Sisters

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Last week there was a day designated as “Sister’s Day”. I started thinking about the relationship between Sisters, and how I grew up always wishing I had one. I felt somehow slighted by not having that special connection that I saw in female siblings, and it was a wish that I cultivated in my heart.

Then there came that wonderful day in June of 1971, when I arrived in Los Angeles to meet my future in-laws for the first time. There she was: my Sister-in-law, sixteen-year-old Judy. (The picture above shows us that week, bonding as newly minted sisters-to-be.) She was smart, funny, beautiful, and kind. Having two brothers, she had always wanted a Sister, too. We were meant for each other.

I loved Judy from the first moment we met, and my affection for her has increased steadily over the past forty-five years. She has been family to me always, even though my marriage to her brother did not last too long. She has provided me with so much joy by marrying a fabulous man, my Brother-in-law Matt, whom I also adore. She has further enriched my life by allowing me to be an Aunt to my incredible niece, Tova, and my spectacular nephew, Jared. Although we live a Continent apart, and rarely see one another, I have always felt connected to my little baby Sister, and her wonderful family. Love does that.

As I pursued this line of Sister thinking, I realized that many of my close female friends are like Sisters to me. They have taken me into their hearts and homes,  have been in my corner through all my travails,  and have rooted me on to my successes. I could not ask for more from a genetically related Sister.

When I need a reality check for my behavior, or have to bitch about the number of morons I have recently encountered,  there is Donna Deluxe. She is the astute  and incisive psychoanalyst for whose constant services I have not had to pay. She knows all my stories and gets all my inside jokes. Close as any Sister could be.

If I have a moral question, or wonder if I am headed the wrong way, or need to talk about being a single Mom to a daughter, there is Gail. My brilliant, successful Maid of Honor, and College pal. We’ve travelled somewhat parallel paths, and always pick up the conversation where we last left off. Sisters, for sure.

When I need to reminisce and laugh about the foibles of my youth, there is Cynthia. She, who put up with me as a College roommate for several years, knows me very well. My snoring. My obsessiveness. My heartbreaks. Talented, creative, smart, consistent, and steady: this is a Sister who has shared so much with me, and continues to encourage all my efforts.

I realize I have other Sisters for other reasons and seasons. Cate is always there as a shrewd common sense touchstone. Marg is there for making sure I don’t take myself too seriously. Marianne is loving and kind, and always excited about my new ideas. Judy C. is there for thoughtful, pragmatic advice, and to make sure I see both sides of the issues. Lisette is there to carefully review the facts and make a plan of attack. Kim is there to inspire my inward search and heal me with her wisdom. All these clever, intelligent, and compassionate Women help me by being great listeners and giving of their time and energy.

So, I got really lucky. Fate didn’t give me just one or two Sisters: I have a Sisterhood. They support me, restore me, share with me, and set me straight. They know who I am, and accept my flaws, neuroses, and crazy schemes. Love does that.

Cool

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What’s Cool? I have been wondering about this topic for a while. The current culture of immediate gratification and acceptable mediocrity in SO many areas makes it hard for me to find something/someone who is actually Cool.

A few decades ago, before the Internet, Smart Phones, and Tweeting, there was, obviously, such a different delivery system of information and imagery. Books, live performances, films shown in Movie Theaters, and Television brought us our celebrities. The difference back then was that in order to really be famous, you actually had to have some recognizable talent, skill, or training, and then you had to excel at it to rise above others in your chosen field. Not so much today.

But this is not about bashing the Trumps and Kardashians and Lady Gagas of the world; that would take more paragraphs than I  have time for now. This is about COOL. What defines it? Who has that elusive quality?

Above is a photo of the Actor, Steve McQueen. In my opinion, and that of many others, he embodied COOL. He walked it, talked it, laughed it, and performed it. Whether he was riding a motorcycle to escape Nazis in “The Great Escape”, or romancing Insurance Investigator Faye Dunaway in “The Thomas Crown Affair”, Steve McQueen was undeniably COOL. I have seen almost all of his movies several times, and there is hardly anyone who can compare to his level of nuanced “I’m-so-relaxed-in-this-situation-I-could-almost- nap”COOL.

