Monday, May 28, 2012

Main Street USA

Watching the Memorial Day parade from my house,
with Michelle and Chase, and some
red, white and blue from my garden. 
One of the nice things about living on Main Street USA, in Sylvania, Ohio, is that there is always something going on.  Today it was the Memorial Day Parade, right down the street where I live, shop, meet and greet.  I sat on our front porch with Michelle and Chase, some friends and neighbors, enjoying the occasion and the comaraderie.

A week ago it was a car show.  Fantastic, sparkling vintage and antique cars. Last  Saturday it was garage sales up and down the street.  "I do these sales for the fellowship," my neighbor Judi said with a smile. She had tons of stuff out for sale and made $50.00.  Not much, I thought to myself,  for all the work.  "Money I didn't have before," Judi said brightly!

On Main Street Sylvania we have vendors hawking their wares, boutiques bringing out summer clothes, the Historical Society selling books and puzzles, art galaries hanging out their art, and restaurants open for business with patio tables and chairs on the sidewalks.  Always a festive air.

This is not the stifling Main Street of Sinclair Lewis' novel, set in 1920s small town Minnesota, or the Main Streets of New England small towns where witches brewed and stewed and gossiped unto death.

It's more in the contemporary Main Street preservation mode, where investments in small businesses, and commitments to combine and create a balance in  residential and commercial living, predominate.  It harkens back to pre-suburban walking communities where everybody knew your name.

It's the real thing. People walk, bike, talk,  face to face, person to person.  People get to know their neighbors, linger, chat, share front porches.  We have tea at the Dragonfly cafe, and musical and poetry evenings; meet for lunch at Chandler's or Jenna's; go for great pizza at the historic J&G's; catch up on news at the new Ace hardware store or the neighborhood RiteAid drug store.  It's pre-suburbia in post-industrial, high-tech America. It's real, not virtual. Low stress, friendly, authentic, simple pleasures with neighbors.

Does the invention of internet communities signal the same dreams for lost American Main Streets?  I don't know, but Main Street USA is surely an anecdote to virtual internet living, as it is to Suburban lifestyles built around large malls, clogged highways, totally dependent on cars.  Maybe we need Main Streets USA more than ever in the fast-paced, quick and impersonal facebook- and email-world of the global village.

Friday, May 25, 2012

"tis a gift to be simple"

My daughter Elissa bought me a simple gift today.  It's a pretty framed saying with a universal message that speaks to all of us, and especially our Sylvania family at this time in our journeys.  "Life takes us to unexpected places.  Love brings us home."  When my daughter Michelle saw it on my kitchen wall, she had tears in her eyes, a smile on her face.

In a flash my life runs by me: Rochester to Massachusetts to Wisconsin to Toledo, Ohio, to Washington, DC, to St. Petersburg, Florida, to Ukraine for two years;  travels across the USA and around the world;  sun rises, full moons, and rainbows in unexpected places;  and then the decision, a year ago, while in Starobelsk, to move back to Toledo, Ohio.

It was a surprise, but this is where my children and grandchildren have always lived, and still live.  I've come full circle.  Love brought me back. It's just like the Shaker song, written in the 1840s, says: "'tis a gift to be simple." And "when we find ourselves in the place just right, "twill be in the valley of love and delight."
'Tis a gift to be simple,
'tis a gift to be free,
'tis a gift to come down
where we ought to be,
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained
to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
to turn, turn, will be our delight
till by turning, turning we come round right.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My brother, My Don Quixote

In memory of my dear brother,
 12 November 1947 to 22 May 2010.
My brother fought windmills of injustice with passion and compassion until the end of his short life.  He loved the idea of Don Quixote, translating it from the Cervantes novel to his daily life, this Spanish symbol of change and hope.

Loren was an environmentalist, a progressive, a justice crusader to the end.  He struggled bravely to find himself and his purpose in life.  He wrote his autobiography, An Asperger Journey, about growing up with "a problem that had no name" until he was in his mid-50s. He embraced the goddess and transcendent spirituality, knew all the literature, taught me and others. He was our mother's best friend and caregiver.

He died of a heart attack, suddenly, while on an arduous hike along the Aucilla river in northern Florida. May 22, 2010.  I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine when I got the call and had to make the sad trip to Tallahasssee for his memorial service.  His book came out a few months later.  Andy struggled with it, struggled with the memory of police at her door on a Saturday afternoon, stepped up to celebrate his book and comfort his friends.

