lead, sitting at home and “name dropping” composer Strauss the Younger or recording artists The Andrews Sisters or the popular Beer Barrel Polka during an evening’s rerun!  What I didn’t tell them was that my worst category was Musicians from the Sixties. By the time I “discovered” Jerry Garcia, he was designing ties for Macy’s and very soon after, he WAS dead!  So didn’t that count?

Looks like our time is up for today, Annette…