Posts Tagged ‘history’

Yesterday was a good day, despite plunging temperatures. Bob and I packed up a bag-lunch and attended a lecture at the Bridge Building about mysterious ruins and tunnels in Nashville. The Cumberland River Compact sponsored the talk by Tony Gonzalez, a journalist who is now working on a podcast called “Curious Nashville” for our local NPR station. Listeners are asked to submit their questions to the podcast team about the city, and then vote on the most interesting idea.  http://nashvillepublicradio.org/programs/curious-nashville-podcast#stream/0

Some people wanted to know what happens if you put the wrong materials in the recycling bin. Other questions concerned “water-witching” and just what Jimi Hendrix was doing during his year of living on Jefferson Street – in our neighborhood! Gonzalez told us that when he teaches a journalism class, he always tells his students to, “…look to a river for story inspiration.” Rivers rarely disappoint. So he jumped at the chance to investigate this question from a record producer:

I’ve heard rumors of a mysterious tunnel system winding beneath downtown Nashville. Is this true?   

There were lots of rumors and theories of course: perhaps the Underground Railway utilized these tunnels; maybe bootleggers came up river to store their wares under Printer’s Alley during Prohibition? With a little urban spelunking mixed with some good, old-fashioned research on http://www.newspapers.com for original documents, Gonzalez led his audience through a twisted tale of 19th and 20th Century  development that saw creeks repurposed as sewage and water-run-off drain pipes.

Sometimes truth is just not as much fun as fiction. I loved living on the Shrewsbury River. Watching the Great Blue Heron fly over our garage for his morning meal. Reading in my car while waiting for a draw bridge to open and close. Hearing the skeet shooters across the tributary at the Rumson Country Club on Sundays. Cleaning Corgi paws of marshy black silt when the tide came in.

And we knew that bootleggers came ashore to deliver their goods to Murphy’s Tavern.

Of course, my question today is why Nashville hasn’t developed its riverfront? Think about New York’s “South Street Seaport,” where Fulton St meets the East River. Then there’s Baltimore, and Boston. By contrast, we have an abandoned slaughterhouse and empty warehouses littering the beautiful Cumberland River. If I had a few million to invest, you bet I’d start buying some of that land. They say a hundred people a day move to Nashville…

I know because every day I hear 2 or 3 explosions that rock the house and send Ms Bean scampering for cover. Right down the block they are building the new TN State Museum and the TN State Library and Archive, demolition has been going on for the past month. Because this part of town sits on a bed of limestone, the blasting reverberates for miles. It’s not unlike the earthquake I felt in VA! In fact, sometimes it feels like we’re living in a war zone.

Yesterday was a “very bad day” for our Mayor Megan Barry. A real-life Scandal has come to life since it was reported she’s been having an affair with her top security guard. In the midst of trying to get a multi-billion dollar mass transport deal through, she will now be investigated by her state prosecutor, who’s name is, I kid you not, District Attorney Glenn Funk! Let’s just hope the Mayor didn’t write off some extra-marital work trips or empty any mini-bars.

I’m not so curious about our Mayor’s love life. And I didn’t watch the SOTU address. Nor do I wish to masticate over what may or may not be in some random “memo” that “might” be released today. There’s flu running rampant in the Bride’s house so we’re keeping our distance because a trip to Great Grandma Ada is up next. I’ll be sure to download Curious Nashville for the plane.

This is a picture of the Lick Creek Tunnel becoming the Lick Branch Sewer in 1895.






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This morning the sun is out and the temperature should be going above freezing. Underneath our coating of snow, crocus are beginning to awaken and cardinals are singing. For the first time, in a long year, I’m feeling hopeful.

Last night Bob and I attended the first in a series of USN Evening Classes. All the proceeds from ticket sales help to sponsor their need-based scholarships. First night always features a celebrity lecture, and this year did not disappoint with a third grader’s dad on the ticket. I’ve heard Jon Meacham speak before at Monticello, so I was looking forward to his insight on the state of this so-called presidency.

“We’re still here!” Meacham exclaimed, to the room of muffled laughs.

This Pulitzer Prize winner and presidential biographer went on, without notes mind you,  to remind us of his love for Andrew Jackson, “I like genocidal maniacs with a heart of gold.” More tentative laughter… Meacham dismisses Mr T’s comparison to Jackson, a fabrication of Bannon’s doing, telling us he is a simple “real estate impresario.” However, we must not dismiss his followers.

