Monday, December 26, 2011

How in the world .... ?

did this poster get from the wall of our office onto the Internet?  It turned up in my Google Alerts this morning when I clicked on it to find myself standing before this Ron Black poster designed for the Shotgun Players' production of the Marcus Gardley play, "This World in a Woman's Hands."  This show was staged to critical acclaim a couple of years ago in Berkeley. 

That control of one's image has long ago been lost is a given; but the number of times I've begun to confront myself without warning can be pretty disturbing, depending upon how that image is used.

Don't misunderstand; I love Ron's work, and am delighted to be associated with its message, but the use made of it by the group whose name I hesitate to repeat suggests a more strident attitude than I'm feeling at the moment.  Maybe I've simply been mellowed by the holidays and, just maybe, I'm experiencing a shift in thinking ...  .

Perhaps it's just a question of aging while having outlived my rage without losing my passion.

Need to give this some thought -- when the scent of pine needles and peppermint candy canes dies down though.  I seem to have been overcome by "Peace on Earth Good Will Toward Men", at least for the moment.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

It's still there, only it's been bought by Neiman Marcus who wisely kept the magnificent towering tree ...

When I was a teenager, dating, Christmas season was not officially in until the trip to see if the great Christmas tree was in place at the City of Paris on Union Square.  It was a real tree, of course, and not the perfect artificial one we're standing under here.  (Though I wonder if artificial can ever really be perfect?)  I suppose the scent of pine is piped in ... .  It's been decades since that trip by ferry across the Bay --  (pre-Bay bridge) -- dressed to match the occasion (which meant hat and gloves, of course) officially ushered in the season with a spray of English holly in one's lapel -- and for the more daring -- a sprig of mistletoe in one's hair.

This year Peter, Tom, Pam, and I completed the pilgrimage 'roun' the Square to the sounds of Christmas bells and cable cars clanging their way up Powell street toward Grace Cathedral where memories of my late husband, Bill; dear friends, Bishop J. Kilmer "Kim" Myer, elegant silver-haired Deacon John Weaver and his Jean, popped up unceremoniously as the ghosts of Christmas past ... .  The taxi we hailed climbed to the top of California Street to return us to our car parked at the bottom when the circling-the-Square was ending; an almost forgotten decade that has pretty much dropped out of conscious memory until now.

The meaningful past tends to leap back to Mel and the kids; Tinker Toys, Tonka trucks, Lionel trains, innocent cap pistols (some things have changed; ominously), new cowboy hats; and those midlife Christmases tend to get lost.  Maybe it's because it's my children who have prevailed and continue to define life for me.  Christmas needs children, doesn't it, even when your baby is eligible for AARP?

This, after a bountiful crab dinner at Tadich at the foot of California Street near Battery ... and yet another set of decades to account for; new friendships, persisting hopes and dreams, and so very much to be grateful for.   Can Christmas be any more beautiful in New York or Paris?  If so, don't tell me.  I treasure these snow-less street scenes of the Bay Area beyond all reason. 

Merry Christmas All!
Photos by Pam's cell phone camera

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'm (more or less) firmly back under my hat, but just barely -- at times ...

Had no idea what it would mean to have to deal with the less disciplined part of myself (the artist), but maybe it was for just this reason that she remained buried for so long.  I'm daydreaming and fantasizing, and "what-iffing" for long periods of time, except for those times when my work -- which is so compelling -- intervenes.  That's when all of my "Bettys" come to full attention, and my mission takes precedence.

... as on a recent day when members of the ROHO (Regional Oral History Office) of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley brought a small delegation from the United Arab Emirates to visit the park and a bus tour with me as interpreter.  Aisha Bilkhair, Ph.D., Director of Research & Knowledge Services, headed the group.  When I learned that it is Dr. Bilkhair's responsibility to re-create and document the history of her young country through the capturing of oral histories of those still living, I felt the current of new excitement.  I learned that she and her assistants travel to Berkeley to work with the ROHO staff, and that this was one of those purposeful trips.

I recognized this as precisely the task before us in recapturing the history of the Home Front years 1941-1945 of WWII, a period only now being documented and recorded through the work we're engaged in, in collaboration with the Bancroft Library and its staff of researchers and historians.

