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Monday, March 30, 2015

The question comes up occasionally during the Q&A, and I don't think that it's being answered as completely as it should be ... .

"You are obviously well-educated, Betty, what college did you attend?"  Usually asked by someone who then goes on to add, "... your vocabulary certainly reveals that."

There is usually a pause of a few seconds as I weigh just how to respond, and it may interest you to know that there is some discomfort -- uncertainty -- an awareness of what I've always seen as a deficit in my education.  My education didn't extend beyond high school, so to answer with what feels to me as a reminder that I'm among the unwashed ... .

It occurs to me that what we have here is a lack of complexity that doesn't allow the truth to be revealed; my answer should be nuanced.  It is this:

My education took place when the California public school system was the envy of the known world. This would have been prior to the enactment of Proposition 13 which started the dismantling of that system.

Also, because there were so few African Americans living in the State or the Greater Bay Area before WWII, there were few reasons to have anything but a great general education for everyone, so I escaped the handicap of being squashed under the crushing weight of low expectations that now becomes the fate of disadvantaged children of color.  For whatever it was worth, I was receiving the same training into the same culture as those around me.

Not only were my influences Jack London, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, the Bronte Sisters, Rudyard Kipling, Louisa Mae Alcott and Edna St. Vincent Millay, Alfred Noyes, James Whitcomb Riley,  and Eugene O'Neill, but by fifth grade I was singing the operatic works of Giuseppe Verdi, and Sibelius's Finlandia with our glee club!

Richard Wright's Native Son and the poems of Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, and Gwendolyn Brooks I would not be exposed to until young adulthood. By then my racial designation would have become hyphenated by the experiences of WWII on the Home Front and the Civil Rights Revolution of the Sixties.  Before then I was simply a youngster being educated to the majority culture.

Of course, one might say that I was missing the black artists, authors, and scholars, and that is true. But I was being educated for the state and nation I was growing up in, and being acculturated at the same time -- which would serve me well over time.  The fact that, eventually, I would be exposed, in depth, to both black and white cultures has been a gift to be cherished.  Maybe that would be the ideal for us all.

In high school we performed Maxwell Anderson's Winterset in my junior year drama class, and I read and analyzed Shakespeare in English Lit as a senior.  The training received in Mr. Bill McLaughlin's public speaking class is still with me in our little theater every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.  "Stand straight with weight on front foot -- take a deep breath, and start the first word on an exhale, etc."  The ability to analyze material, debate issues, and defend my positions was nurtured by what happened in that exciting class where kids could differ and grow.  Where questioning was encouraged, and cynicism rewarded if rational.

And I can still hear those oratorios screamed in the thin treble-clef voices of children before the little silver pitch pipe and waving baton of full-bosomed and bespectacled Mrs. Edith Reiniger whose great passion for Giuseppe Verdi's il Trovatore fed our little souls.  No I've been working on the railroad or My Darling Clementine for us!

... and at this point it matters not that throughout my childhood and into my adult years I still remember that California was first settled by Father Wanna-pera Serra!  (How on earth did that young teacher ever get out of school without learning how to pronounce Junipero?)  But nothing's perfect, right? ...  not even the greatest educational system in the world in its day. 

"I didn't go to college," then is probably only half true.  The fact of when I was educated says it all, I think.  I'm guessing that those students who shared those years with me received what would be seen today as at least two years of learning in any community college or higher.

This all happened, of course, before the systematic dismantling of public education began in this country, and before charter schools would be even dreamed of.  And those, you remember, were the years of the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), joblessness and bread lines, and my mother turning up at "Sally Ann's" (the Salvation Army store) early on Thursday mornings when the trucks were unloaded -- to get first crack at whatever books (for 25 cents) were among those discarded by the "Haves".

"I didn't go to college," are words that simply don't cover my educational experience.

Not even close.




Sunday, March 29, 2015

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto ... .

... and the Yellow Brick Road looks unexpectedly familiar.  Though there have been rough places and demons to do battle with along the way -- little here is surprising.  And I blush to admit that so unashamedly.  It's not that I don't see the specialness of it all, it's just that the miraculous aspect of everyday life is something I'm tapping into more and more these days, with a growing sense of wonder that we tend to walk through the miracles each and every day without fully appreciating this life as it unfolds before us in whatever ways it expresses itself.