In May of 2016 he interviewed candidate Trump in his tower. Meacham arrived early and was standing alone in the huge gilded lobby on Fifth Avenue, when a family of four came through the door. They were tourists, all-middle-American folks. The young boy looked up at his dad and said, “Do you think he comes through this same door?” That beatific look of wonder, as if they were visiting a holy place, was the reason he was elected.

Mr T, like a carnival barker, managed to sell his “MAGA” movement to the forgotten middle class of the rust belt. For a family of four to live a normal middle class life in our country, they must earn at least $130,000 a year. Meacham told us that would allow them the minimum benefits of owning a home and a car and taking one vacation a year. However, the median middle class income for that same family today is around $55,000 – and the reason Mr T won lies in the difference.

Trump offered his followers the American Dream, the “Right to Rise,” as Lincoln said. Only his nationalism is a leftover from our post-WWII prosperity, with women in the kitchen and people of color knowing their “place,” and his tactics are closing our country’s borders figuratively and literally. That last part is my opinion, and part of the reason I’m marching with women on Saturday. Again.

The rest of Meacham’s speech was filled with enlightening, little-known anecdotes to illustrate his Four Characteristics of a Successful President:

  1. Curiosity – Jefferson’s insatiable intelligence
  2. Humility – JFK reaching out to Eisenhower during the Cuban missile crisis
  3. Candor – Churchill reported all the facts, he was a straight shooter
  4. Empathy – Poppy Bush, Gorbachev and the Berlin Wall

Meacham ended by reading a poignant letter that George HW Bush had sent to his mother about the loss of his three year old daughter, Robin, to leukemia. “If you want to know someone’s heart, you have to break it.”

I walked away last night wanting to read “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.”  My step, on the icy parking lot last night, wasn’t hesitant; it was as light as a feather, and my heart was full. The voter registration forms I left in our local coffee shop are almost gone.




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I grew up on Phil Donohue, watching my foster mom, Nell, hang on every word that came out of his mouth. She was a first generation American, who never learned how to drive and didn’t work outside the home because her husband asked her not to, politely. I would come home from school, tear off my Catholic school uniform and put on “play clothes” to join her on the couch, before tearing off into the neighborhood on my bike.

Yes, I was a tomboy, and proud of it!

We had a linoleum kitchen floor in our four room (not bedroom mind you), four room house in Victory Gardens. There’s a black and white picture of toddler me in a droopy diaper hiding in a space between the stove and the refrigerator, presumably during hide ‘n seek. We came from humble roots, coal mining families on Daddy Jim’s side and Slovakian dissidents from Nell’s; I knew they passed money to the mailman to fund the IRA.

My kids grew up on Oprah! So when I listened to her speech at the Golden Globes the other night, I knew something was afoot. She started off with a memory – sitting on her linoleum floor… “In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee, watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: ‘The winner is Sidney Poitier.”

This is known as the Hook, the catch phrase memory of “humble roots” for every stump speech of every candidate running for any political office in our great land. See, I’m just like you, even though they’ve amassed tons of wealth, they started out with nothing, less than nothing…

I was recently talking with my sister Kay and our brother Dr Jim on a conference call, and listened as Jim recounted how he would go out with our late brother Mike on Christmas Eve to pick the prettiest Christmas tree. Because they were almost giving them away for a nickle. Because the Flapper was so poor.

“Did you also have to dumpster dive for food?” I asked him.

They laughed and said no, we hadn’t been that poor. The Flapper made it through the Great Depression and taught us never to leave a light on in a room. And after four years in the darkness (if he lasts that long), with this semi-literate, entitled, bone-headed purported billionaire in the People’s House, I’m willing to bet the pendulum just might swing back – way back toward the sunshine. With enough luck and organizing, we “might could” nominate a black woman, one who shines from within, for the White House! Yes Oprah, preach Oprah PREACH!!

And in the midst of a sea of black designer gowns that nobody wanted to talk about, she said this:

“Recy Taylor died 10 days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived, as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. And for too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.”

Oprah brought this sad, compelling story about a gang rape of an innocent black woman in the Jim Crow South of 1944 to light. I felt my eyes filling with tears even as I registered that this sounds like a woman ready to run for office. She brought us the personal story, the anecdote about injustice, that made me remember why I was a Democrat in the first place. All the while we know that Oprah had been raped as a child, we know her story, and we know all those #MeToo stories that have been circulating about the abuse of power by powerful men.

