“It’s Not The Heat…”

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Until I moved to a new part of the United States, I had no idea how my body had adapted to the weather cycle of Western Oregon where I lived for fifty years. It rains a great deal there, in lots of drizzly days rather than in thunderstorms. It rarely snows; in fact an inch or two brings the city to a halt until it melts. The summers are idyllic, with low humidity and temperatures usually in the high 70’s or 80’s. Several times each summer the temperature soars, but it is almost always cool at night. We never owned an air conditioner either in our home or in our car for most of my life. Open windows and fans always cooled things off.

After nineteen years, my body still seems not to have absorbed the reality of weather in New England. While I have become used to the winter snow, I have yet to internalize the reality of summer. Two phenomena throw me every time. First, throughout the summer there are “rain dates” in case thunderstorms occur during scheduled events. I had never experienced those drenching summer storms and am still startled by them. And humidity and I are never likely to get along. I still seem to experience it as a personal affront!

My husband, on the other hand, grew up in Mobile, Alabama and happily works outdoors in this heat and humidity. He doesn’t stop his long daily walks. It appears his body expects summers to feel like this. To my ever lasting gratitude, he installs window air conditioners throughout our home. Whenever I go into a room, I can turn on that appliance and cool off. The rest of the house can heat up again once I leave that spot.

Every night he throws open the windows and gets fans running. For him getting the temperature down from 85 to 65 is a real achievement. As for me, it still feels hot! To my body, mornings are supposed to be cool. And don’t get me started about towels never drying!

“32 and Counting!”

In 1988 we completed a year of pre-marital counseling. Our church required the process before a marriage. We brought so much history from our lives and previous marriages(one each) that what would have taken twelve weeks took us much longer. The good news was that we had discussed every issue that would ever come up in the subsequent years. We have yet to hit a stumbling block that we hadn’t already talked through with the minister.

We seem to have gained some weight and lost some hair, but we are spending days together in covid isolation and enjoying the sequester. I can’t imagine having to do this with anyone else. We celebrated this year with a trip to pick up our share of the CSA(consumer supported agriculture) farm down the road. We stopped in at a friend’s stand for strawberries and picked up a delicious dinner from our favorite place, 2 Hopewell. More used to takeout now, we set the table, popped open all the containers, uncapped our nonalcoholic beer and toasted our years together.

Thank goodness for the sanity and safety our marriage provides. In these times of division and chaos across the country, we have our own quiet corner of life.

“Nursing Homes and Farm Workers?”

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Although I rarely make political comments on this blog, something I heard yesterday from the Governor of the state of Florida deeply pained me. He said that the virus was only affecting “nursing homes and farm workers.” That he was saying this to defend his refusing to impose any restrictions was the clearest statement I had seen to date as to which people some authorities think don’t count.

Throughout much of the United States a false dichotomy is being presented as truth. Either we have a booming economy or we prevent people dying. Even my 13 year old granddaughter recognizes the logical fallacy of all or nothing thinking. But Florida’s governor seems to believe it and has overtly stated that some citizens are disposable. Forget for a moment that 25% of Florida citizens are over the age of 65 and that Florida has a booming agricultural economy provided by farm workers. And remember that even if that weren’t the case, no human being doesn’t count.

Testing only reveals illness. Testing doesn’t produce illness. And people aren’t dying in Florida because they had a test!

Tomorrow I will try to return to my less outraged self.

“East Coast Ethnic Education”

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I was just as surprised by first hearing “Boston Irish” used in a derogatory way as I had been by the foul language. It made no sense to me, nor did slurs against Catholics, or the Portuguese. I quickly learned that national origins seemed to play an outsized role in Cambridge in the 1960’s. And everyone seemed to have an opinion about which national origin was superior.

This whole ongoing identification with Europe was unknown to me growing up in the Pacific Northwest. I knew some people whose forebears had come from China or Japan, a source for immigrants since the early nineteenth century. But many others were just lumped together. If there were any bragging rights, they belonged to people who had been “pioneers” to Oregon, back in the 1850’s. I never heard anyone described as Italian or Irish or Polish, for example.

Now that I have lived back in New England for nearly twenty years, I find that this close identification with Europe continues. St. Patrick’s Day parades and Columbus Day parades teem with people still claiming connections to Europe.  Living here I have heard stereotypes over the years still relating to Europe. Apparently the idea of the European Union hasn’t caught on with many.

While there were and are many other stereotypes and ways of pigeon holing people both in the West and the East, it was the European distinctions that really made an impression on me when I first came East.

“I Am Saved By Words!”

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I titled my blog “saved by words” because I really do feel that at certain points in my life I was rescued by either things I read or things I heard. In the case of my first year in college, it was a combination of both. I registered for English 150, a survey of American poetry my first semester. It was the only elective I had, since the other three courses(we only took four at a time) were general required surveys in humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. A girl from my floor walked to the same class and we became fast friends. She remained my friend for many years.

My first experience in a large lecture hall with over a hundred students startled me. Somehow I knew so little about the university that I didn’t even realize that most of my courses would be large lecture based! But Albert Gelpi gave well constructed, fascinating talks and I was riveted.

The course began with Anne Bradstreet, a Boston Puritan writer. Her poem on the burning of her house was easy to understand. It was Gelpi’s discussion of it that grabbed my attention. He pointed out that on its surface the poem spoke of not being attached to wordly things, but in its execution it clearly lamented their loss. The idea that she could tell the truth but “tell it slant”(from Dickinson who we also studied) was exciting. I began to read more deeply and with more satisfaction.