Wish I could figure out how to share the great video piece that ran throughout the Department of Interior on their weekly "This week at Interior March 27, 2015" but you can access it on YouTube.com if you wish.  I can't figure out a way to link it, or, to even fix it so that you can copy and paste, and today is Sunday and I'm at home without the benefit of being able to have our graphics person, Luther Bailey, walk me through it.

Suffices to say that last week's visit to Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park of not only the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, but Jon Jarvis, National Director of the National Park Service, and, regional director Chris Lehnertz, as well, spent Thursday afternoon with us, and a warmer more congenial group I've rarely experienced.  What a time!  Sally Jewell is someone I'd find it very easy to love.  What a charismatic and lovely woman is she!

That they were truly impressed by what we're building here was clearly obvious.  That we're layering back in the nuances and complexities of the Era of WWII at a time when those lives and times are so often compacted into bumper stickers is being appreciated by Washington.  It is clear that those whose work guides our ability to do that are fully aware of our challenges and small victories.  I don't think I've ever felt so affirmed.  So surrounded by enablers.  We all did.  

The day ended with a quick drive home to change out of uniform and into more glamorous civvies to attend a reception at Alumna House on the UC Berkeley Campus -- held in honor of the dignitaries gathered here for consideration of plans for the upcoming National Park Service Centennial year 2016, and to tackle the vitally important environmental questions that are before us as a nation and a world.

... it was during the reception in that lovely tree-shaded gracefully designed building that I felt the first pangs of being completely awestruck by the unexpected turn my life has taken in recent weeks.  Upon arrival I entered the room where there was not a single familiar face.  Having outlived most of my contemporaries, I'm now facing a re-peopled world.  I'd arrived far too early and before the others came.   But standing nearby was the UC Board of Regents Chair, Janet Napolitano, and just beyond, historian Douglas Brinkley.

The world of the Academy was alien to me, but reminiscent of the years spent as a faculty wife, Mrs. Dr. William F Soskin, Ph.D., research psychologist connected with Tolman Hall on this very campus.  I'd never quite fit into that Betty's shoes, and the ten years we spent together hardly made a dent in that insecurity, though they brought new opportunities for learning previously not open to me, and re-cast my known world with new friends and possibilities.  It was those years that launched political Betty.

This time I'm the grownup!  These are the kids.  I've attained an eminence over the years through  unsubscribed and unintentional ways but it doesn't really matter at this point.

The game's almost over ... and just when I'm finally beginning to understand the rules of engagement ... .



Sunday, March 22, 2015

What a week this has been ... !


The Department of Interior's piece was released to social media, and in one fell swoop I'm big news across the whole country!  Can you imagine?

When released it was re-Tweeted by the White House (have no idea what that means), but my imagination is running wild -- and I imagine the Obamas reading about this lil' ole lady ranger on the West Coast (crazy!), and wondering if the National Park Service has lost its collective mind!  A somewhat overripe but still-functioning park ranger let loose in the system -- and at a time when any other elder with an ounce of common sense is retiring into RV travel and registering for burial insurance!

I'm more and more convinced that -- at a time when contemporary culture would have us producing more and more Botox commercials and anti-wrinkle solutions; when public television is running fundraisers on "Aging in Reverse.  When we're being treated to a full season of television based on thugs and low lifers at all levels and in all ethnicities and races; with real life crime shows almost impossible to avoid; with frequent Amber Alerts and car chases feeding our need to be charged up, emotionally.  With racism and brutality on the rise and government response inadequate to the new challenges due to partisanship and short-sightedness, especially on environmental issues that grow more terrifying with each day, maybe we're searching for relief in new lifestyle possibilities.

Maybe we're just starved for relief from all of it and, as it was during the government shutdown, the sight of a real grown-up on the media (me!) serves to provide a false sense of security.

Maybe natural grey hair and well-earned wrinkles appear less to be feared.  Maybe someone who appears to have found a way to get through life without succumbing to all that can offer an alternative to the adulation of youth model.