So, who else had it? Frank, Sammy, and Dean had it. Gene Kelly had it. Lauren Bacall and Bogie both had it, as did  Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Johnny Carson exuded it.Paul Newman was VERY COOL, and his good friend, Robert Redford still is.

In the world of political figures, I think JFK was an example of COOL. Nixon, not so much. I think Joe Biden and his pal, Barack, are pretty cool dudes. They don’t seem to come unglued easily, and they keep their sense of humor. Tough stuff these days.

One of my friends suggested that George Clooney is COOL. Yeah, I like George and his commitment to use his celebrity to bring awareness to important causes. And being arm candy for Amal makes him even cooler.

When I was in high school and college, it was the 1960’s. We got to listen to and dissect the words of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, The Stones, and so many other musical poets. What were they saying? What did those lyrics mean? What were the references? We felt COOL if we understood the artist’s intention; it was like being allowed to sit at the COOL table.

Clothing had a significance then, too. It was COOL to wear bell bottoms, wire-rimmed glasses, army jackets,  Frye or Flagg Brothers boots, Peace T shirts, beads, and head bands.Remember going to the local Army-Navy store to shop for COOL?

I have tried hard to come up with people who are COOL today. Here is my list: Malala Yousefzai, Lin-Manuel Miranda,  Morgan Freeman, Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda, and my favorite Weatherman-Al Roker. Different styles, and different reasons, but they all qualify.

It’s not important. It’s not life altering. It’s probably very subjective. What we value, and how hip we wish we were, determine our choices, I guess.

Put on some tie-dye and let your freak flag fly today. Cool.

 

 

Chet Huntley and David Brinkley

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There has been such a succession of news cycles with astounding violence and terror in the past couple years. It’s enough to make a former Journalism major and news junkie stop watching and listening just to get through the day. I find myself, overly empathic being that I am, stunned, shocked, revolted, disgusted, and terrified lately. This repetitive overload of horror leads me to wonder how we go forward each day without seriously spinning out of control and giving up all hope of ever leading “normal” lives again. Some of us cannot, and some of us will not. Some of us will slip into deepening depression, hide from the world,  and self-medicate more with our drugs of choice. Conversely, some of us will find the way to seek beauty, creativity, and love in everything we can, as a counterbalance for the awful and negative that predominates the headlines.

I have been wondering why I am able to avoid madness and Keep Hope Alive. Perhaps one of the reasons is the way I was raised, and the people who raised me. I don’t know if it is Nature (my DNA) or Nurture (my parents), but something has sustained me and continues to keep me moving forward.

My Father, Bronson David Beardsley, was a complicated, intelligent, neurotic, and hilarious human being. Did I hear someone say something about the apple not falling far? Anyway, from my earliest memories, I can recall him being there in the Dad way. He taught me to swim, to ice skate, to be cautious, and to follow through. He told a million jokes, and I learned how to entertain. He played his records on the Hi-Fi, and sang along with Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and  Sammy Davis, Jr., and I fell in love with Music. He encouraged me to play piano, and I  learned to play. He helped me learn to read by reading to me, and I devoured books before I attended the First Grade. We used to watch the Huntley-Brinkley report together in the 1960’s, and I became aware that being informed was important, and being able to discuss politics, world news events, and cultural events,  was required. At bedtime, we often did a special greeting to one another; since my Dad’s middle name was David, he became Brinkley, and I was Huntley. “Good Night, Chet”, he would say from his bedroom on the other side of my wall;”Good Night, David”, I would reply.

I always knew that my Dad would have my back. As I grew up, and we had many differences of opinion, I still,somewhere in the recesses of my mind, believed that when push came to shove, he would show up for me.