I felt a surge of pride and a deep sense of the privilege we're being given by the National Park Service, and a new appreciation for the responsibility this demands to be accurate and honest and to imbue the work with authenticity -- a fading resource available to us mainly through the still-living veterans of the great home front mobilization of WWII.

... the fact that this Muslim woman from the Middle East has been given this important mission to accomplish at a time when the impression in the West is that women would not be chosen for such an important work was a revelation to me.  That a woman of color at such an advanced age in the West -- would be working for a federal agency in a position such as mine was undoubtedly as surprising to her.

We do live in a time of collapsing stereotypes, do we not?

Meanwhile, I'm working hard to climb back into my box, but each day I discover ribbons, sparkles, and confetti spilling out as I find myself humming under my breath ... re-imaging that road not taken ... but maybe this, too, shall pass ... .  (a gig at some upscale oasis in Dubai might not be too shabby, right?)

Note:  Aisha Bilkhair Khalifa, Ph.D., a Fulbright Post-Doctorate Fellow at Harvard University (2005–2006) holds degrees in Filmmaking, Electronic Engineering, and Ethnic Studies and a doctorate in Arab Gulf studies. Her main research interest is the African diaspora in the Gulf region. Specific areas include spirit possession, women, youth, and the transformation of identity. Recent publications include “Spirit possession and its practices in the United Arab Emirates” and “Secrecy and the circulation of knowledge among Gulf African Musical Groups”. 

Oh what I wouldn't have given for a leisurely evening probing the mind of this amazing scholar from faraway exotic lands!  My work allows me to touch lives with oh so many fascinating scholars from an increasing number of other cultures.  My options at this stage in life seem limitless.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dorrie's Art with Mardi Gras beads
Another necessary step taken in the "taking leave" process of aging ...

Yesterday Dorian and I drove out to a nearby town so that she could meet -- for the first time -- members of the Trust team who will be responsible for her life after my death.  It went beautifully!

I'd carefully avoided building too much anxiety before the fact by too much preparation.  She has been aware that a Trust has been created, but its purpose was never defined so that her expectations wouldn't involve her having to lose her mother in order for her team to take over responsibility for the decision-making.  The goal, for me, was to try (before I become infirm and therefore unavailable to her) to have the luxury of setting my successors in place in order to have a chance to witness her life as it will be lived when I'm no longer here.  Given any luck, some of the dependence will have been transferred to others before that happens, and therefore lend less disruption to her life.

I've never wanted to have my sons responsible for her since the added weight upon their lives might one day be experienced as a burden.  I want them to go on loving and caring about her into the foreseeable future, and that might be jeopardized were she perceived in that light.  They have their lives and families, and I've carefully protected their love for her by assuming all of the responsibility myself.  It was an investment in all of our futures.  We've arrived at this point with an unbroken bond that may be sustainable with professionals bearing the responsibility for decision-making on her behalf.  Her brother's will ultimately take my place as guardian ad litem when signators are needed, or in acting for her legally, but the team created as her Trust are staff members in the law firm of highly-reputed Attorney Stephen Dale whose practice is designed for the sole purpose of serving the physically and mentally handicapped.  They will assume the major guiding role in her future.

Dorian's team consists of an investment counselor, an attorney, and a day-to-day adviser.  She remains a client of the Regional Center of the East Bay, one of a chain of agencies created and supported by the State of California under the Lanterman Act.  The RCEB will continue to provide case management, fund her NIAD education, and auxiliary services as needed.   

Yesterday, Dorrie met with her team, and as her session ended she came out to the parking lot where I sat waiting in the car with some quiet fears -- to announce that her team understood the importance of Special Olympics -- a real concern for her.  She was glowing!  She explained who her "new friends" were, and came away with a fairly good idea of what a Trust is, and of its role in her future.  Allowing her to experience this session alone, made them her team and not her mother's.  That is precisely as it should be.  My first baby steps out of the foreground and into the background of her life has been successfully accomplished.

My feelings as we drove home through the lovely and newly greening Alhambra Valley were of contentment.  Another step has been taken to insure her safety and security -- even as Governor Jerry Brown was announcing on the car radio that substantial budget cuts were unavoidable and would kick in as mandated by conditions set forth last summer in order to gain enough votes for passage. These would be in education, elder services, and for the developmental disabled ... .