I've not reached this place unscathed; this journal reveals some of that, but overall I seem to have come to terms with Life, at least if one doesn't look too closely... .

There is so little in all this that seems personal to me.

I don't think that I'm being overly modest.  I know that I've done and am doing good work, and am grateful that this is being recognized, but it feels excessive at times, and it's difficult to be the hottest thing in the supermarket checkout line when you're wearing mismatched socks and no makeup -- a perfect right of any lil' ole lady whose supply of shredded wheat and prune juice is running low ... .

Besides all that the plain truth is that the secret of my success may be that I discovered by sheer accident -- if I do it just right -- putting my ranger hat on, that is.  I raise my brows as if caught by surprise -- and start by setting the front edge of the brim in place on my forehead -- then while applying gentle pressure as I set my hat in place the effect is that it gives me a $1200 nonsurgical brow lift!   Problem is that everything falls when I remove my hat ...

... but you can't have it all.



Saturday, March 21, 2015

 This link should take you to the Department of Interior article ... .


http://www.doi.gov/employees/news/womens-history-month-an-interview-with-93-year-old-national-park-service-ranger-betty-reid-soskin.cfm

I think you have to copy and paste this link into your web browser.

Will keep trying to get it into a hyperlink.





Monday, March 16, 2015


18 with a long life ahead ...
The significance of my work of the past few days is only now beginning to dawn ...

About ten days ago I received an email from our superintendent saying that he'd had a request from the Department of Interior for an interview from me.  He forwarded the information with his response which had been, "here is Betty's information and you may contact her directly."


This being Women's History Month, it seems that the Department has decided to profile the National Park Service's "Oldest Park Ranger," and -- since I'm involved with a number of engagements already calendared and waiting -- this was just another such.  It's kind of "what I do." I hold a unique position of being an original source with the responsibility of sharing historic information when and where appropriate to the community, service clubs, agencies, educational institutions, on site, as needed.  This appeared to be within the area of my "expertise" and little more.

Now that I've completed a lengthy Q&A and had several brief phone conversations with the editor, it's beginning to be obvious that this is a bit more than out of the ordinary.
52 and counting ...

It wasn't until our deputy superintendent brought it to my attention (when I gave her the draft that had been forwarded for corrections) that this was not the National Park Service, but for the parent agency, The Department of Interior.  That the editor, Donna Margelos, was spending the major part of her work week reading and re-reading my blog; listening to video interviews that exist online; viewing DVDs and scanning my entire life as it exists online every day.

At my end -- between spare moments in my schedule of events -- I was finding myself searching out photos to send that span my entire existence since my 20th birthday!

This is big!  How big?  I have no idea, but it feels awesome.

The editor asked at one point, whether anyone at the National Park Service is capturing my blog -- and I had to admit that it had never occurred to me that anyone needed to ... that it was written as a way to process life as it whizzed by -- and -- since I'm really in conversation with my family and myself (mostly), and since I only write on my days off or late evenings ... it is strangely still a personal document.  It just never dawned that anyone else would see any value in the thoughts of an aging woman ... .
S. F. Giant's Game Day
90, and almost there ...

I'm hardly aware of any other readers, though on occasion (when someone asks) I try to check the numbers, but they're unimpressive at best, so for the most part outside readers are not my audience.  Leaving a record of my life for my family has always been the objective.

Some time this week The DOI project will be released -- where or how is still a mystery.  Ms. Margelos said something about "social media," and "a new young audience," but I know little beyond that.  It was just another assignment from superintendent Tom Leatherman, and that's about as far as it went.

Fortunately, the national attention has been incrementally growing, and each assignment (last week it was,Tom Bentley, a writer for the  American Scholar," the publication for the Phi Beta Kappa Society which has an interest in my blog; the week before it was Steve Early, Labor writer, who has a new book in process in which I'm included.) Early had been on board for two of my recent bus tours, and attended several of my afternoon presentatioins.  Until the Department of Interior's far more detailed piece required some work on my part, I really took it all in as just "what I do."

But it's far more than that, obviously.

