Friday, July 31, 2015

July 31, 2015--Friday at the Bristol Diner: Vic Firth

With her face in the paper, Rona asked, "Does anyone know Vic Firth?"

We were talking about the collapse of the Red Sox and ignored her. Baseball in late July will do that to you.

"He was from Maine. Newport, wherever that is."

Ever the gentleman, Bill looked over at Rona, "I think it's somewhere in the middle of the state. North and west of here. I don't think it's much of a port. It's on a lake of some sort."

"I mean heard of him. Not know. Vic Firth."

"Do you think they'll make a deal before the end of the trading deadline?" Jim asked.

"What good it'll do for 'em?" Tommy said and shrugged in exasperation. "They're hopeless."

"It says here in the paper," Rona pressed on, "That he died the other day."

"You don't say," Jim said. "I didn't even know he was sick." Tommy stifled a laugh.

"You guys have no respect. Even for a fellow Mainer."

"OK. So how old was this what's-his-name?"

"Eighty-five. Vic Firth. Like I said, from Newport."

"He's in the papers? Someone we never heard of?" Tommy laughed at his version of black humor. No one else did.

"So what's it say?" I finally asked.

"That he built a better drumstick."

"Built?" Jim said. "You build chickens?"

"Not that kind," Rona said with a sigh. I sensed she was about ready to want to leave.

"Is there another kind?" Jim pressed, having fun. "I mean . . ."

"Not chickens. Drums."


"For drums. Drumsticks for drums."

"For this they put you in the paper?"

"Let me read you a little of his obituary."

"From the New York Times, no less. Only they would make a big deal out of drumsticks for drums."

"If you'd only simmer down for a minute and let me read."

Bill shushed everyone.

"'If you build a better drumstick, the world will beat a path to your door.'"

"I like that," Tommy said. "'Beat a path.' Like you beat a drum. Nice."

Ignoring him, Rona continued, "'That more than 50 years ago, is precisely what Vic Firth did, in the process becoming, almost inadvertently, the world's most prolific drumstick manufacturer."

"Inadvertently, prolific. Very impressive. Do they ever use words like those in the Portland Press Herald?" Everyone chuckled.

Undaunted, Rona continued--"He was the chief tympanist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for more than 40 years. It says here that some felt he was, let me quote from the paper, 'the single greatest percussionist anywhere in the world.' Seiji Ozawa, the Boston's conductor said that. Of the orchestra."

"We know who he is," Bill said. "We may be from the sticks--pun intended--but we know about our Sox and our Ozawa. Japanese, I think."

"Listen to this. Here's the best part. In the 1960s he grew frustrated with the drumsticks that were available on the market. They weren't balanced enough and whatnot. It says here that he was 'seeking sticks that were fleet [whatever that means--everyone shrugged], strong, perfectly straight, of even weight in the hands and able to produce the vast range and color [again, whatever that means] of sounds he desired.' I like this part--'from the patter of raindrops to the rattle of bones ["That's real fancy writing," Jim interjected] to the thunder of cannons--he was forced to jury-rig a pair.'"

"And so?" Bill asked, making a hurry-up gesture. Checking his watch dramatically, he said, "Some of us still have to work for a living."

"I hear you," Rona said. "One more minute. Here's the part you'll like."

"No more rattling of bones, I hope," Tommy said.

"I promise," Rona said. "He turned this jury-rigging into a business. A big one. A multimillion dollar business. With a factory up here in Maine. I think in Newport. Here's what happened. And I know, real quick." Bill was reaching for money to pay his check.

"Here's something you'll like, Tommy, considering all the stuff you have in your garage." He smiled. "He, Vic Firth, worked in his garage to perfect his drumsticks. He built a prototype that the obituary says had the 'lightness, versatility, and equilibrium' he was seeking. And the next thing you know he had a business going. As I said, a big one. All kinds of drummers and tympanists started clamoring for his drumsticks. They were made mainly from hickory, maple, or birch."

"All three are ideal for what he wanted," Tommy, who is a talented woodworker said. "That is, if I'm understanding about the fleetness and stuff."

"He sells them, sold them from between $7 to $60 a pair to all kinds of drummers from those in symphony orchestras like Boston and rock and rollers like Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones. And listen to this--his company sells about 12 million drumsticks a year. Amazing, wouldn't you say?"

"I'll be old Charlie gets the $60 dollar ones," Tommy said.

"He can afford it," Bill, nodding, added.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

July 30, 2015--Off Day

I will return tomorrow with another Friday at the Bristol Diner. This one about Vic Firth. Never heard of him? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

July 29, 2015--Farewell to the Ladies of Forest Trace: Stuff

The receipt arrived yesterday from the charity to which we gave much of my mother's furniture, housewares, and clothing.

I believe all will be put to good use.

For tax purposes, I suppose, the receipt itemized the donation--

Under furniture they listed two upholstered chairs (one of which was the one my mother sat in for decades when we visited), a sofa, two end tables, six shelves, a desk and chair (where my mother sat to balance her checkbook), two patio tables (one of which held her orchid collection), three mirrors (who know what ghost images are contained therein), a large breakfront, a mobile bar (which held a dozen unopened liquor bottles--my mother didn't drink even sacramental wine), two twin beds (one my father's the other the one in which she spent her last days), a dresser (on which there were framed pictures of her immediate family--these were not donated), and a convertible sofa (where Rona and I slept restlessly when in years past we visited).

More reflecting the reality of my mother's final years, the receipt listed a shower stool, a "handicap bath set," two canes (which she began to use when she turned 95), two walkers (needed five years later), and a wheelchair (which during her last two years she eventually required).

The ladder of years indeed.

She was not a shopper but since she kept virtually everything she ever bought in meticulous, perfect condition, at the end, the itemized list stated, her clothing filled fully 17 bags. In addition, there were at least two dozen pairs of shoes. All in their original boxes. (Not enumerated in the receipt. The IRS will figure it out).

The receipt also noted--COW 1 Hour. I assume that's an acronym for about how long it took the men to remove Mom's things. One hour. A lifetime resolves itself, this aspect of a lifetime, in just one hour? Would two have made me feel any better, that she had had a richer life? And then of course I wondered, how many COWs will it take to cart away my remnants?

But it's hard to imagine she could have had a richer life. Accomplished, respected by all, generous, loving, loved.

It is a cliché to say a life well-lived is not about things. Stuff. Though perhaps in some cases, if there is little else, it is.

But with my mother, her life was about what she did, the people she embraced, her pride, her ambition, the mark she left on the world, and how she lives on--not in anything tangible or quantifiable like a list of things, but in the hearts of all who knew her well enough to feel the awesome power of her love.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28, 2015--The Way We Were

Just the other day the New York Times reported about a survey of Americans' racial views. In spite of having an African-American president, about 60 percent of whites and blacks indicated that they feel relations between the races is not good and 40 percent said in recent years it has gotten worse.

In contrast, shortly after Barack Obama was elected, two-thirds felt that race relations were "generally good."