I remember being a Freshman at Boston University, and having a gum infection. I was given penicillin at the Infirmary, and was alone in my dorm room for a few days. I started breaking out in a rash that itched like I was tied to an anthill.  Raised welts started to completely cover my body, until I looked like I had some new version of Elephantiasis. I phoned home. When I described what was going on, my Father said”I’ll be right there”.  Now, Portland, Maine is about a two hour drive from Boston if you encounter  smooth sailing, no construction, and no traffic jams of any sort. My Dad arrived at my room in  about 90 minutes. He whisked my now enormous puffy body into his car, and drove back  (at top speed) directly to our Doctor’s office in South Portland. Dr. Paul Rieger diagnosed me immediately with a severe allergic reaction and I was treated with the proper antidote. I recovered at home in a couple days.

During my College years, the differences were more visible. I was as staunchly Left Wing as he was Republican. I was protesting the war that his President was waging. I was a vegetarian from the age of 19, and he was a carnivore. I joined Greenpeace, Amnesty International, the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund, and lots of other ecological organizations. Dad was in the local Kiwanis, the Shriners, and involved in teaching and coaching hockey. Ideologically, we went our separate ways as I became an adult.

When I married and moved to San Francisco, Dad and Mom came to visit. Two decades later when I married for the second time, and moved to Homer, Alaska, Dad came to visit.When I became a professional singer and performed in local bands in Portland, Dad came to gigs. When I opened several gift shops and made my living as a retailer, Dad came to check out my shops. He might have disagreed with all my choices, personal and professional, but he did show up to see what I was doing, and to have a basis on which to form his opinions.

My Father had strong convictions and he was usually immoveable. Right or wrong, you knew where he stood. Here are several things I  learned from him that have been very important to me over the years: 1. Your Word is your Bond.2. You better be able to support yourself in this world, as it might be that no one else will. 3. Having good friends is essential. 4. Clean up your messes. 5. Give something back to the community.

Dad found it hard to express sentiment and emotion. Like most men of his generation, those things were frowned upon and mostly suppressed. But, in the end he was able to always tell me he loved me and was proud of me.

These days I think that all those lessons I learned from my Father long ago taught me some other things. I learned that much was expected of me, and that was all right. I learned that having strong beliefs and knowing yourself well could propel you forward. I learned, too, that someone having your back gives you a kind of self-esteem that not everyone owns.

I’m not sure, but I think the influence of these ingrained precepts helps me every day. The instruction from a tough-love Yankee Father made me strong, independent, and confident.

So, Dad, you were right. You were right about me not going to Woodstock. I cried and despised you for not allowing me to go with my friends, but you were right. I would have hated the rain, the mud, and no bathrooms! And you were right when I cried about a young man who dumped me after a three month love affair; you said “Flash in the pan, huh?”, and I thought you were unfeeling and heartless. But, you were right again. I was infatuated, and it would never have worked.

The photograph above was taken in late Summer, 1970. I was 19 years old, and had just returned from my first trip to California, tanned and exuberant. We were sitting on my Dad’s cabin cruiser boat after a day on the ocean. That was a good day.

If you were here tonight, we would watch the evening news together, and you would shake your head at the mess in which we find ourselves today. But we would have an intelligent discussion about all of it, and find a joke in it somewhere.

“Good Night, David.”

 

 

Rick Cohen

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I met Rick Cohen in Russian class at Boston University in September of 1968. He was funny, terribly intelligent, and always willing to help others. I liked him immediately.

As we got to know each other, Rick introduced me and my roommate, Cynthia, to a large group of his friends; he was a local kid from Winthrop, and he knew his way around the City. Through Rick, we were invited to parties at Harvard, to hang out at his apartment, and  to take the occasional road trip.