The future is still opening up and the portals are widening even as we speak ...


Sunday, March 15, 2015

What a week this has been -- so memorable ...


... among other things -- on Wednesday I finally got to Alcatraz Island, and the Ai Wei Wei exhibit.  It is so moving ... so important.  It will close in April, which is much too soon.

Learning about how it was executed -- with the artist still confined under house arrest in China and unable to participate in the installation except by long distance, and with the involvement of local artists who used his designs through detailed instructions to fabricate the disparate pieces into reality.  They're astounding! The Kite; the Wing -- the stories that came to us through interpretive Ranger John Cantwell and his 28 years of working on the Island ... .

There was a moment when standing among the reproductions (in Legos) of a worldwide collection of images of political prisoners -- when I felt a sensory overload and had to momentarily withdraw -- to remove myself from that place into myself and away from the present by turning my back on the exhibit to look out of one of the multitude of windows toward the beautiful Golden Gate ... .

The experience was beyond surreal.

Alcatraz has a visitation of 5000 tourists a day; one million per year.  Ferries are boarded at Pier 33 in San Francisco; 300/trip, and tourists from every state and nation arrive every half hour throughout the day, with every boat trip sold out.  While my friend, Ann, and I were being guided by Ranger Cantwell, there was a brief exchange with a group of four young people who were visiting from Sweden; a reminder of how far-reaching is the influence of this work of Wei Wei and the long arm of the National Park Service which has enabled this remarkable cultural exchange.

I was not prepared for the beauty of the site that is not as overwhelmed by the desolation and decay as one might expect.  Though the evidence of its lengthy Armed Forces history plus the 49 years of life as the nation's infamous maximum security prison are clearly dominant, the beautiful historic gardens and Mediterranean-like site is much as one might have expected to find somewhere in Italian waters.

And, as we boarded the ferry for the scenic trip back to Pier 33 the captain allowed me to take the wheel for a while and guide the vessel back to shore -- with 300 unsuspecting tourists on the decks below!



Friday, March 06, 2015

My "famosity" (yeah, I know that isn't a word -- yet) may be getting into the way of my work ... .

... this great cover for the in-house Geico publication arrived on my chair in the headquarters offices yesterday.  I vaguely recalled doing a phone interview early in the year, and that I'd referred the caller to our superintendent because this was one of the many media inquiries resulting from the governmental shutdown last year -- and, yes, they're still coming. Unlike most that had come from other agencies and/or nonprofits, this was clearly a commercial enterprise and might be subject to different protocols.  After all, we're a federal agency and there are regulations to cover such things.  Since such decisions come at a far higher level than mine, we needed clearance, but eventually the go-ahead came and the 30-minute interview took place, but was quickly forgotten in the busyness of daily life.

Yesterday when I reached my desk at park headquarters in the Civic Center, there was an official-looking manila envelop on my chair with the return address of the office of the superintendent of  Mount Rainer National Park in Washington State.  In it was a brief note from his secretary, Donna Rahier,  stating that this had been dropped off at their office, and that she was forwarding it hoping that it would reach me.  The envelop held this cover page and the inside article (great!) that was brief and accompanied another photo.  This was the first I'd seen it, and only then did I remember this interview ever occurring.  I loved it and her thoughtfulness in getting it to me.  I might never have known ... .

... but what it brought up for me was the fact that much of this media attention might be rising from the need of the up-coming and aging Boomer generation to have role models for later life ... could be. The old models of avoidance and denial of the aging process may be finally dying, and in its place this generation of my children may be developing a hunger for meaning of a different kind.  Maybe we elders who continue to hang in and thrive are creating hope for a generation tiring of the adulation of youth model and are searching for something more meaningful to hang their hopes on.

Do you suppose?

It seems clear that I've aged into a place where I'm receiving kudos, trophies, and certificates of honor for simply being able to tie my own shoes!  It defies explanation; and though I feel affirmed and flattered by the attention (who wouldn't be?), it's difficult to feel worthy of being singled out for such tributes.

... but whose complaining?

... with the awesome spectre of non-existence in the fast-approaching future --  I'll take it!



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