... and maybe now I'll have time for those tango lessons and riding my new bike .... .

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

About that press conference aboard the USS Iowa on Wednesday ... .

There is something sad -- and maybe a little comic -- in an old battleship that has been resurrected from the Mothball Fleet to live again as a tourist attraction.  Those 18 inch guns that once blazed menacingly at whatever served as the defined enemy at any time have been silenced, I believe, for all time.

The men aboard on Wednesday were obviously reverent and awed in her presence.  I guess it was the gender gap that caused me to have to hide my amusement when standing 'neath those big guns -- reminding my irreverent soul of the phallic symbols they so ably represent, symbols of male dominance over the seas?  Such thoughts could not be repressed, try as I might.

Wonder how those who sailed her into battle in an earlier time would feel about today's drone jockeys -- contained safely in a capsule of some kind -- somewhere in Colorado while bombing faraway places -- over an ocean away -- with little regard for lives lost.

Where do we find the heroism in that?

Nonetheless, it was impossible to not feel the drama beneath our feet on those decks so soon to re-enter history, this time as a naval museum, a reminder of days past when heroism was differently-defined.

Photo:  Ellen Gailing

Sunday, December 11, 2011

... and just what other human being do you know who received a bike for her 90th birthday?

Yes, as a complete surprise and at the top-of-the-evening, I was invited into the room with, "we have something for you," and there it was sitting in all its orange and yellow splendor in a side room at Nexus -- my bicycle!

My friends and park colleagues (plus Rosie, my southern California granddaughter who couldn't attend) picked up a collection and made the purchase weeks ago.  It had apparently been hidden away in an attached storage building outside our administration building waiting to be sprung at the concert.

It was almost too much -- and all I wanted to do in that moment -- was to crumple up in a heap and weep for pure joy!

... an unforgettable evening that still resonates daily just before sleep each night and probably will for all of the nights yet unborn ... .

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Diva Days ... now truly in the past, ... maybe ...

... except that on the morning after my dream concert, the owners of Nexus  -- the beautiful Buddha-filled site where the performance was held -- invited me to sing the National Anthem at a press conference aboard the USS Iowa, the battleship moored in the Port of Richmond undergoing repairs before sailing south for a new life as a naval museum.  The event was held in commemoration of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day; December 7th.  We old battleships are seeing a resurrection of sorts, right?

Alas, it was an honor just a tad too far and I regretfully declined.  Not looking to extend my now reinstated temporary career as an over-ripe chantoosie, and, not seeing any possible way to sing myself through the National Anthem without tripping and falling on my face, I said no to this great honor.   Singing before an audience of lifelong friends in celebration of my birthday while raising much-needed funds for a program that has meant so much to me and to Dorian was a very special thing -- to be treasured for all time.  Adding another facet to my now more-public-persona than I'd ever dreamed of or wished for, I felt in danger of over-reaching and that would be tragic.

I did attend the press conference as a part of the National Park Service delegation, however, and explained to our hosts when asked, that I might have said yes had he invited me to sing "America the Beautiful."  And, you know that might not have been so easy to refuse.  I've always so loved those lyrics ... .

especially those brilliantly instructive lines in the second verse:

"... confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law."


Sunday, December 04, 2011

Then and Now ...

More photos ... .

In the weeks leading up to that incomparable evening there was the opportunity to work with Tru Peterson, a brilliant jazz guitarist who is a graduate of Boston's Berklee School of Music; a colleague of Wynton Marsalis; who toured for a time with the folk legend, Joan Baez, and later with jazz singer Cassandra Wilson; and is currently teaching and performing in the Greater Bay Area.

We had four evenings of working together at my home in preparation for my appearance before a live audience -- 4 evenings of feeling the years drop away -- and for the first time in about 50 years I was going to sing before an audience!  I had no idea what would happen, but the experience became increasingly important to me as the time of the concert neared.  Now is a time for integration, and bringing more of my "selves" together in what is surely my final decade has almost become an obsession.

I'm not at all certain that -- had it not been for the support and encouragement of my son, Bob, I'd ever have followed through.  He was insistent and loving and probably should be recognized as having been the motivating factor in this great adventure.  Bob, along with his music partner, Margaret Miles, appeared together with me on stage for the first time.  I think I've always seen Bob as living out those inherited music genes that I'd so long ago disowned.  He is a natural performer who has lived his music with passion throughout his life.