Above is a  June, 1969 photo of Rick and another of our friends, Tom Pannesi, loading beer into the car on the way to Pennsylvania. We were making a trip to the Poconos, where Cynthia’s family had a Summer home, to visit for a few days. We had stopped in New York for lunch and, apparently, to stock up on liquid refreshments. I remember it was a scorching hot Summer day, and the part of the New York Thruway we travelled was bumper to bumper traffic. We had no air conditioner in the car, so we were pretty hot and thirsty by the time we reached a restaurant. After burgers, and a pitcher of beer consumed quickly, things started looking up. With windows rolled down, we headed back to the highway on a side road above the Thruway. After several minutes, Tom and I looked at the road below and realized what was happening. We both shouted” Rick, we’re going the wrong way!” Rick laughed, and shouted back “Yeah, but we’re making great time!”. I laughed until my sides hurt.

During the following year there was a lot of turmoil on campus. Those of us who were protesting the Viet Nam War were involved in marches, rallies, and strikes. Through all of this time, Rick was my solid g0-to person for information, support, and to check where I stood on issues. He and I were always aligned in our politics and sympathies. We marched, protested, and worked together on what we believed was critically important. When nothing made sense, we had to talk it out and find our ground ; if we were to go forward with what we saw as our essential conscience intact, we had to find Reason. Rick was always a source of Reason and stability. His mind was that sharp, and his sensibilities that strong.

In the Spring of 1970,  Rick and I, along with 120 others, were living in the “Strike Dorm” after Kent State’s tragic events. It was a grueling, exhausting time, and we decided to take a break. We needed a couple days away from all the intense negotiations, information overload, and general chaos of the dorm. With five or six others, we headed for Portland to visit my family for a couple days; we thought hanging out by the ocean would clear our heads and soothe our spirits enough to enable us to continue the work we were doing.

We had barely arrived when a close friend of mine, Mike Schwartz, came to see me. He was involved on his campus with efforts to pull together some timely response to the strike events, and asked us to come and speak to a group of U. Maine students. I remember Rick looking at me with a grin, and reading his mind. Of course  we would go. Of course we would speak to them. I don’t remember what we said; I don’t know if we helped them or made a difference. All I remember is the kind of commitment that Rick had, and the generosity of his spirit.

The following Winter, Rick and I became flat mates in a three bedroom apartment with another female friend, Leni Goldman. We used to joke about our names on the small metal mailbox in the front of the building: Cohen, Goldman, and Beardsley. We thought it sounded like a law firm. The apartment was typical of the student ghetto area, complete with broken appliances and more cock roaches than you could ever count. But Rick was a good roommate; he was responsible, helpful , and tolerant. There were many nights filled with great music (Rick had a passion for Jeff Beck and the  Airplane), laughter, lots of friends, and food.

I got married the following year, moved to California, and eventually lost contact with Rick. I found him, decades later, with the help of the Internet. He was writing and working in Washington when I called him. We chatted for a while, and caught up with the larger details of lives that have been distanced by time and space. He seemed deeply involved with his work and generally happy with his life. I was glad to know things had gone well for my old pal, and that he remained the highly principled and intensely committed man he had always been.

I just found out that Rick passed away last Fall. The flood of memories was somewhat overwhelming, as I continued to think of those long ago days. I know that sometimes nostalgia plays a part in our perceptions of our youthful trials and tribulations. I know that sometimes we can romanticize times, places, and people when we look back. But I know this: Rick Cohen was a man who stood up for his beliefs, and never backed down. He was a good friend. Rick was someone you wanted in your corner. I was lucky he was in mine.

Summer Morning

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Two of the loveliest words in the English language: Summer Morning.

When I awoke this morning the sun was shining, and there was a slight breeze from the West. Teddy and I ventured out early, before the heat of the day set in, and went for our walk around the neighborhood. It is a quiet place, since our street is a dead end one, and there is little traffic during even normal working hours. When we go for a walk, we rarely encounter any people, and that is the way we like it.

We do, however, meet and greet other neighbors. Just down the hill next to the stream we find the Mallard family: all seven of the babies we have been watching grow this Spring are relaxing on the bank of Messalonskee Stream. Mom, Dad, Aunts, and Uncles  are there enjoying the peace of this morning, and watching the young ones.