And all I can think is that their Time is UP! They are fired! We have our very own reality TV star in the wings and she is fired up and ready to go. It’s as if a storm has swept through our country and we can now smell the beginning of new air. It’s the sun after a hurricane. We must fight against voter suppression, we must fight for basic human rights and one-payer healthcare. This is the time to take our country back! Please Oprah, I hope you will run. There’s “A new day on the horizon.”

Here is Bob with Berdelle, our 91 year old neighbor, at the TN State House today because you’re never too old to be a revolutionary!




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In Nelson County, VA, no one wanted a pipeline going through their property. And when surveyors found the remains of an African American slave cemetery would be in the path of a proposed 554-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, to the tune of 5 Billion dollars, let’s just say things heated up at the local Planning Board.

“It is among at least four known African-American cemeteries in the area of Union Hill, an African-American settlement that is now in the path of a 42-inch natural gas pipeline that is proposed to sweep through Nelson from the Blue Ridge Mountains across the James into Buckingham County.

“This is the heart of the African-American community,” Rev James L Rose said. “It runs right through it.”

I’ve always been intrigued by metaphorical and physical lines. Iraq was invaded because we thought they had crossed President Bush’s WMD line; President Obama drew his line in Syria with chemical weapons, but didn’t follow through. We all draw our own personal lines in the sand of time – for instance, I will (or will never) get a tattoo!

But let’s get back to land lines. In the last eight years I’ve been crossing the Mason Dixon Line, traveling between VA and TN. I never really gave it much thought, in fact I used to think it was nothing more than an idea. A leftover relic of the Civil War, like the plaques and memorials that litter the South. But I’ve discovered that it is an actual boundary line that was drawn 250 years ago, pre-Revolutionary War, by two Brits, named surprisingly enough, Mason and Dixon!

And of course it was drawn to settle a land dispute between two families.

“For 80 years the Calvert family of Maryland and the Penns of Pennsylvania had been locked in a bloody dispute over the boundary between the two colonies they had been granted by the English Crown.“The stakes were very high,” said Mr Thaler, trustee of the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore and an expert on the Mason-Dixon project.“There was about 4,000 sq miles of territory that was in dispute and nobody knew who to pay taxes to. Warfare regularly broke out along the border.”

Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were sons of a baker and a miner respectively who had immigrated to the new colony to make their fortune. They first collaborated on a Transit of Venus map in 1761. For this adventure, they dragged exceptional, state-of-the-art instruments through the wilderness for 5 years between Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. One scientist has called it the “moon landing” of that time period. Its accuracy was astounding and continues to be relevant, the very first geodetic survey in the New World!

During the Civil War, the Mason Dixon Line symbolized the border between free and slave-holding states. An outstanding engineering achievement for its day, the line came to represent a mortal wound in our country’s history. Did I feel any different after crossing that PA line in my CRV listening to This American Life podcasts? Not really.

While most of us are preparing a potato salad for a Labor Day picnic, I’m planning on Nanasitting the baby boy so his big sister can accompany the Bride delivering donuts to the Groom. He is on call in the MICU. Hospitals never close for holidays, and I guess neither does the United Nations.

This morning I just listened to Nikki Haley address the UN Security Council. She said that North Korea was “…begging for war.” I am praying Mr T’s line in the sand is permeable.



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Morning grammar nerds! And you know who you are. I must admit I no longer watch “Presidential” press conferences, but I just couldn’t resist Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of Sean Spicer, and so I occasionally tune-in just to see what nonsense the White House is dishing up today; or, as I like to ask Bob over my first cup of coffee, “Damage report?”

Well bless his heart, yesterday poor Sean was trying to soften Mr T’s words on Twitter yet again, by placing his fingers up and gesturing “air quotes” around the word “wiretapping.” In other words, the middle school bullies really are running the show up on the Hill.