A "Mom sandwich!"was created as 
sons, Bob and David, spontaneously
bounded onto the little stage!
In the beginning I felt tentative and for brief moments wished I'd not committed to exposing myself to ridicule (one friend aptly called it the "cringe" factor).  My voice seemed to have shrunken to a whisper, and I was rushing the phrasing and could see that Tru was having difficulty reading the level of my musicianship.  I don't think that either of us doubted for a minute, though, that it was still there, though suffering from sheer panic, surely. 

That evening I was surrounded and embraced by friends, some from a time when I was ever so young -- composing and singing -- and many who had no idea that this was ever a part of my life, but who only knew me as a community activist, political ally, wife and mother, and -- more recently -- park ranger; certainly not as poet or singer.  How would the revelation of the long concealed artist in me affect the rest of my life?  I'm guessing that I am the only one concerned with the question.  It probably held little importance to anyone else, and I'd wake the day after to find little has changed.  And, you know what?  That's precisely what has happened.

The goal of raising enough funds to make a significant donation to NIAD was more than met, thanks to the support of so many friends and family (and a few strangers) who filled the room to overflowing!

Life is spectacular, thank you!
Photo by Ellen Gailing

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Tru Peterson, an extraordinary guitarist, and moi 
performing before a sold out house!
It's been a long long time, has it not ... ?

So much life in so few months -- crowding out blogging in favor of just enjoying the living of a remarkable life.

How will we ever catch up?

Maybe a few photos of the now-in-the-past  

"Road Not Taken"

concert?  What an evening!  Wish you'd all been there ... .

I have so few unrealized dreams remaining; I seem to have lived them all.

... but today I am due at the Boilerhouse Restaurant at Ford Point to provide interpretation for a park tour for 80 visiting trade unionists from around the country -- in just 45 minutes --

.. more later.

Photos by Ellen Gailing

Monday, October 10, 2011

Now here's a tribute I can relate to.  It's all a question of scale!

A ranger colleague was browsing Craig's List for bike listings and ran across this one and forwarded it to me.  It made my day -- actually several days!

It comes unsolicited from someone I'll never meet, probably.  I cannot imagine such a serendipitously more delightful tribute from one with nothing to gain.  My name on a bike riding around San Francisco carrying some unsuspecting admirer and fellow-activist, presumably.

I wrote the person who placed the ad to thank him/her for not painting over my name -- wishing I could afford to buy it to set in the middle of my living room with a lace doily draped over the handlebars, just because!

54cm Road Bike - $275 (marina / cow hollow)

Date: 2011-10-04, 10:18PM PDT
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]

This awesome bike is on sale because I need the money for rent and it's a little big for me anyway. It's a 54cm vintage american eagle road bike with a rock solid lugged steel frame. No dents or dings but a few chips in the amazing orange color.

The best part of this bike is the artistically crafted lugs, there is even a heart designed in the top tube. The bike is clean, new tires and grip tape. The last owners painted the name Betty Reid onto the side of the bike, named after a powerful civil rights activist of the 60's. Check her out at

Hard to let her go but let me know if you're interested!

  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
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PostingID: 2633304535

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Watching and listening to how others memorialized September 11th  against the background of our local experience reinforced the rightness of our observance here at home ... .

Found myself silencing my radio early this morning -- feeling mercilessly exploited by media insistent upon drawing a cynical bow across every emotional string in my patriotic soul!

To have participated in Tuesday's ceremony in which a master sculptor introduced his decade-long love-based response to the World Trade Center's horrific tragedy drew upon the positive responses within each of us, and transformed the rage and fear into an instrument that would evoke our very best selves in answer to those who wished to destroy us.

But there have been moments throughout the day when I was reminded that proximity is surely a factor.  We on the West Coast didn't witness the carnage.  Surely our emotions would have been deepened had the TransAmerica Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge been struck with an equal loss of life.  Surely our fear and anger would have been heightened, and recovery less easily achieved.

Yet  --I've found myself wondering whether there isn't an overt attempt at freshening the case for continuing to generate a rationale for a profitable and never-ending state of war ... .

... but it's difficult to believe that there would be enough cynicism among us to support such a state of being -- or is it?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Friday, September 09, 2011

Telescoping time ...