Several squirrels dash across the street ahead of us. They are as busy early in the day as they are later; there seems to be no rest for our bushy-tailed friends. Teddy acknowledges them and moves on.

I am acutely aware of the morning air. As I inhale it deeply, I can feel its coolness filling me, and it is refreshing and comforting. There is no humidity or smog or smoke or dust: I am so fortunate to be breathing this air as I walk.

The sun is just starting to warm things up. Flowers are tilting their heads and leaves are turning skyward with the help of the breeze. Teddy is sniffing every blade of grass, every dandelion, every pebble he finds. There is so much information for dogs to read in the bits of nature we take for granted. For them,( with their sense of smell that is reportedly 500 times more powerful than our noses) this is the Sunday New York Times. Teddy is an avid reader!

There is a lot of noise and drama and dysfunction and hatred and anger and sadness and greed and terror in this world. But, this morning, for Teddy and me, there is just the cornflower blue sky, the gentle breeze, and the calm of the stream as it rolls along. We are very, very lucky to have this Summer Morning.

Sorrow

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Sorrow is a peculiar thing. It comes and goes. It recedes from your consciousness long enough for you to believe it has packed its lonely bags and left town. Then, on a bright Summery morning, you open a door, and there it is again: full force, barging into your life with all its baggage.

Perhaps not all humans know the sadness I feel now. Perhaps only those who have ever loved a dog, another animal, or a human being know the sadness of losing the loved one. Maybe there are people who have never loved anyone. But those people are the saddest of all, because it means they have never experienced true joy, either. Dr. C.M. Parkes once said:” The pain of Grief is as much a part of life as the joy of love; it is perhaps the price we pay for love; the cost of commitment.”

Today I am grieving. I miss my Dog. I want to see Misha walking around the back yard that I see from my desk. The empty yard that holds nothing for me.

I want to smell his fur as I burrow my face in it. I want to rub his velvet-soft ears. I want to get a quick appreciative lick on the face. I want to “high five” him and feel his huge paw press into my hand as he awaits a biscuit.

I received a phone call from the Animal Hospital. They informed me that Misha’s ashes are ready to be picked up. So, I will go and bring home the container. The earthly remains of my sweet Boy.

Sorrow is individual. Some people hide it in a  closet. Some people lock it up and pretend it isn’t there. As it bangs and yells and struggles to get out, they put larger ear plugs in and bigger blinders on. They won’t allow it entrance. Some people try to ignore it forever.And some people welcome it into their parlor, give it sustenance, and unpack its bags. They allow it to stay as long as it wants. However it is treated, Sorrow almost always finds a way into the minds and hearts it seeks.

Sorrow has found me. I am caught in its terrible embrace. It is a most unwelcome guest, and I know that I am responsible for sending out the invitation long ago. The commitment  of loving put the stamp on that invitation. I have no choice but to be the hostess until its awful stay is over. Sorrow is a peculiar thing.

 

The Siberian

101_9731        It was Autumn, 2004. We were living in Sanibel, Florida, and had just come through one of the worst Hurricane Seasons on record. I was working as a Realtor at VIP Realty, where I had made friends with Diane Barr, a wonderful woman who loved animals as I do. Diane had attended a fund raiser event where lots of local animal charities exhibited. She came back to the office excited about the variety of charities, and told me that I simply must check out the website of the Siberian Husky Rescue of Florida. Who knew such a group even existed? Anyway, after much cajoling, Diane convinced me to at least take a look. I maintained that we would not be getting another dog at this time. I had solid reasons why that made good sense. I had no intention of adopting a Siberian, after the six I had previously owned. I was resolute.

Then I saw his face. There he was on the website in all his Black and White glory with those huge brown eyes. It was all over. My resistance melted away instantly.