When I was in San Miguel this winter I thought about how much Loren would have loved Mexico, like he loved being in Costa Rica, a special journey we took together.  I had planned to share time with him in San Miguel, too, when I got out of the Peace Corps, but it was not meant to be.

Some people say he's here with me.  I hope so, but I doubt it.  I wish I could talk with him, walk with him from the Instituto to the Jardin, from the Parroquia to the Artisans Mercado.  He could tell me so much about it; he would know and understand.  I wish he could visit me and my kids and grandkids here in Sylvania.  He'd love walking with us around the neighborhood and in the metro parks, and holding Chase. We'd be watching some NBA games together now, Loren filling me in on the biographies of every player and the statistics of the game.

How I wish I could hear him talk about what's going on the the world today, in America, in all the faraway places he had studied. I wish we could look up at the sky and see the moon together.  I miss his rants and his perspective.  I miss my brother, my Don Quixote.  The world is not the same without Loren in it.   

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Thank Goodness for the Super Rich

In defense of the superrich, the former head of Bain Capital, Edward Conard, one of the super contributers to the presidential campaign of his former boss and friend Mitt Romney, says the 1% of the wealthiest Americans are helping our economy.  According to a New York Times article, Conard, who retired at age 51, is not merely a member of the 1 percent, but of the 0.1 percent.  He believes that the gap in income and wealth demonstrates that our economy is working.  All Americans benefit from multi-millionaires and billionaires.  If the superrich were not superrich, the superpoor, workers  and the middle class would be worse off.  We 99 percenters should thank our lucky stars for the 1 percenters.  ("The Purpose of Spectacular Wealth, According to a Spectacularly Wealthy Guy," NYT,  1 May 2012).

Boy, I feel the goodness.  Sure the economy is working, for the 1 percent, and that’s the problem: Rampant unregulated capitalism benefits the few at the expense of the many. The “trickle-down” theory has never worked, never will.  Herbert Hoover taught us that history lesson. The system needs fixing.

But according to Conard, I’m super ungrateful.  I don’t know how lucky I am to be living  on a fixed income with a modest retirement portfolio.  I would be worse off if Conard and his fellow superrich patriots made less money.  I should be grateful for the profit-seeking investors who make huge international corporations  profitable and send work abroad to increase their profits even further.  I should be grateful that super financial institutions are not held accountable for their risky business. 

Yep.  If we little guys would just keep saving and putting our money in these same banks and invest some of our meager earnings in those big financial institutions that we bailed out, JP Morgan coming up, we’d be better off.    It’s our fault the economy tanked.  It’s us little guys that caused the financial crisis by withdrawing our savings and investments in panic a few years back.  It had nothing to do with the banks, who were just doing their jobs;  it was not “an orgy of irresponsible lending,”   No, oh no.  It was us, the consumers, the low-wage earners, the middle class, the 99%, who screwed up the economy.

I’m loathe to believe that  Conard’s argument reflects the opinion of Mitt Romney, perhaps even president Obama. But I  think it does, and that’s the scariest part.  Conard’s arguments, which he is putting into a book to be published soon, has been and might continue to be the basis of  national economic policy, and fuel further deregulation and tax policies for the rich begun under Ronald Reagan and reinforced mightily during the Bush/Cheney years.  Nor has Obama done much to change the course, with his inept economic advisors,  reluctance to pursue the banks illegal activities,  and the kinds of ties his administration has to the superrich.  Maybe he'll do better in his next term, if elected.

Apologists for self-serving capitalism are nothing new, but somehow Conard’s arguments seem especially dangerous.  The recent news about JP Morgan's $2 billion losses,  a result of derivative trades and hedges, makes it worse.  Are we to blame for this,  too?    I really have to restrain myself here, and Loren’s not around to rant with.  Go back to your super mansion, super yacht, and super lifestyle, Conard, and give us a break.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Making Mother's Day Memories 2012

Daughters Elissa (orange top) & Michelle (green sweater)
flank grandchildren Julia with her son Philip,
Alli holding baby Chase, Josh and Kyle (May 13, 2012).
It was a day of gratitude for the mothers we are, the mothers we birthed, and the children they birthed.

My daughters Elissa and Michelle came over to Casa de Mama with their children, and granddaughter Julia brought over her son, my great-grandson, Philip.  I was the oldest, Chase the youngest.  Chase slept peacefully while we ate, shared memories, exchanged cards and gifts, joked and laughed.  The boys made some great cards, with many promises to Michelle to help around the house; warm thanks from Joshua for all the Milano cookies I’ve bought for him (with hopes for more!); and funny, clever words of thanks from Kyle.   In keeping with a little tradition, Alli took her mom to dinner, along with her brothers.  I babysat Chase.