The title of the article says it all--"Poll Finds Most in U.S. Hold Dim View of Race Relations."

The shift in numbers may, sadly, be a reflection of the fact that we do have a black president. He has been so demonologized that that would not be a surprise.

By coincidence I was finishing H.W. Brands' excellent American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900 in which he reported about a dinner hosted by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 shortly after he assumed the presidency because of the assassination of William McKinley, a small dinner party for Negro educator Booker T. Washington. This was the first time in history that a black person had dinner with an American president in the White House.

The dinner, attended by Roosevelt's wife, four of his children, and one close friend of TR's was, in Brands' phrase "objectively innocuous." But there was a firestorm of outrage, all of it deeply and openly racist.

One example--

The Raleigh Post put its outrage in doggerel:
Booker Washington holds the boards--
The President dines a nigger.
Precedents are cast aside--
Put aside with vigor.
Black and white sit side by side,
As Roosevelt dines a nigger.
We may have our racial problems, but looking back suggests that we've come a long way.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

July 27, 2015--HillaryGate: Drip, Drip, Drip

I recently read Tim Weiner's new biography of Richard Nixon, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, which focuses on the various criminal activities of Nixon and his associates. Especially the climate that existed in the White House and in Nixon's mind that led to the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex and the subsequent coverup and resignation.

Nixon's involvement in the break-in was not direct but the result of his obsession with secrecy and feelings that there were conspiratorial forces at work that would deny his reelection in 1972. His men, thus, carried out his implied agenda.

Nixon got in deep and direct trouble when he tried to have the FBI's investigation of the break-in squelched and then led the cover-up, all the while lying by claiming he knew nothing in advance of the break-in (likely true) and knew nothing about a cover-up (patently and feloniously false).

As a result, he was brought down, named an "unindicted co-conspirator," and forced to resign the presidency.

This brings me to Hillary Clinton and the many problems with her emails while she was Secretary of State.

For whatever reasons, rather than use secure State Department channels of communication, she used her own, personal email account to carry out official business. There is no disputing that.

But under pressure, when news about this began to leak out earlier this year, she denied any wrongdoing, claiming what she did was neither against federal rules nor, much more significant, was not in any way illegal.

Under further pressure, she turned over to the State Department 30,000 official emails from her private server, deleting other thousands of a personal nature--for example, those about plans for her daughter Chelsea's wedding.

All along the way she alleged this was a non-issue, driven more by presidential politics then anything else. She held herself above the fray, claiming she had more important things to focus on--how to build an agenda, for example, to strengthen the economy, one that especially helps the middle class.

But the issue just wouldn't go away.

Daily, it is becoming clear that there are legitimate and substantial issues that were not just the result of Republican saber-rattling. As more and more was leaked and reported about what was in the actual emails, it became clearer and clearer that there is a there there.

Just at the end of last week, the New York Times, which broke the original email story in March, reported that some of Clinton's emails included classified information, which, if true, is potentially illegal.

The State Department inspector general joined by the intelligence community's independent inspector general issued a joint statement which revealed that their review of a random sample of just 40 of the former Secretary's emails revealed that four did in fact contain classified material, "Government secrets."

Clinton's response was again that this is a distraction and that nothing untoward occurred on her watch.

The two inspectors general would disagree. In fact, they recommended that an investigation be launched. A criminal investigation. Clinton didn't quite say, "I am not a crook." But . . .

It is significant to note again that the intelligence community's inspector general is a non-partisan and that though the State Department is Obama's State Department, and thus controlled by Democrats, its inspector general did not hold back.

This is feeling like the same kind of drip, drip, drip that didn't work to defend Nixon. He pretended that he was ignoring the Watergate investigation, claiming he was too busy defending the world and defeating Communism. The tapes of his White House offices and telephones put the lie to that. He was obsessed by Watergate and the judicial and congressional investigations and was active daily counseling and coaching his confederates about what to say and which lies to tell.

I suspect Hillary Clinton in dong much the same thing. I mean obsessing. She knows the truth and we are learning more about it every week. I suspect there will be an outcome similar to Nixon's--her emails are not unlike his tapes. There are likely numerous smoking guns in them and I would be surprised if Clinton is able to stay in the race for the presidential nomination. Polls are already showing she trails Jeb Bush and Scott Walker in key battleground states. This will only get worse as we learn more.

It's time for Democrats to be thinking about serious alternatives. It wouldn't surprise me to see Joe Biden join the race and perhaps John Kerry. Elizabeth Warren may also be rethinking her decision not to run.

Who knows, by fall a Democrat clown car might be revving up.

I am not a crook.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

July 24, 2015--Friday at the Bristol Diner: Pozidriv

For someone who until recently didn’t know that to remove a screw you need to turn it counterclockwise, what Rona said came as quite a revelation.

Over coffee, Ken and I were talking about screws. Rona and I had been working together on an old table, to cut the legs about four inches shorter so it could serve better as a side table, when we discovered, after chipping away some paint, that the screws the table maker used had square drives.

“I hadn’t ever seen square screw heads,” I said, “until the other day when we were removing a rotted plank from our picnic table.” Ken smiled at me and at my still naive sense of wonder. “I was glad there was a square-shaped screwdriver in the shed.”

“The fellow who built that table of yours must have been among the first to use them. They came out not too long ago since the square slot takes a power drill nicely. The bit doesn’t jump around as much as it does with the traditional slotted drive or the Phillips for that matter.”

“I hadn’t thought about that,” I confessed—in fact until this year I hadn’t thought much about screws or screwdrivers of any type—“I’m used to the old-fashioned ones, those in common use before the advent of power tools.”

“You go back that far, do you,” Ken said, playing with me. I nodded that indeed I do. “I’ll bet then that you never heard of the Pozidriv drive.”

“To tell you the truth, no. Sounds sort of Russian to me. How do you spell it?”

“I’m not that good a speller,” Ken said. “Ask Rona. She’s always doing her New York Times crossword puzzle. I’m sure she’s come across it.”

“Not really,” Rona said. I was surprised that she was even listening in on our chatter. As I said, she has been uncertain about which way to twist a screwdriver when driving or removing screws. “What’s unique about the Pozidriv?” She gave it a full Eastern European pronunciation.

“Best I understand it,” Ken said leaning across the table to ignore me now and give full attention to Rona, “it’s patented by the Phillips Screw Company. And to some of us it looks like a modified Phillips drive. I’m sure you what a Phillips looks like.”

Rona rolled her eyes to indicate that of course she does. “The head has a sort of cross on it so it must be twice as secure as your basic slotted head, which is like half a Phillips.” Ken now was doing the nodding.

“If you look at one closely," he said, "I wish I had one in the toolbox in my truck so I could show it to you—if you looked right down on a Pozidriv you’d see they cut four more little incisions in the head so there are eight all together as opposed to four for the Phillips.”

“I suppose the advantage must be,” Rona suggested, sounding now like quite the expert, “that it handles a power bit even better than a Phillips drive or a square one for that matter.” She was grinning across the table, especially toward me.