Attended the history-making unveiling of the Mario Chiodo sculptures in Henry J. Kaiser Park in downtown Oakland on Tuesday.  This was the first installation of what is a monumental work of art entitled, "Remember them; Champions for humanity."  When completed it will consist of 25 figures of those who have set the patterns for the best that we are as a nation and a world.

Among the honorees were in most cases descendants of those honored, added to by those still living.  Please go to Mario's website for the complete story and photos of the event.  The sculptures were inspired by the tragedy of September 11th and took ten years to complete.  The centerpiece stands 40 feet tall and will be installed during the first part of 2012.  I can hardly wait, having had a chance to visit his studio where the work is proceeding on schedule.

But -- can you believe these photos (taken with Shirley Butt's cell phone).  They were taken at the studio party after the unveiling ceremony.  The lovely young blond woman shown on the right is Juliana Roosevelt, granddaughter of President Franklin Delano and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Juliana's grandfather is one of the figures).  Above is Ruby Bridges -- shown in the monument as the 6 year-old courageous little girl who integrated New Orleans schools during the early days of struggle to integrate our public schools -- and under the protection of the National Guard, remember?  This drawing is from the Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover that inspired us all.  Here she is all grown up; an attractive, passionate, and articulate young woman who was in town not only to receive her honors at the unveiling, but to be present for the dedication of a bronze statue of herself that Mario created for the Alameda school that has been named Ruby Bridges Elementary in her honor!

... and here I am spanning the generations with these three iconic young American women.

... and that's not all.  The great American hero of Japanese descent, Fred Korematsu, who valiantly fought against the unjust internment of his people during WWII for which he received the Medal of Honor from President Clinton, and who is also one of the 25 figures -- has a beautiful social activist daughter, Karen Korematsu (seen here in red).  I felt surrounded by reflected greatness, and found myself wondering just how one shares such experiences so that they radiate out into the ether and enter into whatever it is that sustains us all?

So many generations since the time of their family ancestors (and me), but Chiodo managed with his magnificent sculptures to capture the essence of what it means to be human -- that potential for greatness which resides in each of us, and that -- for the most part -- lies dormant; untapped.  In an odd way, those giant figures -- though dwarfing those of us who stood in awe before them -- were extraordinary ordinary people -- their humanity made manifest not only in these great bronze images, but in the aura of their descendants as well, if only because we endowed them with inherited greatness.  In our quiet conversation, Juliana spoke with humility of how many years it took to ease her way into her iconic surname -- and that she has only recently felt -- not only the honor of being a Roosevelt -- but the heavy responsibility the name imposes.

Wish I were a poet at times like this.  But there is out there somewhere, a word artist or musician who will one day sit in the shadow of those stunning figures and give voice or notes and lyrics to what is beyond my ability to express; will marry their artistry to that of Mario Chiodo and the result will be magnificent beyond measure!  I'm certain of it.

And, most meaningfully, what is not extraordinary in Oakland and the Greater Bay Area is the fact that we were all together as equals in a social situation, something their illustrious ancestors could hardly have dreamed of.  During the time of Bridges, Roosevelt, Korematsu (only 70 years ago - less than my lifetime), I cannot imagine under what circumstances this would have been possible.   Regrettably, this probably can't be said for some parts of the country or the world still, but here -- in this place -- though unspoken, differences are no longer merely tolerated, but celebrated.

This brilliant sculptor, Mario Chiodo, has marked the place indelibly where this, above all else, is the living truth.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Calls have been coming in for days from friends asking about my upcoming 90th birthday celebration ... .

There was one from Kathy, the co-creator of the musical "Rivets" and the producer of the Vagina Monologues we appeared in a year or or so ago; from Joan, of Supervisor John Gioia's office, from our Chief of Interpretation, Morgan, from colleagues, Lucien and Elizabeth; and assorted other caring friends and family.  I just kept bobbing and weaving for reasons unknown.  I've known the day was on the horizon, but I've held the public's attention for some time now, and echoes of the commencement at the California College of the Arts are still ringing in my ears (I've not been able to watch the CD of that event to this day. I may never come down from that one).