We are making new memories.  Life is good.   

With special thanks to my host mom's in Ukraine, 2009-2011: Этот День матери я помню прекрасно мама хозяина в Украине: Люба и Наталья на Kyrova в Старобельске, Валя в Чернигов, когда я был волонтером Корпуса Мира в процессе обучения. Спасибо!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Measuring My Life in Decades

"New for September
by VOl 25," yahoo image
T.S. Eliot's character in “The Love Songs of J. Alfred Prufrock”  says something like: “I measure my life in coffee spoons.”  

I think it was meant to symbolize the disillusionment so prevalent in England, and everywhere in the world, during and after World War I.  Eliot’s famous poem “The Wasteland” (1922) reinforced the message.  I have always wondered how a generation that experienced such a devastating war, with the loss of so much human life in such cruel ways, could fight another gruesome war less than 20 years later.  I can see why people of Woodrow Wilson’s generation wanted to banish war for all times.  It remains a dream. 

I thought of the T.S. Eliot quote at some odd time today, because I  realize I am now measuring my life in decades, not coffee spoons.

Maybe it’s because I went through the dozen or more large plastic boxes of photos, cards and momentos left by my mom,  looking for photos of my Aunt Loretta to take to Charlotte. I did find a few and made a little album (nothing like Roz's beautiful creations) called "How I will Always Remember You," which my aunt seemed to enjoy, sort of.  Not sure.  It was hard for her to muster energy to sit up and look, but she smiled, faintly.   She was able to identify a lovely pastel picture of a young Loretta, and informed us that she was 16 years old when the photo was taken. That was fantastic.  Other photos were of my Aunt and Uncle Steve at my mom's 80th birthday in Florida, and of our wonderful visit almost a year ago in Sylvania. 
Aunt Loretta in front of Elissa and Julia, at top of stairs;
 then descending order,
cousin Roz, Loretta's granddaughter, and my grandkids
 Tony, Alli, Josh holding Philip, Kyle
But it hit me: I’m getting up there, too, in age that is.  Not long and I’ll be celebrating 80 years, like mom and Aunt Loretta did, my friend Gay in San Miguel, and now, this May, my friend and neighbor Judi.  Then I suppose my kids and grandkids can do an album entitled “how I will always remember you” and stumble through all the old photos and stuff. More dust, more memories. 

Tempus fugut, I thought, my old Latin coming back to me: Time flies. 

So I'm thinking of my life in decades, and it goes something like this, with highlights, in brief:
10 years old  – Rochester, NY, schools 17, Allendale, Harley (HS graduation 1958)
20 Years old – Norton, Mass. (Wheaton) to UW Madison, the perennial student
30 Years old Toledo, family, civil rights/antiwar, PhD,Nantucket summers
40 years old  – Toledo, teaching women's history, Australia/New Zealand trip,
transitions: divorce, move to DC, new chapters, new adventures
50 years old  – Washington, humanities work, trips to India, Europe, Mexico
60 years old  – Tampa/St. Pete, work, teaching in retirement, trips to Europe,
Amsterdam with Loren and sister Andy, Brugge/Maastrict highlights; around USA, Southwest, Grand Canyon, Utah, Zion and Bryce, California, Route 1, NC Great Smokies, Costa Rica with Loren; Mexico in winter. 
70 years old  – Ykraine, Peace Corps Volunteer;  trips around UA, Kiev to Lviv,     
Odessa, the Carpathians, Crimea/Yalta; and eastern Europe, Budapest, Krakow, Prague and all around them; Istanbul, Egypt.                
72 years old  --and counting, back in Ohio, Sylvania, family life, coming full circle.   

Goodness.  Where will I be for my 80th birthday?  I might have to make a point of being somewhere else.  Italy?  On the other hand, it could be heaven or hell!  For sure I'm measuring my life in decades, now, not coffee spoons. It's the circle of life.

The circle of life.  This makes me think of Elton John and his beautiful song of that title (music by Tim Rice), created for the movie The Lion King.  Elton John is a fantastic poet and songwriter, and this is  one of my favorite songs. 

Lyrics to Circle Of Life :
From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to be seen than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done

Some say eat or be eaten
Some say live and let live
But all are agreed as they join the stampede
You should never take more than you give

In the circle of life
It's the wheel of fortune
It's the leap of faith
It's the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life

Some of us fall by the wayside
And some of us soar to the stars
And some of us sail through our troubles
And some have to live with the scars

There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

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