“The name, Pozidriv, is thought to be an abbreviation of positive drive,” Ken said, putting on display his expertise. “Its advantage over the Phillips’ drive is its decreased likelihood to cam out, which is a fancy way of saying the tool doesn’t slip out easily. This means you can apply greater torque, which is important when using those newer heavy-duty power tools. Pozidrivs haven’t caught on here that much. They use them more in Europe. But for driving screws into wood decks I’m sure more contractors will be discovering them.”

This was moving pretty fast for me and so I asked Crystal to refill my coffee cup. She had been standing nearby to take this all in, enjoying every minute of Ken’s initiation of Rona into the world of screws.

“I’m learning a lot about tools this year,” Rona wasn’t ready to change the subject. “Especially how having the right one can make all the difference in the world. You know in cooking there’s a gadget for everything—to make lemon zest, to pit cherries, to shave butter, literally hundreds of tools—but Steven and I are quite minimalists when it comes to kitchen gadgets. We like to use our cheese grater to make our lemon zest and on those very, very rare occasions when we need to pit some cherries . . .”

“Which is never,” I said, happy to join in a new subject.

“When that never-time occurs, I’m sure we’ll figure out how to pit our cherries without a special tool.”

“Which costs ten dollars,” I said.

“Even if it costs $2.95, which is probably more like it, who needs it?”

“You know what,” I said, “I’ll bet we could punch out cherry pits using the end of a chopstick. Chopsticks we have.”

Rona rolled her eyes again. “But about carpenter or painting tools—I’ve been doing a lot of painting this summer—I feel quite different. I want my one-inch and my two-inch brushes. I want my bristle brushes and those newer-fangled sponge ones. There’s a specific purpose for each and it’s best not to use a bristle brush when you’re painting between the narrow slats of some of our outdoor furniture. Am I right, Ken?”

He smiled back at her and nodded. Thus encouraged, she continued, “You wind up ruining the brush and the job doesn’t turn out as well as it does if you use one of those sponges.”

Ken turned to wink at me as if proud of his best student. He has been tutoring Rona since last year and was clearly feeling good about her new knowledge and confidence.

“One more painting story,” Rona said. “Since I’ve been doing a lot of painting obviously I’ve needed to open cans of paint quite regularly. Until a few weeks ago I was using a screwdriver for this—the one for slotted and not square or Pozidriv screws. It was working pretty well until Steven showed me this tool we have in the shed designed just for opening paint cans. It’s got a curled end that fits perfectly under the lid and with just the simplest application of pressure it pops it right off. Even when there’s lots of dried paint around the rim.”

“In the old days,” Ken recalled, “they used to give you one of these for free when you bought a can of paint. Now-a-days I’m sure they charge for them. But I agree that it’s a great tool.”

“I’m coming to think that using the right tool for the right job is the way to do a job the right way. Don’t get annoyed with me,” Rona quickly glanced my way, “but the other day when we were working on the picnic table, to get to the screw head he,” meaning me and looking at Ken, “he had to chip away some paint. I saw him using a screwdriver to do that. I can’t believe I even noticed this considering how unmechanical I’ve been all my life, but it didn’t seem right.” I was feeling a bit embarrassed to be thus exposed. “I mean to use a screwdriver that way as a chisel. I assume there’s a tool for that too. But not a screwdriver. The way I’m looking at things these days you need to be fair to your screwdriver.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. My Rona talking about being fair to a screwdriver? What’s next, I wondered.

Ken just kept smiling.

First posted July 20, 2011

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

July 23, 2015--Ladies of Forest Trace: Mom and Dianne

It's been three weeks since my mother died and I called Dianne yesterday to see how she was doing.

As my Mom's senior caregiver, she had spent more time with her during her last years than anyone and they had formed an uncommon closeness. A friendship. So Dianne's loss was much more than professional.

"I learned so much from her. She was always teaching me things. I didn't always like the lessons but I always knew she had my best of intentions in mind and now, after she is gone, I realize that even the things that disturbed me at the time were more true and important than not."

"She was like that for so many of us."

"Your Mom may be gone," Dianne said with her familiar laugh, "but she will be here for a long, long, long time."

"I know what you mean. The lessons, the love that she shared with so many of us."

"Isn't that the truth."

"I am hearing the same thing from distant cousins of Rona's who live in California, who didn't really know her, who never met her but only heard about her, they have been sending us notes and cards telling us how important to them was the meaning of her life. How she lived and . . ."

"How she died."

"That's true too."

"You know, I would say to her toward the end when she spent most of her time in bed, when she told me how frustrated she was because she needed to spend all that time resting, I would say to her, 'Ray, you're doing what you have to do. You're still teaching, you're still working.'"

"'I'm still working?' she would say. 'Lying here like this I'm still working?'"

"'Yes,' I would say. 'You're teaching me how to grow old and how, yes, to die with grace.'"

"That's what I meant," Dianne said, "That's what I meant and it would make her smile. You know that smile."

She trailed off.

"I do," I managed to say.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

June 22, 2015--TRUMP & Clinton

Not that Clinton but Bill. They have much in common--Bill and The Donald.

I continue to find it difficulty to stop making fun of Donald TRUMP. I can't resist referring to him as The Donald, his first wife Ivana's charming and prescient name for him, or capitalizing his last name since he insists on doing that when he affixes his name in faux-gold to TRUMP Tower, TRUMP Plaza, TRUMP City, TRUMP Casino, and his line of TRUMP menswear and perfume.

But ask any other Republican presidential candidate and they are no longer laughing at his outsized ego and birds-nest hairdo. The are not laughing since he has soared into the lead on all credible national polls. Leading Jeb Bush by at least two percentage points--16% to 14%--is typical.

And he has surged into the lead after what media savants thought was a fatal gaff--questioning, worse, mocking John McCain's service record.

McCain, though a mediocre presidential candidate, is a genuine hero, having been shot down over North Vietnam and held for six years in the hellacious Hanoi Hilton prisoner of war camp. He even elected to remain in captivity after the Vietcong offered early release a year before the Paris Peace Accords called for prisoner exchanges.

When confronted about his swipes at McCain and pressed to talk about his own war record he doubled down on criticizing McCain and then casually said he had a number of student deferments (five), then a medical condition (he couldn't remember just what), and he didn't support the war anyway.

This should have doomed his candidacy since it appears that a disproportionate percentage of his supporters are military hawks. But it didn't. His numbers actually rose. And thus his rivals consternation.

He even got in potential trouble last week in Iowa among evangelical Christians.

He is admittedly not a worshipful guy and was never born again. In fact, he has had three wives and many affairs. All on the record. He even said in Iowa, when discussing his romantic life (if I can call it that), that if his daughter Ivanka wasn't his daughter he would be dating her. Rather than getting booed off the stage, the huge audience of Iowans guffawed with guilty pleasure.

They appear to love him the more outrageous he gets. And thus far he hasn't spent very much of his own money on his galloping campaign.

What then am I suggesting about Bill Clinton?