Kathy provided a way to approach the occasion that may work:  She said, "think of something you'd really like to have happen; some benefit for a favorite cause ..."  and then I remembered my political friends who regularly hold birthday celebrations to retire campaign debts or to fund raise for the next election cycle.  Could there be something here?  And I found the answer was "yes"!  I drove to Michelle's Visitor's & Convention Bureau in Point Richmond to begin to commit before the impulse vanished in thin air.  She agreed to help, when she returns from Burning Man next week.

With September's calendar already bulging with commitments of the grand opening of the long-awaited Maritime Child Development Center and the unveiling of Mario Chiodo's brilliant sculpture, "Remember Them; Champions for Humanity,"  leading to the 4th annual Home Front Festival in October, there simply isn't time to even think of birthdays, even my own.  Besides, what I'm considering will take a good deal of planning.  Interwoven through those epic events is my participation in an evening at St. Marys College, and various guided tours and meetings in preparation for all of the above.

First, I'm creating a group to plan what will be Betty's "The Road Not Taken Concert."  How's that for hutzpah?  If you've been reading this blog for long, you're aware that there was a time when I flirted with a career as a singer/composer.  That I appeared from time to time as a kind of singing poet in institutional settings (colleges, churches, sometimes coffee houses) and that during that time I'd been "discovered" by a number of record companies but only once was tempted enough to fly east for an audition for Max Gordon of the Village Vanguard in NY.  I left my kids with Georgia Wiseman, our friend and housekeeper, for two weeks while I rehearsed with jazz pianist, Paul Neves, at a Hartford, Connecticut nightclub but opted to return home to my family abruptly -- the night before the scheduled audition.  My friend and sponsor, the late Henry Hampton of Blacksides Productions out of Boston (and also the creator of "Eyes on the Prize," the groundbreaking PBS series) was deeply disappointed, but understood eventually.  I'd left behind 4 children; 3 young sons and a special needs little girl -- and a failing marriage.  A career as an entertainer was simply not worth what it would mean to my family.

Over the years that followed I successfully stifled Betty the Artist and opted to live off my other "edges" and found them sufficient to satisfy my needs.  I moved out of the suburbs and, eventually, into a new marriage and left her pretty much behind.

So, all that is to say that I'd like to have my son, Bob Reid, who is an entertainer, along with his lady, Margaret Miles join me in my "Road Not Taken Concert" where I will sing publicly for the first time in about 40 years!  I'm sure there's not much voice left, but I know the beat is still pulsing away, and I can work with that. Besides, expectations could hardly be lower(!) than for one entering their tenth decade.  And, maybe we'll all be pleasantly surprised.  I'll locate a jazz guitarist and maybe an acoustic bass (rhythm section?) among my friends in that world, and begin to rehearse soon.  We will stage a benefit for NIAD (National Institute for Artists and Disabilities); Dorian's arts program.  We will present the NIAD performing artists in their new 10-minute original play based on a Japanese folk tale that is wonderful and must be viewed by the community as a part of the evening's offering. 

Why is it important to do this?  I've thought about that and have come to the realization that by performing again I will be stating -- if only to myself -- that the life choices I've made were the right choices.  Look where they've taken me, maybe to that honorary doctorate I received last spring.  And that there was enough "Betty" to stretch over more life than one might possibly imagine.  That we all are capable of whatever is demanded of us.  And that the alternatives for each of us are limitless. 
MAC is out of the box and we're back in business ...

Not sure there has been a break of this length in blog entries since September of 2003 when all this started.  But the old faithful computer died and needed replacement -- and whaddyaknow -- a state tax refund check with almost enough to cover a new I-Mac arrived in the mails several days after a techie assessed the situation and sent it to the recycling bin.  It has served me well, and it was a surprise to learn that an eMac might be considered too ancient to be fixed when it seemed to me to be fairly new.  Has it really been years since Steve Jobs strode across the stage at Mosconi Convention Center in San Francisco to announce its birth?

But now that I'm back in business with 1000% more technology at my fingertips than I know what to do with, let's see where we are.  And -- once I've gotten over the wonder at this high-powered genie's ability to deliver such undreamed of magic, I'll get back to blogging.

This time I signed up for all of the bells and whistles and you just may find me standing at the Genius Bar at our local Apple Store along with all the teens of this millennium checking out how to use Garage Band and I-Movies  -- and am I really ready for Face Time?  (Caught sight of myself by accident last night and almost fell off my sea green ergonomic office chair!).