Everyone knows air quotes when they see them: the middle and forefingers of each hand wiggling to resemble quotation marks. Often accompanied by a spoken “quote-unquote,” they’re typically used to mock or disown the phrase they surround. They mean something “is ‘so-called,’” rather than real, the late William Safire, the great scholar of political language, once wrote. They cast “aspersion on the word or phrase that follows,” he said. “A sneer is built in.”             https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/03/14/an-investigation-of-air-quotes-mostly-used-to-discredit-the-other-sides-words-not-your-own-as-per-sean-spicer/?utm_term=.fe463b8a7442

And the funny thing is, even the Urban Dictionary knows that air quotes are so… one whole generation ago. “Used ad nauseam by ‘pretentious’ and ostensibly ‘intelligent’ university students, to advertise their ‘superior morals’ and ‘erudition’.” It’s like the thumbs-up sign, only worse, because air quotes exude privilege. They were (past tense) a preppy way to discredit those plebes beneath them, not in the way Sean tried to use them discrediting his boss’ words.

They belong to the 60s, where they should have stayed, along with Kellyanne’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band jacket. http://mentalfloss.com/article/80939/11-facts-about-sgt-peppers-lonely-hearts-club-band

“Walking back” their boss’ Tweets seems to be a full time job on the Hill. But trying to soften Mr T’s attack on President Obama is yet another distraction. Let’s NOT discuss special prosecutors and Russia’s “involvement” in our election. Instead, like a child, Mr T turns responsibility away from himself, to shift blame on his predecessor for “wiretapping” Trump Tower. Only now, he only meant general surveillance, like spying “microwaves.” Darn, it’s hard not to use real quotes when writing about this stuff!

I wonder if Mr T went to his grandchildrens’ Temple for Purim this past weekend? Maybe that’s why his Twitter fingers went quiet, after all the “wiretapping” and microwave memes the media consumed during the week. Ivanka’s children are 5, 3 and almost 1. These are perfect ages for Purim celebrations; my Nashville grandchildren had a blast dressing up like super heroes and attending a carnival at their Temple.

Purim is a feminist’s delight because it’s about a Jewish woman who kills an enemy of the Jewish people. Esther is one of many Persian queens, but she, like Moses, was adopted and was actually Jewish. Think about this for a second. Does Christianity have a holiday dedicated to a woman? As a child, I remember having lots of saints days named after women, celebrating martyrdom…not exactly the same. Esther had balls, she had chutzpah! We had the Annunciation, i.e. a fourteen year old girl is visited by an angel and told she will have a Virgin Birth…

Coming out of years spent celebrating Mass in Latin, I was happy to enter a Temple and make lots of noise at Purim. In fact, Purim was so much fun – mohn cookies shaped like Haman hats, dressing up like Halloween or Carnevale, and laughing and playing in the Temple – I’m pretty sure that it’s what sold me on Judaism.

But the irony of my grandchildren celebrating in a building that had to be evacuated because of bomb threats since this last election is not lost on me. The paradox of a holiday marking Jewish survival during the week another attempt at a Muslim travel ban was enacted is surreal. Putting air quotes around the words of our Commander in Chief is yet another small cut in the slicing up of our democracy.

Our President is being sarcastic; he doesn’t really mean what he says; that was just locker room banter; it’s “alternative facts.”

I believe we deserve a President who doesn’t need minions to explain his rhetorical Tweeting voice, and a Presidential Press Briefing, without air quotes. The American people don’t need to watch the “built-in sneer” from an Oval Office devoid of compassion. In fact, Andrea Mitchell is a modern day Esther, insisting on answers at press “briefings,” refusing to be escorted from a room. Maybe a pair of parentheses would help us clarify Mr T’s meaning, his intent. Instead of charging President Obama with a felony, he would be revealed in all his paranoia.

(sometimes, alone at Trump Tower, I felt like I was being watched). My tower study (an aviary that functions as my refuge), was warm and inviting this (freezing cold) morning. Here is the view of the (snowy Blue Ridge) mountains. Only hawks watch me write. IMG_0183






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Now that Bob has retired, we’ve decided it’s time to finally find our dream beach house. Someplace for family reunions, holidays, and maybe even an investment opportunity on AirBnB or VRBO from time to time. The only problem is, what beach?

Of course the island we love is not affordable. So that leaves us with a few options: Outer Banks, too cold; Florida, too predictable (sorry Floridians); Texas Panhandle, nah. Working our way across country, we really loved California, so maybe? But then Hawaii comes to mind.