He was another larger-than-life personality and supplied the public with daily doses of salacious gossip from canoodling Gennifer Flowers to Paula Jones to Monica Lewinsky.

Like TRUMP, the more he got tangled in his own lies and the more scandalous the news that oozed out, the more popular he became. When he left the White House, impeached and nearly convicted and thrown out of office by the Senate, his approval ratings rose to an astonishing 73 percent.

The public likes cartoon-like figures and is as interested in being entertained by its leaders as well led. Perhaps more so. People have given up on political and government effectiveness. They see most of our problems to be too big to solve. Poll after poll shows this.

Who better then than a TRUMP or a Clinton to keep us titillated and amused? Jeb Bush? Hillary? Scott Walker? That's an easy one--the Teflon Kids.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

June 21, 2015--Tease

I will return tomorrow with thoughts about TRUMP and Clinton. Perhaps not what you're expecting.

Monday, July 20, 2015

July 20, 2015--Great Scott!

Great Scott? Scott Walker the legendary governor of Wisconsin who managed to get voters in the Badger State to keep him in office in spite of fierce and well-financed attempts by unions and other progressives to recall him because of his political glee at, to quote Hillary Clinton, "stomping on working people," particularly unionized state workers. Everyone, that is, but the police and firefighters whose support he did not want to jeopardize.

He gave one impressive speech a few months ago at the annual show-and-tell meeting of the conservative action committee, CPAC, and that propelled him into the lead among the other 15 to 16 Republican candidates. But since that time, because he dawdled about getting into the race officially, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, and perhaps Ben Carson jumped into the lead in the polls and the big GOP money began to drift elsewhere.

So his formal announcement last week that he's running was awaited with considerable interest since some pundits feel that his blue-collar, evangelical roots and lack of formal education are assets in this discombobulated time and that he, or Marco Rubio, might be the two best Republican candidates to do well against Hillary. Since by their age and grayless hair if not their ideas and ideology they claim they are from the next political generation.

Walker's announcement was noteworthy for a least three reasons--the first and most predictable and boring was that in his 40 minute speech he ticked off literally every conservative Republican talking point from his call for the repeal of Obamacare to tax cuts for the affluent to prime the trickle-down pump to opposing the deal with Iran (even before it was struck or read) to opposing same-sex marriage and abortion.

Second, in this era where only he and Ben Carson speak without teleprompters or notes, he droned on in his jeans and tieless shirt not making any gaffs (he is prone to them) nor stumbling for words. This gave what he had to say a tincture of authenticity.

But, third, and most interesting, he began by saying, and repeating that he is an American and loves being an American. As if he is running against a Kenyon president who hates America but loves it enough to want to overthrow the Constitution by invading Texas and after that turning the USA into a socialist dictatorship.

Stories about veterans he knew when growing up were laced as a motif throughout his remarks. First, he told of an old fellow who served in both world wars. And subsequently a neighborhood Vietnam vet who taught little Scott about liberty and patriotism and love of country.

Virtually wrapped in the flag they both fought to defend, Walker did not say anything about why, so inspired by these two remarkable veterans, he himself never showed up at the recruiting office or why he decided not to serve. He and The Donald and Jeb and Marco share that gap in their resumés.

He also didn't mention that, though anti-governement by choice and nature, he has never had a job other than as a taxpayer-supported government official. Beginning from when he was just twenty-two. So, ironically, he has been on a public payroll of one sort or another for more than any other candidate. For fully 26 of his 48 years.

Considering his lack of foreign policy experience, in March, when he was an all-but-declared candidate, at an event in Phoenix he was pressed to explain what qualifies him to serve as commander in chief.

By a friendly interlocutor he was asked--

"Does the prospect of being commander in chief daunt you?"

Before reminding you what he said at that time, earlier in March, at the CPAC gathering, on the same subject, he said he was prepared because he had stared down union workers and their supporters. He said that, "If I can take on 100,000 protestors, I can do the same across the world." He was referring to ISIS, claiming he could do the same thing to them he did to drivers license bureau workers, tax collectors, building inspectors, and such.

This did not go down well so a few days later in Phoenix, in regard to the commander-in-chief question, he was better prepared--

"That's an appropriate question," he acknowledged, "As a kid, I was in Scouts. And one of the things I'm proudest of when I was in Scouts is I earned the rank of Eagle."

That did not seem to qualify him to hawkish voters so last week, to emphasize his social conservatism, and change the subject, he criticized Boy Scouts of American for voting unanimously to allow gay men to be Scoutmasters. Though when confronted about that he again backtracked.

Clearly, going forward he needs to get his act together or the Iowa caucuses, where he needs to come in in the top tier, may be the first and last stop for him. I feel certain that the Koch Brothers are watching closely and if they haven't already, will soon be moving on.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

July 17, 2105--Fridays at the Bristol Diner: No Real News

“You get the Lincoln County News, don’t you?”

“Yes, every Thursday when it comes out,” I said, “We look forward to it. It’s where we find out about tag sales and of course the local news.”

“Exactly,” Char said. She’s a graphic artist who also works part time at the Bristol Diner.

“I was reading there last week,” Rona said, “about how lightening struck the Cheney Insurance company chimney. Right on Main Street. They’re our agents and we were glad to read that they took their own advice and were adequately insured!”

“It’s right down the street from the church which has been raising money for the last two years to replace the steeple that toppled in a big storm,” I said. “Lucky it didn’t get hit again ‘cause they’d have to start all over. That guy who has been camped out in front of the bookstore all summer trying to raise money would have to get back to work.”

“I’m glad to see you guys are getting into the spirit of this place,” Char said, “ Paying attention to lightening strikes and local causes.”

“We’re trying,” Rona said.

“One thing I like about being here,” Char said, “is that though through TV and the Internet it’s easy to keep up with news of the world, the paper that everyone reads, The Lincoln County News, doesn’t include any ‘real news.’”

Char made a gesture in the air to indicate quotation marks around “real news.” She is actually very well read and up-to-speed about all things national as well as local, but we have been here long enough to get her full meaning—people have a different perspective on what’s important.

They pay attention to and care as much as New Yorkers about the state of the economy (and feel it more directly than most of the people we know in the city) and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (actually they are more likely than we to know soldiers fighting and dying there), but they also pay a great deal attention to local issues—the big, the small, and the amusing.

And since the LCN is the paper of choice here, I thought to share some of the stories from last week’s paper:

The lead story was about the state of the lobster fishing business. In a word, not good.

Though the lobstermen of North End Lobster Co-Op on Westport Island noted improvements in catch volumes this season, according to Stott Carlton, captain of the Edna Mae, “Our expenses have gone up [for fuel and bait], but what we get paid for our lobsters hasn’t changed significantly in 10 years. In fact, if anything, it’s gone down.”

Then there’s the big flap about the guy in our town who has a large piece of land on which he wants to create a wolf refuge. Yes, a place where wolves can thrive and partake of the natural environment of which they were once a part before they were thinned out and ultimately driven entirely away as the result of more and more settlement.