I may not just be the oldest park ranger in the National Park System, but that might extend to the Apple Genius Bar as well.

There was a moment when the "child" who was my salesperson was explaining that -- if I would bring my old Mac in with the new one they would do a data transfer free of charge -- but that this would take about 3 days.  I laughed and answered that at my age (90 in 3 weeks), time was one of the few things I didn't have much of, and that they'd have to do better than that.  I was flattered when he looked at me in disbelief, but he obviously paid attention because the very next morning (Sunday) there was a call to say that Mac was ready to be picked up.

Every night since it arrived -- instead of writing -- I've been sitting here slack-jawed in awe at the wonders that I've lived to see, and wondering what I could possibly write that is worthy of the art of the technological geniuses of these times?  Then I'm reminded of the geniuses who brought us television, and of what we've done with it over the past decade (arggghhh!).  Maybe my words, after all, are worthy -- and if not, at least might spark someone else to be, and who could ask for more? 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

If you're wondering whether I've met with some "disastrophe" ...

The answer is yes and no.  The old Mac was acting as if it had developed some terminal illness -- unlike its owner -- and had to be replaced.  It has gone to the MacStore for the data transfer to the new one and I'll not make entries until sometime midweek.

Meanwhile, life goes on and we're gearing up at work for fall programming and a full schedule of activities, and -- and life is good.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Worked in all-day sessions with a team of historians, filmmakers, rangers,  exhibit designers, and others for 3 days of advanced planning last week ... .

The filmmakers were here from the East Coast, and were with us for 3 days working on the third draft of one of the films that will become the 30 minute movie that explains the park to the public in the new Visitor's Center (opening early next spring) in the Oil House of the Ford Assembly Plant on the scenic Richmond shoreline.

On Wednesday, the designer's of the Visitor's Center exhibits met with us in long and intensive sessions going over the printouts and making the inevitable changes; sharpening the details; and bringing it into being after months of dreaming of the day ... it's all becoming real now, and is exciting!

It was during the session with the team creating the exhibits that an important insight pushed itself into consciousness --  but I didn't fully see it until long after we'd ended the discussion.  Isn't that always the way?

We were considering the various sections of the Visitor's Center and the exhibits being designed.  It was in the "Rosie the Riveter" section.   (There is a Home Front section, and a City of Richmond section, plus a theater below.) I'd envisioned somewhere among the displays a screen upon which (like a screen-saver) there would be multiple head shots of those women who were the inheritors of the legacy of "Rosie."  You've all seen her, "We can do it!," in a polka dot bandanna with arm bent showing her strength and determination.  (I personally prefer the Norman Rockwell image of the beefy sassy Rosie with her foot resting on a copy of Mien Kampf.) 

In my imagined exhibit there would be a mosaic made up of tiny images of many women who -- in the decades since WWII have made their way into careers and made major accomplishments in every discipline:  Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, astronauts; Christiane Amanpour and Rachel Maddow; Bella Abzug and Jessica Mitford; Oprah Winfrey and Julie Taymor and Toni Morrison; Barbara Jordan, Shirley Chisholm, Nancy Pelosi, Carly Fiorino, Dolores Huerta, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, Mayors Jean Quan and Gayle McLaughlin; Gloria Steinem and Annie Liebowitz; Mia Hamm, the Stanford women's basketball team; Supreme Court Justices O'Conner, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor; a helicopter pilot flying over Iraq or Afghanistan; that race car driver at Nascar; firefighters, policewomen, park rangers; Betty Friedan and Katherine Graham and Adriana Huffington; and yes, some bus drivers, some girl scouts and Rosie's Girls, Spelling Bee winners, ferry boat captains, West Point cadets, army admirals and generals, that Episcopal Bishop,  and (yes) Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachmann  (I'm an equal opportunity dreamer); and as many as we can crowd into a background with tiny images that would zoom into the forefront in one fleeting moment to fill the screen and invite murmurs of recognition from viewers.  You get the idea. 