I was listening to an ER doc from Hawaii on NPR yesterday, he was talking about a new Bill he introduced on the floor of the senate; Josh Green, MD also happens to be a state legislator. After years of practicing Emergency Medicine he said he and his colleagues know by name the homeless people who frequent his ER, and he knows that they suffer from chronic medical conditions that would benefit from simply being off the street. So he proposed a Bill that would give docs the right to prescribe six months of housing, to be supervised by case workers. Treat homelessness as a medical condition. An unusual, intriguing and not a half-bad idea!

A small number of homeless people require a disproportionate amount of medical treatment. According to Green, a recent internal study by a major Hawaiian insurer found that over half of the state’s $2bn Medicaid allotment was consumed by a tiny fraction of users, many of whom are dealing with homelessness, mental illness and substance addiction.

Yet research suggests that healthcare spending for those who have been homeless for long periods and struggle with mental illness and addictions falls by 43% after they have been housed and provided with supportive services. Green said many of the individuals he hopes to house cost the healthcare system an average of $120,000 annually, yet the annual cost to house an individual is $18,000. He thinks that the total savings to the state could be hundreds of millions of dollars a year.  https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/28/hawaii-homeless-housing-bill-healthcare-costs

Surprisingly, just a few days ago, I reconnected with an old friend, a woman who used to be an administrator in Bob’s first ER. After telling me that “Bob and retirement” are two words she never thought she’d hear in the same sentence, she also mentioned that retirement in Hawaii was something she and her husband were thinking about…and for my third coincidental island musing, Hawaii is the first state to file suit against’s Trump’s new “Travel Ban.” Aloha and Mahalo!

For these islanders, the memory of rounding up Japanese citizens after Pearl Harbor is still very real! http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39215990

Now I’ve never been to Hawaii, and I hear that each island is different. Maybe it’s time we scheduled a little trip to the Big Island, or one of the medium-sized ones? Of course, our retirement plans may fall apart depending on what the Republicans do to the ACC, and Mr T does to the global economy.

Meanwhile back at home, we’ve been planting some perennials, practicing Hygge, and dreaming of our Purim Princess Warrior!     IMG_0166



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The photographs I have left of my Father, who died when I was a baby, are in black and white. As are my baby pictures, stuffed into a bag in an album that has lost its binding. The Flapper gave me to her friends, my foster parents, after her automobile accident because her only other choice would have been an orphanage. My sister Kay was already taking care of my two brothers, and they had to go back to school, so who else would take care of me?

Nell only had one child, and her daughter was in nursing school when I arrived in Victory Gardens after the War in 1949. And so I was raised by a grandmother figure, as Nell was already in her 50s. And she catalogued my childhood lovingly, pasting black and white pictures with tiny black paper edges onto every page. Only my memories conjure up the white and pink explosion of the dogwood tree outside our kitchen window, the red and white tile in the one bathroom, the green grass under my feet with the white sheets billowing above.

Our TV was in black and white, and after school I would walk home from the bus in my maroon plaid Sacred Heart School uniform, to catch Nell watching Art Linkletter on Kids Say the Darndest Things. A small piano stood in a corner with brass feet and hard white teeth. Our first dog was black and brown, I remember sitting on Daddy Jim’s feet while he read the black and white newspaper, and smoked his pipe after work. I would lean back on his knees and stroke the dog’s fur, listening to his critique of the day’s news. Maybe this is when I thought I might have something to say about world events? clr-on-tricycle-20170127

When we view history through a black and white lens, we lose something of the nuance. The tone is off, and it becomes harder to relate to something that happened so long ago. It creates the distance we need to survive certain tragedies, like my Year of Living Dangerously – my psychologist brother Jim’s description of 1949. Which is why finding this photographer, Marina Amaral, is like finding a jewel in the coal dustbin of time.

Amaral’s passion is restoring and colorizing old black and white pictures. And I found a picture she posted online of a child, a Czechoslovakian girl who was the same age as my sister Kay in 1949, when she died at Auschwitz in 1943. Her name was Czeslawa Kwoka; and I remembered Nell’s given name was Kosty, which was probably changed at Ellis Island. On Amaral’s webpage, you can move a line back and forth over the child’s face, and bring color to her cheeks and blood to the cut on her lip.

“Color has the power to bring life back to the most important moments,” http://www.marinamaral.com

Today more than ever, on Holocaust Memorial Day, we must remember that the Holocaust started with the rhetoric of hate, and the silence and indifference of the rest of Europe and America. And we must vow to resist in any way we can, and we must say her name, Czeslawa Kwoka.

Photograph courtesy of Marina Amaral.


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