He doesn’t have a spread big enough to assure his neighbors that their property too will not become an unintended part of that refuge and thus threaten their pets and their livestock, not to mention their children. It turns out that the Town of Bristol does not have zoning laws about this and it is not clear if they now want to institute them. This is after all a small-government kind of place.

So on this goes. I am sure the paper will have more to report about the wolves next week. Between now and then there will be no Breaking News about this to interrupt our lives.

It was good to learn, also on the front page, about Chloe Maxmin, a Nobleboro teenager who was one of ten national winners of the Barron Prize which honors youths between 8 and 18 years of age “who have made a significant positive difference in people and our planet.” Winners receive $2,500 for their higher education or to help fund a service project. Chloe’s will focus on global warming and she plans to use the money in part to pay for her upcoming three-month conservation project in South America.

On the other hand, also in Nobleboro, local folks were sad to learn that the more than 100-year-old grange hall is up for sale. In rural America grange halls were centers of community life, hosting countless lunches, suppers, and social events. In the not-too-distant past many a young man met his future bride at a grange hall Box Social.

But in recent years, these sorts of things have gone out of style and attendance at grange hall events has declined to the point where the Nobleboro folks do not any longer turn out in sufficient numbers to meet the legal quorum requirements to retain their grange hall charter. Meetings must be held regularly and at least seven members have to be present. This minimum requirement has turned out to be difficult to attain. And so, if you’re in the market for a grange hall to convert into a whatever, there’s one unhappily for sale right nearby.

Page Two includes a story from Jefferson. If you’ve had your quota of bad news for the day, skip on down past this one since it’s about an old oak tree that was cut down on Carol Kirchdorfer’s property without her permission. Seems the outgoing road commissioner decided to remove it. He was defeated in the recent local election and was not not be found and so no explanation was forthcoming. This did not satisfy Ms. Kirchdorfer, though she admitted that, “He did leave us a big pile of woodchips.” With cold weather approaching, there’s a lot to be said for putting in lots of woodchips.

Meanwhile, over in South Bristol there is concern about the status of the pump on one of their fire trucks. To repair it would cost $60,000 to $80,000. The truck could also use a new water tank and the breaks need rebuilding. But money is real tight here as everywhere and the Board of Selectmen is hesitant to authorize the repairs. They do have two other pumpers in excellent condition and it was decided to wait until the town can again build up its reserve fund while keeping an eye out for a used one. Selectman Chester Rice said, “Some towns are getting some pretty good fire trucks for little or near nothing.” Sounds like a plan to me.

Tucked near the bottom of the page is an announcement—
Rick Genthner of Nobleboro and Beth Estes of Damariscotta, big sisters Kathryn Estes and Gabby Genthner, and grandparents Anne Gabel and Dave Ellis of Nobleboro and Rick and Debbie Genthner of Bremen are pleased to announce the arrival of a baby boy, Nicholas Creighton Genthner, born on Sept 20 at 12:42 p.m. at Miles Memorial Hospital weighing 6 lbs., 9 oz.
Deeper in the first section where sports news is to be found there's nary a mention of the Red Sox not making it to the postseason and of course even less (actually nothing) about the hated Yankees, but there are a full two pages devoted to how local junior high and high school teams are faring.

In boys’ soccer Medomak Junior High picked up their third win of the young season, defeating Rockland 2-1. In girls’ soccer, however, Camden handed Medomak its first defeat, shutting them out 1-0.

Over on the Sheepscot Links, I read about how the local golf teams are doing. In the Senior Scramble (don’t ask me to explain), the winning team included Mark Petela, Bob Bell, Janet Ray, and Al Gifford.  Dan Walenta had the longest drive for men and for the women, Janet Ray. Closest to the pin was Kathy Sproul, who landed her chip shot on the 2nd hole only 10 feet, two inches from the pin; while on number 8, Tom Simmons came within 7 feet, 3 inches of holing out.

If the weather stays good, we can expect more of the same next week.

And, yes, the paper also typically contains news about car accidents, injuries, aggravated assaults, and the inevitable obituaries; but not a word about Afghanistan (unless a local soldier returns from a tour of duty) or Christine O’Donnell’s latest electoral aberration in the Delaware Senate race or don’t ask, don’t tell.

That’s waiting out there and can be gathered from other sources, as Char the other morning pointed out.  You can always find ways to get “real news.” In the meantime, I read that Lincoln Academy’s boy’s soccer team will be taking on their traditional rival Medomak in Saturday’s Homecoming game; and since the forecast is calling for it to be sunny with temperatures in the high 60s, maybe we’ll drive over to catch the first half.

We can’t stay for the whole match since at the Pumpkinfest in Nobleboro they’ll be having their annual Pumpkin Chunking contest to see who can chunk a pumpkin the furthest and later in the afternoon they’ll be turning some of the biggest pumpkins from last weekend’s weigh-off into boats that they will then race in the Pumpkin Boat regatta in the Damariscotta Harbor on Sunday. If you’re wondering about pumpkins serving as boats, the winner at the weigh-off came in at an astonishing 1,414 pound and was more than 15 feet in circumference.

And if that isn’t enough for us to do we still have the Pumpkin Catapult to look forward to and the Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest, also in the Damariscotta River.

So if any of our friends back in New York or down in Florida are concerned that we don’t have enough going on or are insufficiently stimulated I suggest you look at the Lincoln County News’ website and think about driving up here for Saturday’s Pumpkin Dessert Contest.

This first appeared October 6, 2010.

Lincoln County News | Newcastle, ME
Thursday, July 16, 2015Serving Maine and Lincoln County for over a century.Volume 140 Issue 29

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

July 16, 2015--TRUMP

Is Donald (all caps) TRUMP just a joke? In the front seat in the Republican clown car?

Pretty much all Democrats agree that he is someone to make fun of (even David Letterman came out of retirement to make fun of him) and most of the other Republican pretenders to the 2016 nomination hope he is just an egotistic entertainer who can't live without the spotlight and will soon move on.

He may be cartoon like, but in other important ways he is resoundingly not. If he stays in the race for the GOP nomination after the current blast of publicity fades (as it most likely will) and spends a few hundred million of his own money (not likely--he is a tightwad and exaggerates his wealth) not only will he help define the future Republican Party but also give the other front runners fits since he actually has a chance to become the nominee.

He has a chance because his brand of anger and racial hatred appeals to at least a third of the GOP primary-voter base. This is different than the general-election Republicans who are a bit more nuanced and tolerant. But it may be enough to get him very close to or all the way to the nomination since his people tend to come from the activist wing of the party.

People are frustrated and angry about their own prospects and what they rightly see to be the decline of America's standing in the world. This began during the inconclusive Korean War and was brought home to American's consciousness when we lost in Vietnam, the first war in our history in which we were defeated. And more recently we are perceived to be ineffectual in the Middle East and, as many feel, are losing to ISIS.

But TRUMP's appeal, though based on this feeling of national decline, is more the result of stagnant income for most Americans and the haunting belief that the American Dream is over for the middle class, whose children, for the first time in history, are not doing as well as their parents.