I called the Rescue Group and the next thing I knew I was being interviewed by a member of the Siberian Husky Rescue of Florida in my own home. They were quite thorough, as they wanted to be sure the potential adoptive parents were aware of the requirements of (and I use this term loosely) “owning” a Siberian. Once I told them that this would be my SEVENTH Husky, things went much more smoothly. Soon we were given an address in St. Petersburg, Florida, where our new Husky boy was being cared for by foster parents. We drove to St. Petersburg on December 21, 2004, and found the address given to be a small house in a quiet neighborhood. When we entered the house, the kind foster Mom led us to the kitchen, where our Boy and another Husky Girl were waiting. Our new fellow, whom I had decided to name Mikhail Tretiakoff Beardsley, aka “Misha”, bounded across the tiny kitchen at my friend, Richie, who leaped aside in fear. This was a large Husky…about 1 and 1/2 times the size of a standard of the breed. Richie soon found himself being licked and hugged, by this sweet guy, so his fears were assuaged.

We loaded Misha into the car, which was a Volvo Station Wagon, and put him in the back cargo area behind my daughter Caroline, who was sitting in the back seat. The cargo area had a strong woven mesh net that you could lock onto the sides of the car to keep everything in the rear  from moving forward. Misha found the side where there was a several inch  opening; this was just wide enough to slip one’s hand through. Somehow, this 76 pound dog was able to squeeze himself through this small opening by forcing it to stretch beyond its limit, and made his way to the back seat to sit next to Caroline. We now had some idea of the strong character with which we were dealing!

From that day forward, Misha became the wonderful center of our household. He ran away constantly; we retrieved him. He dug out from under the fence constantly: we retrieived him. He ran through alligator-infested waters on Sanibel more than once; we retrieved him.

Sometimes late at night(like, 2 or 3 in the morning) he would dream deeply. During these cycles he would emit the most mournful cries imagineable; they were sustained for many seconds, which  would make your hair stand on end. You would think that he would have awakened himself, as he did the rest of the household.Yet, these eerie howls would last for maybe 6-8 seconds sometimes! Really scary if you happened to be in a deep sleep yourself!

Misha loved snacks, and was an excellent catcher. One could toss a Milk Bone biscuit ten feet or more, and he never missed! He also was a consummate begger; I mean, really professional. You could never eat anything without sharing some with him. He was just that good.

Tennis balls were objects of great delight to Misha. He could chew and puncture one from metal  can to “pop” in a matter of seconds. At Christmas he always knew which wrapped gifts were for him. If it had tennis balls inside, a sealed can held no surprise when his giant nostrils started sniffing!

Misha often appropriated furniture. Couches, chairs, wicker love seats….whatever was most comfortable. We always gave in and allowed him his choice. He also seemed to have a bizarre romance with one of the couch cushions; but, I really never wanted to fully know what that  was about. What goes on when I am out of the house…..let’s just say I am better off not knowing!

Misha travelled thousands of miles with us, as we went from Florida to Maine and back each Summer. He was the best traveler ever. He sat in too small a seat with a harness on and never complained a bit.

His name came from the Russian for Michael, which is Mikhail. His middle name I took from my former landlord back in San Francisco in the 1970’s. George Tretiakoff was one of my favorite characters, and he was from Siberia. So, I deemed it appropriate to take his surname for Misha’s middle name. “Misha” is the diminutive, or nickname, for Mikhail. Sort of like “Mike”.

Misha was part of so many of our adventures and memories. Once he got stuck under Caroline’s bed, as he used it for a den often. We actually had to move the bed to get him out! Another favorite memory involves his standing up on his hind legs, very soon after we brought him home, and devouring a fancy Xmas cake that was to be a gift. He also nailed a casserole on the stove and sent it shattering on the tile floor! We learned how to keep our food covered or watched!

Misha had a very sensitive and protective side. When one of us  was ill, he voluntarily chose to spend days outside the bedroom door. Never left.

When we were visiting my friend Nancy, who had injured her foot and was in a cast, Misha chose to stay by her side for two weeks. Never left.

When we brought home Teddy, an irrepressible and obnoxious puppy, 6 years ago, Misha started to toss him across the room. I yelled at him, and he never touched Teddy ever again. That was a big mistake on my part, but I thought I was protecting the puppy at the time. Teddy continued to harass and adore Misha for the next six years, but Misha never once put him in his place. He was remarkably smart.