Koestler may have put me off, but my American poetry class assured me that I was in the right place. It had “saved me.”

“Required Reading”

 

The summer before I went off to college, a letter came asking that I read Arthur Koestler’s recent book The Act of Creation. A long book, essentially a philosophical discourse on the root of creativity,  totally confused me. Today, looking over a description of the text, I can see why. I had no experience reading philosophy, had almost no background in abstract thinking, didn’t think of myself as a particularly creative person, and was used to sentences I could absorb with one reading. Koestler’s book and I could not find a place to connect. I went off the college concerned about what would be asked of me regarding the book.

The book was never mentioned again. To this day I have no idea what purpose was to have been served by having the entire incoming class read the volume. I know that the effect it had on me was one of total intimidation. If I couldn’t understand the first book they were asking me to read, how would I ever succeed at the University? I hope that was not the intention.

At any rate, no book during the subsequent four years of college ever confounded me the way Koestler’s book did. Thank goodness.

“Movie Night”

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The next evening the introductory events continued. We had experienced the sherry in the living room with the college president. Now we were huddled in the basement, sitting on the floor in front of a portable movie screen watching “On The Waterfront,” a 1954 Brando portrayal of longshoremen on the docks of New Jersey. Involving crime, love, and a Catholic priest, it was the first time I had been introduced to the idea of “film.”

I came from Oregon where we went to the movies. We enjoyed them for the scenery, the music, the plots and the actors(especially the handsome ones.) I had no concept of “film,” much less of an intellectual discussion after viewing a “film,” such as I was expected to take part in. I had no point of connection with the story, being unfamiliar with Catholic priests(I knew none,) longshoremen(my father a marine attorney represented the shipping lines), or organized crime(I had heard of it, but that was all.) I understood that the love story wasn’t the main point, though it was the only aspect I was familiar with having seen it in “movies” for years. I was almost literally struck dumb and said nothing. Girls around me dove into the cinematography, the direction, the point of view, etc. etc. etc. Me? I went back to my room, tucked myself into that upper bunk and went to sleep.

Something told me I wasn’t in Oregon any more!

“Say What???”

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So many changes hit me in a short period of time after I arrived at my college home that it will take a few posts to convey the impact of that first year. I am grateful to Geoff Le Pard who blogs as TanGental for his series of posts about arriving at his university. His reminiscences awoke many of my own, long in deep storage. Our experiences were quite different, but his sense of culture shock rang a bell.

As I settled into my dorm room, after trudging up three flights of stairs and locating it on the far end of the building, I heard a loud rant coming from across the hall. It was a woman screaming the “f-word” at the top of her lungs yelling somewhat like “f” my “f”ing shoes, where the “f” are they? Today I suppose that would have no effect on an 18 year old girl. However, not only had I never heard a girl talk like that, I had never even heard an adult man use that language. The worst word I ever heard with any frequency, and that almost exclusively from men, was “damn.”

I can clearly recall walking on into my room, climbing up to my top bunk(the bottom already having been claimed by my new roommate)(without consultation–another shock) and wondering what I had just done. And whose idea was this anyway? Oh, yeah. Mine.

 

“An Even Bigger Pond”

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By the time I had finished high school, I had a pretty good sense of myself, my school and my city. That would all undergo an upheaval when I moved 3000 miles away for college, to a place I knew no one, to a town I had visited only once. What could have possessed me, you might ask? My sophomore year in high school we were to take a large book about colleges, review it, and pick one we would like to attend. I saw that the hardest college for a girl to be admitted was Radcliffe, so with the snarky attitude of a student rebelling at an assignment, I wrote about it. When asked to explain why, I replied “it is impossible to get into.”

Meanwhile, I made plans to attend Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, the school my parents, my aunts and uncles and my cousins had all attended. I would be admitted as a “legacy” with no problem.  I had visited the place, liked it, had relatives near by, and was set to go there in the fall of 1964. But, as a continuing spite action against that stupid assignment, I also applied to Radcliffe. What was the harm?

Yikes. Radcliffe practiced “geographic distribution” in their admissions, a fact I didn’t know. They always took one girl from Oregon. Almost no girls applied from there. I was accepted. Now I had to go. No one would accept my turning down the acceptance.

With a large trunk packed, I boarded the train to Boston, a five day journey from Oregon. I arrived, tired, sweaty and dirty, to a “welcome sherry” get together with the college president in my dormitory. And, for those who don’t know, Radcliffe existed as dormitories only. I was about to start my studies at Harvard University and all my classes were to begin in two days.

“Peaceable Assembly”

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After the United States Constitution was ratified, ten amendments, commonly called the Bill of Rights, was added. Much noise surrounds the second amendment which concerns the right to form a “well regulated militia” and bear arms. (How that has been variously interpreted is another topic.) But much more pertinent today is the First Amendment, particularly the ending phrases. Here we are guaranteed the right “peaceably to assemble” and to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Looting is of course against the law. Arson is against the law. But gathering en masse to assemble and protest is protected by the Constitution of the United States. Some people are deeply offended by gatherings of people holding views different from their own. Some leaders want to stop these gatherings from taking place. But over the years disparate groups have been protected and allowed to assemble. Today is no different.

Back to the history classroom many need to go!

(I have had to interrupt my series on massive changes for the moment. Our country suffers deeply at the moment and I need to comment. I hope to make it clear that I support law, the Constitution and freedom for all people.)