Rather than blaming structural causes for these frustrating circumstances (an unfair tax system, a weak regulatory environment, the decline of unions, and the resulting rising rate of inequality), TRUMP's people blame government (especially Obama and liberal Democrats), social welfare programs that they feel encourage and underwrite dependency on the government, and above all else, for these angry folks, the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country and the alleged continuing flow of Latin Americans--Mexicans--across our porous boarders.

And then how lucky can The Donald get--escaped Mexican drug lord, El Chapo's son two days ago threatened his life, tweeting--

"Keep fucking around, and I'll make you eat all of your goddamn words."

This gave TRUMP the opportunity to act the selfless tough guy--

He tweeted, "I'm fighting for much more than myself. I'm fighting for the future of our country which is being overrun by criminals. You can't be intimidated. It's too important."

In addition, most Americans are frustrated that we as a people, our governments, cannot accomplish big things.

The country that built the interstate highway system in the 1950s and 60s can't fix our rusting bridges and crumbling roads. Many may ask, Who do you think is more likely to fix our roads--Scott Walker or Donald TRUMP? Who more likely to rebuild our bridges--Jeb Bush or Donald TRUMP? And what about Hillary Clinton? Do you think she could do a better job than TRUMP in making sure our weapon systems work?

So TRUMP may be a joke, but a potent one at that. And, ultimately, perhaps not a joke at all.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

July 15, 2015--Back to Maine Day

I will resume on Thursday. With, what else, thoughts about The Donald. Some may surprise you.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

July 14, 2015--New York, New York: Garbage

"Mommy, Mommy, why did they put that man in the garbage?"

I had just dropped the car off in the garage to avoid parking tickets and was heading home for breakfast.

At the corner of 10th Street and Broadway a group of parents and young children were gathered to wait for the bus to scoop up the kids and take them to day camp in Riverdale.

Near the corner, as is typical on Monday's, the building staff had stacked a few dozen trash bags for the soon-to-be-arriving sanitation men. 

And across from that pile, in a service-entrance alcove, as always in nice wether, stretched out under a quilt, with a dog at his side, still sleeping, was a homeless man.

"In the garbage," the five-year-old said--as his mother was ignoring him, fiddling with his knapsack to be sure he had his bathing suit and sunscreen.

"Why are they throwing him away?" He was no longer just glancing obliquely the man's way but pointing and looking fully and openly at him.

Everyone else--the other children and their parents and care givers--were conspicuously turned the other way. At the traffic on Broadway though the bus always comes for the children east along 10th Street and would stop just short of the mound of garbage and the sleeping man and his dog.

"He's not garbage," the child said, this time with a tone that suggested he knew he was being ignored.

"Make sure to put sunscreen on after you go swimming," his mother said. 

The boy mumbled something I could not hear.

"And be sure to drink lots of water. There's some in your bag." She pulled out a bottle of Evian to show him. He was now struggling with the huge knapsack as if ensnared by it.

"The man . . ." he muttered, not completing his thought.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

July 13, 2105--Ockham's and Dad's Razors

We've been sorting though things at my mother's apartment, stopping frequently to savor a picture or letter from long ago and only vaguely remembered.

Thus far my favorite is a thick looseleaf notebook in which my mother kept the minutes of the Groucho Society. It was in effect a cousins club that included Zwerlings and Neubauers, the Neubauers being from my grandmother's side of the extended family.

The Newbauers were great characters and even included a gangster or two. As you might imagine, they were my favorite of all Zwerling and Neubauer relatives. Just think how my youthful imagination was fired by the fact that Uncle Herman knew Mayer Lansky and had a pistol, which he allegedly needed and even used in one of the bars and grills he owned in New Jersey.

The Grouchos met every month or two during the first ten years after my parents were married--the late 20s to late 30s. During their lifetimes, though pressed frequently by me wanting to know about secrets from their past, neither of my parents had a good explanation about the name of the group--was it derived from Groucho Marx or just because many of the members were, well, grouchy?  They never said, which incited me to want to know more. Perhaps now in the minutes . . .

I haven't had time yet to read through the minutes my mother meticulously kept, but even a glance at her literally perfect handwriting reveals not a blot or edit on any page through which I have thus far thumbed. But just to marvel at the perception, her perfection is full of meaning and challenge. The standard she set for herself and the rest of us. To be perfect in all regards is to hold us to the highest standard, which has it attraction, but is also one we can never reach. Maybe that too has value--it humbles us to experience the unobtainable.

My other favorite thing thus far is a Bic razor of my father's that my mother brought with her to Forest Trace when she relocated. Nearly 20 years ago. Quite a shelf-life for an otherwise disposable razor!

I remember using it on much earlier visits to my mother when I either forgot to bring one of my own or wanted, by using it, to have the feel of his hand on mine and on my face while shaving. It was very intimate.

I haven't used it in 15 years and was not surprised to find it still in the guest bathroom since my mother was very good at keeping things--of course in perfect arrangement and preservation.

I took it with me to our apartment in Delray and used it twice while here because I forgot to bring one of my own or, closer to the truth, wanted my father literally close at hand at this emotional time stroking my cheeks. It worked well in those regards.

It also made me think of another razor, a metaphorical one--Ockham's. I have that helpful or dysfunctional ability to switch from deep feelings to the abstract as one of my ways of dealing with sadness or memories that overwhelm. Thus, Ockham's Razor.

It, or the Law of Parsimony, is a problem solving principal devised by William of Ockham in the 14th century that says that the best solution to a complex problem is the simplest one that accounts for the largest number of facts, variables, and phenomena. For example, in contemporary particle physics, there is the Standard Model that connects in the simplest terms yet understood the electromagnetic, strong, and weak nuclear forces.

My father was very much an Ockham man.

He was a great problem solver and, I must say, problem maker. He was adept at putting things in contexts. Often simple ones that, as he would put it, held a "grain of truth." Like, his favorite--religion is at the root of most of the world's most intractable problems. That gets to a truth in a version of the simplest way.

I should add--his version of truth. Just like Ockham's, which could be, always was, ultimately superseded by other elegant solutions that explained even more, so were Dad's challenged by members of his striving family who were coming to insights and conclusions of their own devising.

His literal razor, however, which is still functioning, over time has lost some of its sharp edge and it now scrapes across one's flesh, plucking as well as cutting. Rough while also gentle--just like my father.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

July 10, 2105--Fridays at the Bristol Diner: The Meaning of Life

"I'm not interested in the meaning of life."

"That surprises me, Paul. I think of you as a thoughtful, self-reflective guy. And also a little philosophically-minded. I would have thought the meaning of life would be of great interest to you."

"Maybe this will help," he said, though I wasn't pressing him to be helpful, "Though I may not be interested in that big-picture question, I am very interested in how to live a meaningful life." He paused to let that sink in and then said, "Get the distinction?"