He had the most peculiar sleep habit: he always seemed to need to wrap his big paws around a table leg or chair leg or perhaps put all four legs up on the wall! He looked uncomfortable to us, but he always slept in odd positions. Then, as he moved in his sleep, furniture would move around as well!

We loved this dog for over eleven years. We saw him go from remarkably strong and healthy, to old and weakened. We believe he had attained about 13-14 years, and was struggling to walk,stand up,  go out, and generally just get around.

His time to leave us came today. It was a bright and glorious June 1st. The sun was high in the cornflower blue sky when the Veterinarian came to help Misha cross over. We all cried a lot and tried our best to be brave for each other, and for Misha. In the end, He, of course, showed us all up by being the brave one. He didn’t  cry, or moan; he took the first shot, which was meant to sedate him, without  even wincing. The final shot, according to my daughter, Caroline, who held him through until the end of his life, acted quickly, and his Spirit passed away. She told me she could feel it leaving him. As his life force left his body, she patted and kissed him goodbye. He was loved and cared for until he breathed his last breath.

I am truly heartbroken. I cannot even begin to imagine how my heart will ever heal. I miss him so much already.

As I said goodbye to my darling Boy, I told him to wait for me. And I told him to run as fast and as far as he could.

No more pain.

Up Where the Air is Clear

 

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May offers up many opportunities. The strong breezes of Springtime presented a metaphor outside my window yesterday: a child flying a kite. There is much to be said of kite-flying, and I immediately see its relationship to creative living.

The little boy is Ilya, my neighbor, who is seven years old. He has the wisdom and training to manage this business all on his own; I applaud his ability, and watch him with some measure of amazement. How sage is this little one to not only get this contraption off the ground, but to keep it flying successfully for quite some time!

If you hold on to the string too tightly and try too hard to control the kite’s movement, it will surely fall to the ground. You must have a flexible hand, and the ability to trust in the wind. You have to allow the wind to take your kite where it will. You can guide it ever so gently, but you cannot force your desires upon it.

You must remain alert and involved. You need to keep your eyes on the sky, yet not lose your footing. You have to hang onto the connection, but let the string move in and out of your hands as the prevailing wind dictates.

Yes, this kite-flying business is complicated. Not for the faint of heart. Not for the closed minded. Not for the egocentric who see the kite as an extension of themselves.

The lyrics from a Mary Poppins song by Richard and Robert Sherman comes to mind:

“Let’s go fly a kite, Up to the highest height,

Let’s go fly a kite, and send it soaring,

Up through the atmosphere,

Up where the air is clear,

Oh, let’s go fly a Kite”.

 

I can tell you that there is real joy when your kite goes soaring above the treetops.

 

 

May 4th

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Forty Six years ago today I was in my dorm room at Boston University, with my roommate, Cynthia Hillmann. It was another Spring day in Boston, and we had come back from classes and had lunch. We got the news that there had been shootings on the Kent State campus in Ohio. Somehow we borrowed a television set and started watching. What I saw shocked and frightened me. I was nineteen years old, and I was watching kids my age being shot by the Ohio National Guard.

By now, I had attended lots of rallies, Peace Marches, and anti-war events. I had run from tear gas, seen kids marching next to me hauled off by the Boston Police force, and witnessed all types of protest. But this was different; these were kids, and they had been killed for standing up against the War.

Things escalated quickly. People all over America started actively protesting the shootings by rioting and looting. It felt like the end of the world. Honestly. I was absolutely terrified. I started thinking that no place would be safe anymore; if students could get shot while attending a rally on their campus, what next? It seemed to me that none of us were going to be able to  feel safe voicing our opinions ever again. Our Government had turned a corner and was now supporting execution of dissidents. What was going on? How could anyone justify killing students?