I didn't feel the need to answer and he went on anyway, "Look, I'm in my mid-60s and have tapered off from work. What do I have, maybe 20 more good years. If I'm lucky. With my family history, probably 10 to 15. I'm passed the-meaning-of-life stage. I'm not religiously oriented. Never one to get too involved with any of that, including any more, personal belief systems. So I'm thinking about  just living. How to live meaningfully."

I didn't really disagree but I wanted to make this a bit more complicated, nuanced. "You say there is a  distinction between the two. I'm not sure I see it that way. Living meaningfully implies, doesn't it, that the way you choose to live--meaningfully--is derived from what you believe to be the meaning of life. I see them connected in that way."

I looked over at him while he thought this through.

"I can see your point but here's mine--Chasing after the meaning of life inevitably means seeking connections to something really big, maybe even something universal. Like following the Golden Rule. Guided by it to live so that you do unto others . . . You know the rest."

"Yes. To live meaningfully, as you put it, means, doesn't it, that unless you find meaning in things that are self-involving and pleasurable (and I know you well enough to know that's not you), if you have something resembling a humane or ethical core--and I think you do--that what you find meaningful does in fact connect to something else, often something bigger, even if not universal. Something at least close to the meaning of life?"

He peered at me seemingly thinking. I let a few beats go by and then asked, "So, what do you say?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, I'm into pursuing happiness. The other day was July 4th, right, and our Founders in the Declaration of Independence put that on the list that also included life and liberty."

"What do you think they meant by happiness? What was happiness to them? Surely not what many today think constitutes happiness--pleasure-seeking, doing their thing, adventure, acquiring stuff, sex, drugs. And to be fair, less controversially, things like family, reading, pursuing culture and . . ."

"I'm OK with much of that," Paul said, interrupting me. "I'm OK with folks doing their thing. As long as they're not harming anyone or anything or making demands on others or encroaching on anyone's territory. And here I'm not just talking about property but . . ."

"You do know, don't you, that Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration said that all men--men--are created equal and entitled to life, liberty, and property? Not only is what finally emerged--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness a better sentence," I smiled at him, knowing how he reveres Jefferson, "but they may have thought that there was a connection between property and happiness."

"Well, to them, if you didn't have property you couldn't be a full, participating citizen. Jefferson's yeomen."

"But let's get away from early American history and get back to your pursuit of a meaningful life because I think it may have things in common with that pre-revolutionary meaning of happiness. Pursuing happiness," I returned to that in spite of saying we should move on, "suggests a life of meaning, and not one that's just pleasure-driven. In fact, other than Hamilton and his Federalist followers, Jefferson and others hated the idea of a life of commerce and materialistic striving. They wanted us to be good citizens above all else and find happiness largely in that. Very Roman."

"I don't see why you keep saying, or at least implying, that my interest in a meaningful life is not to be a good citizen or take care of my property and family--another important piece of the meaning equation--means all I care about are empty pleasures. I'm not really sybaritic or materialistic--though I confess to liking nice things--I don't think I take advantage of or ignore people who are struggling or less fortunate than I. I even try to do a little helping. So what's wrong with my loving my music and reading and gardening and all the good and healthy foods I prepare or, as I said, how I love and enjoy being with my family and fiends--even you," he said with an exaggerated wink."

"I'll concede you all that."

"But I won't go along with your insisting that I somehow have to be interested in higher pursuits if my life is to be meaningful. I'll stack my music and the things I love to read against anyone or anything who claims that there are higher things which are needed to guide a meaningful life. All the codes, all the so-called sacred texts to me were written by men--not by God or gods--and are no more valid as guides to the good or meaningful life than the things I've discovered on my own."

He had became a little heated and I didn't want to press him that much further. But, I said, "I too believe that sacred texts and moral codes such as Hammurabi's or Leviticus and Deuteronomy are all man-made. But they do distill a lot of wisdom and are thus worth taking into serious consideration even when attempting to living a meaningful life disconnected from the meaning-of-life."

"With that, we've come full circle," Paul said, easing himself up out of the booth. "Stiff joints," he grimaced.

"Sorry to have kept you so long," I apologized.

He waved me off, "I always enjoy talking to you, even though at times you make me crazy."

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Thursday, July 09, 2015

July 9, 2015--I Lied

With everything going on, I couldn't complete this morning's posting about the meaning of life. But I will for certain have it done by tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

July 8, 2015--Exhausted

Exhausted but well. On route in a few hours to Florida. To Forest Trace. I will be here again tomorrow with a discussion about the meaning of life. Yes, that.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

July 7, 2015--The Rabbi

We were about to leave for Anne and Boyce's annual July 4th lobster bake when the phone rang.

Sensing my disinclination to answer it, Rona said, "Pick it up. With everything going on it might be important."

"The caller ID says 'Unknown Caller.' Anything important would be coming from someone we know."

"Oh, answer it. We have time. If we leave now we'll be early."

So I answered it, "Hello. This is Steven Zwerling."

In a booming voice, the caller said, CONGRATULATIONS!"

"Did I win something?" I asked. "Like from Publishers Clearing House or from whoever it was earlier this week who called to say, 'You have been selected for a cruise to the Bahamas'?"

"No, this is Rabbi ____ ."

"Rabbi what?"

"Rabbi ____ . I will be conducting your mother's service on Tuesday."

"Oh," I began to comprehend. My mother came from a traditional background and the family thought she would want a rabbi to preside over her graveside service.

"It will be my honor," he said.

"What a strange way to begin this conversation," I said, settling into a chair.

"I'm not following you," he said.

"The CONGRATULATIONS business. Why are you congratulating me? My mother died three days ago. Are congratulations in order? I mean, she died at 107 and three days. Not anything resembling a tragedy, but still . . ." I trailed off sorry I had answered the phone.

"That's my point," he said.

"Your point being?"

"That you are to be congratulated for having a mother who lived such a long and meaningful life. Actually, she is to be congratulated."

"She did have a very long life and indeed it was meaningful in more ways that I can describe."

"I hope you will try to do that for me."

"Do what?"

"Tell me about her meaningful life so I can talk about that at the service. I won't pretend to have known her but will refer to what you and other members of the family tell me about her. Does that sound all right?"

He was a rabbi after all and I am sure he picked up that I was still not comfortable with the way he began the call and so I said, "I still think you got off to a bad start with me. But of course I am willing to talk with you about her."

"I am deeply sorry if you took it that way. Perhaps I overstated how I was feeling about what I already had come to know about her. I was overcome with joy when I began to learn about your mother. And maybe I was a little envious of you. My mother . . . Well, that's another story  fro another time."

As he was talking, in his own way apologizing for upsetting me, I began to think about what he had already said, as if intuiting the joyousness that I had been secretly feeling.

I had been feeling joy and had not spoken about it out of concern that I would appear to be not caring, not sufficiently sad. Yes, I am sad, how could anyone not be after the loss of a wonderful mother even after so many years. Is it greedy to want more? Yes, I thought, but still I wanted more. Now I am left with memories and feelings. Enough to fill a lifetime, true, even if I am fortunate enough to live as long as she, but greedily I still wanted more. Want more.