It was a complicated series of events that led to the Ohio killings. It was horrible, tragic, and a waste of young lives. But the Kent State killings galvanized a huge number of us into a stronger and more dedicated protest movement. Soon after what came to be known as “Kent State Day”, one hundred and twenty-five students and faculty members took over the top three floors of a dorm at 700 Commonwealth Avenue. I was one of those students.

Our intention was to create something positive out of this chaos. At first it was day and night long meetings and discussions with other activists who came from all over the Country to talk to us. We had to figure out how to feed everyone, clean the common areas,  and keep everyone working and focused. We were all exhausted from  the strain, emotion, and lack of sleep.I am sure there were some who tagged along in this venture for the ride; they may not have been too productive or honest in their motives. But there were some very bright, very dedicated young people who really wanted to change our society and end the Vietnam War. I saw this from the inside. I saw what it took on a teeny, tiny scale to  stand up for what you believe in and make some small contribution to change.

Several good and positive things came out of the “occupation” of May, 1970. There was a series of free classes , called the “Communiversity”, offered to the public. There was a heightened awareness that non-violent protest could affect change. And for those of us who held tight on the top three floors of that dorm, there was a camaraderie and connection unlike anything any of us had ever known before. It was intense and thrilling and awful, all at the same time.

I still remember the feelings of May 4, 1970. They are always with me.

It was a really bad day.

Yard Sales

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I can tell that Spring is here because Yard Sales are blooming all over. It is the surest sign that warmer weather has arrived: people are willing to clean out their garages and basements and once again try to unload their junk on the first available sucker….er, buyer. This business has its rituals, and some folks take them very seriously. I started pursuing yard sales years ago, and quickly learned the ropes. Here are some things I have learned.

  • The Early Bird gets the worm. Antique Dealers, and every other kind of weirdo who can resell anything, slither out from under their rocks very early to be the first ones at these sales. Some of them will literally knock you down when the doors open. Beware of the ones who muscle their way into the front…they mean business and they will take you down. I don’t go early anymore…..being first isn’t that important to me now.
  • Don’t ask to come in early if the sellers are still setting up. People HATE to have you messing around when they are still disorganized, so be patient. You will get a better deal if the sellers don’t hate you.
  • Bring a large tote bag or something you can put the stuff in that you find. Grab the things you think you might like, and decide later. If you don’t, someone else will grab them and you’ll be S.O.L.
  • Wear a fanny pack. I know this is ridiculously gauche, but it frees up your arms and hands to grab stuff( and that is the whole point, isn’t it?).If you aren’t worried about your money/pocketbook, you will be free to grab and stuff your treasures into your tote bag.
  • Bring a beverage and snack in your car. This way, if you get involved longer than planned, you won’t have to take a break to find sustenance.

Having said all this, it occurs to me that some of my readers may not be interested in yard sales. It seems rather sacrilegious to me, but I guess it is possible that there are people who don’t find driving around searching for other people’s junk all that compelling. You people can stop reading if you want, and go do whatever it is that you find interesting.

For the rest of us, I want to examine WHY we are willing to do this. Why do we get up early on a day when it isn’t necessary, drag ourselves out no matter what the weather is like, and expend so much energy(and gasoline) in this pursuit? It seems that it must be more than just getting a bargain; because if you do the math, the cost of finding these pieces of trash/treasure usually outweighs any real savings. It must have something to do with the primordial needs of the human species. Although we don’t have to be hunter-gatherers anymore, we must be wired for this activity. I shall lay the blame for my obsession with yard sales, flea markets, garage sales, and barn sales on my DNA.

So, if you find yourself scouring Craigslist for garage sales, or reading the local papers and keeping circled sections ready for the weekend mornings, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. This passion is shared by many who are not dealers or re-sellers. Look at the gigantic number of people who frequent the 400, 600, and even 800 mile yard sales held annually in the USA. These become events that people plan a year ahead to attend. These are the Meccas of yard sale aficionados. They are the stuff that pack rat dreams are made of!

Now, we have learned that there is a fine line between collecting and hoarding. I am gradually erasing that line.