"Are you still on the line?" I had lapsed into silence.

"Yes, I'm still here."

"Can we proceed?"

"Of course. It's just that it's taken me a moment to assimilate how you began."

"I understand, The congratulations part."

"Yes. But, you are right. And thank you for helping me to be more honest about the way I am feeling about her death. More important, about her life."

"So, congratulations are in order?"

"Yes, indeed they are. This is all so complicated."

From two years ago

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Monday, July 06, 2015

July 6, 2015--On Route

On route to New York for my mother's funeral. I will return tomorrow with a report about my conversation with the rabbi.

Friday, July 03, 2015

July 3, 2105--My Favorite "Ladies of Forest Trace" Story

As you might imagine, I have been doing a lot of thinking about my mother. She died two days ago at the age of 107 plus three days.

During the past 7 or 8 years I've written more than 50 stories about her and posted them here with the running title, The Ladies of Forest Trace.  I have received comments from people far and wide, mainly strangers, who have written things such as--
Thank you so much for sharing your mother with us all these years. She is a treasure, and will be part of so many people's memories. I am so sad that she will soon be leaving, after all this time. Clearly it is inevitable, but I did begin to wonder if she might be immortal . . . and I guess, in a way, through these stories, she is.
So here, at the end of her amazing life, is my favorite Ladies story from June, 2008--

Henry Cross

When visiting with my mother on Saturday to celebrate her 100th birthday, I did one of those silly things one is inclined to do on such occasions.

Rather than asking her which invention or technological development that occurred during her lifetime was, in her view, most consequential--electric lighting, radio, TV, airplanes, the Internet--instead, I asked what single lesson she learned that she felt was most important in guiding her.

Without missing a beat, she said, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you."

"I totally agree," I said, once again amazed by her mental acuity and what she chose to offer as her guiding principle.

"I think, without your preaching it to me, that by your example, I learned that Golden Rule and hope I also have been at least partially inspired by it."

She smiled at me as if to say, as I hoped she would say, that she feels I for the most part have been a good person.

To test that, I asked if I could tell her a story about something I had never before revealed to her that has been troubling me for more than 60 years. 

She continued to smile at me.

"A few years after I was born, you returned to teaching and needed someone to care of me during the day. You hired Bessie Cross to do that. You remember her, don't you?"

She nodded and said, "Of course I do. She was wonderful. And do you remember she had a son, Henry, who was about two years older than you?"

"Yes. Of course I do. In fact, my story is about him. Henry Cross. And it is relevant to mention that he was black.”

With my heart beating faster, I continued, "One summer because Bessie Cross had to return to South Carolina to take care of her mother, who still lived on a plantation where she and Bessie as a young girl had picked cotton, Henry came to live with us.

"And since at that time I was an only child and our apartment had just two bedrooms, he slept on the daybed in my room. At night, lying side-by-side, we shared stories while waiting for sleep. 

He became like a brother to me. I liked to hear about his family, especially his Aunt Sis and Uncle Homer who tended the coal-fired boiler and steam heat system in the basement of an apartment building not far from our house. They lived in that basement too, and I loved to visit them with Henry. Aunt Sis would make us chocolate milk and pecan cookies that I can to this day still taste. They were that good."

"I remember your bringing some home for me one day. I had them with a cup of tea. They were delicious. Made with love."

"After his mother returned from South Carolina, for years Henry continued to stay with us on weekends and the two of us would join our friends in street games. Since he and I were good athletes we were among the first to be chosen when it came time to choose up sides.

"When we were done playing the whole gang of us would go to one of our mother's houses for milk and cookies. This went on for some years. But then a terrible thing happened."

"What was that darling?"

"What I never told you about." I took a deep breath. "One Saturday, after a punchball game, we were invited to Stanley Shapiro's house for our usual milk and cookies."

"I remember his mother. She was such a nice woman. I wonder if she is still alive."

"Probably not. That was more than 60 years ago.” We sighed together about the effects of time. “Well, all of us, including Henry, walked over to her porch where she had set up a card table with pitchers of cold milk and stacks of oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies.  As we were passing these around, Mrs. Shapiro came over to me and whispered that she had something she needed to tell me.

"'In the house,' she pointed.

"Puzzled, I followed her inside where her 14-year-old daughter Rosalie was hovering. Mrs. Shapiro leaned close to me and said, 'It is of course all right for you to stay. You are always welcome in my house; but your friend,' she hesitated, 'he has to leave.' Protectively, she glanced over at her unhappy-looking daughter."

"That sounds terrible," my mother said.

"That's only half of it," I said. "I went outside again and saw Henry waiting his turn to get a glass of milk. I took him aside and told him what Mrs. Shapiro had said.

"Henry did not look back at me nor did he say a word in response. Rather, he turned and raced down the steps and then along East 56th Street toward Church Avenue."

I heard my mother inhale.

"I never saw him again," I said, tearing up. The memory of that sweltering summer day rushed over me as if it were yesterday.

When I gained control of my emotions, I confessed that I did not follow after him because I chose to stay behind with my neighborhood friends. I had trouble continuing the story.

"Here's what I've wanted to ask you," I managed to say to my mother on her 100th birthday. "If I had asked you later that day what I should have done after what Mrs. Shapiro whispered to me, what would you have said?"

Again without hesitating, this time in her most loving voice, my mother said, "You should have gone with Henry."

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

July 2, 2015--My Mother

My mother died last night. She was comfortable and peaceful at the end of her very long life.

I will return tomorrow with my favorite Ladies of Forest Trace story.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

July 1, 2105--Lady of Forest Trace: Goodbyes

My mother is not very good at goodbyes. Actually, she is exceptional good with them. Long ones. Very long ones.

Here's one example from about five years ago--

Her niece Esther was again hosting a New Years party for family and friends. My mother was of course invited but told Rona and me not to come to pick her up to drive her there because as a 102-year-old she went to bed well before midnight.

When we told this to Esther, in her usual wonderful way, she said, "So let's have an early party. We'll do the countdown at 9:00 and after that you can take her home and she can get to bed at about her usual time."

My mother agreed to this but said, "Don't do this for me. If the young people want to have a party later in the evening I'm fine to stay home."

We assured her that we weren't any longer that young and would be happy not to have to stay up past midnight.

The party was joyous, so joyous that my mother, ignoring the clock and her normal bedtime, stayed on and on. So long, in fact, well past midnight, that Rona and I were wanting to leave so we could get to bed at close to our bedtime.

"Mom," I whispered to her, "It's getting late. Very late. I think you should say goodbye so we can drive you home."

She agreed, but clearly was not entirely happy. She was having that good a time and was full of amazing energy.

I sat down on the sofa, knowing she would not be done saying goodbye for at least a half-hour.

Well, that evening she outdid herself, saying goodbye to those still lingering until 2:00 in the morning!

She now is in the process of saying her final goodbye. It has taken her 107 years to get to it, but we know that she is down to her final days or even hours.

As I said, she is especially good at very, very long goodbyes.

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