I want to bring Rosie out of the past and into the present and the future.  And I want to write her into history as this history is being created!  Over the succeeding decades since she emerged as a powerful public relations symbol to bring women into the workforce, Rosie has evolved as has the nation and its attitudes, and has become more inclusive, many-hued, and in some cases a space helmet, hard hat, or hijab may have replaced that red polka-dot bandanna, but she still represents woman on the rise toward full equality.  In the immortal words of poet Maya Angelou, " ... and still I rise!" 
This is the trajectory I'd love to project on a screen.  I'm more concerned with this more dynamic image of Rosie than of erecting a mausoleum to the now white-haired Rosies who answered the country's call in WWII; we who've served as role models for her continuing march toward autonomy and independence; and who should now find immortality in the inspiration that we provided for those who climbed onto our slim shoulders for the continuing ascension in the decades that followed.  Maybe it's honor enough to see ourselves reflected in them and in their achievements.  I certainly do.

I heard another ranger's voice caution from across the conference table, "... but Betty, we don't want to use iconic women.  After all Rosie was an ordinary worker."  And, of course, I would agree -- and Elizabeth's words stifled the imagery and I gave it up for the moment; as deflated as a long-after-the-party-ended red balloon.

When I fell into that quiet moment just before sleep that evening, I realized that it was at just this place in the process that women get dropped out of history.  We complain and decry the omission, and don't seem to remember that men celebrate their icons, build institutions to them, name buildings after them, do "Halls of Fame" to honor them, but rarely do we women do so, and there's something fine about that.  It speaks to our inclination to want to be perceived in the aggregate as modest -- self-effacing -- but that doesn't make history, friends.  It is in just this kind of situation that the deed is done, and we women fail to promote ourselves at the cost of being erased from the history books as we've been over the centuries.  And maybe, just maybe, it's not a conspiracy to be dismissive of women at all, but women's natural reluctance to self-promote.

The team has returned to the East Coast, and the planning sessions have ended for now.  Isn't that always the way?  But maybe there's still time to make the point.  I'll just bet Molly MacGregor of the National Women's History Project would understand and applaud -- but then maybe I'm just making too much of it.

We'll see.  If it still seems important next week when our suggestions for revisions need to be submitted to be forwarded to the designers -- I'll act on it.  If not ... .

(I'd love to get some feedback in this instance, if you'll look just under my picture on the left side of the screen -- top of the list of links to send me an email.  You, too, can help to build a new urban national park, if you'd like.)

Sunday, August 07, 2011

It's all over ... the Mediation ...

... and I've not posted the results because I had no idea how to communicate what happened.  I'm not even sure at this point.  Maybe it suffices to say that the justice system worked to deliver only winners.  The greatest winner of all was my daughter, Dorian Leon Reid. 

I cannot help but believe that everyone in that mediation process felt good about where it all ended; most of all our attorney who told me afterward that, at 21, this was the case that he entered the field of the law to serve.  The judge was a gentle, reasonable, sensible man in whom I felt complete confidence from the moment we first met at the "up" elevator in the lobby at City Hall.
"Mrs. Soskin?" 
(How did he recognize me?  We'd not met before.  Maybe he'd visited my blog for background and recognized me from my photo?  How else would he have known?)

On reaching the 4th floor, I was introduced to the team of defense attorneys gathered around a large conference table; the representative for the city attorney, the police officer of the car involved in the accident -- there were probably 8 men in that conference room -- but as they introduced themselves -- I saw nothing in those faces or shake of those hands to fear.  It was like the experience of the testing sessions last week where we met for the first time the orthopedist and psychologist, both selected by the defense attorneys.  They were pleasant and competent professionals in whom I had complete faith. In the second conference room were just the two of us, Dorian's attorney and I.

I've never been involved in legal proceedings before, but from this experience, "the Law" and "Justice" are both alive and well, and worthy of the public trust.

What was expected to take the best part of 11 hours ended up settled in less than 3.  Though there was the process to be honored by two legal teams in two separate conference rooms with the judge moving between with each new factor to be considered; offers to tender; decisions to be pondered.  By the end of the process Dorian's future appeared brighter than at any time in our lives.  The independence and autonomy that I've spent a lifetime trying to establish for her were assured in one fell swoop!  The settlement will go into a trust fund secured by a respected trust attorney who specializes in serving the developmentally disabled community, and her mother can finally exhale!

The cost was high, and Dorian will pay by having her physicality impaired in addition to her significant mental deficits to contend with for the rest of her life, but, ironically, as the result of this settlement she accomplished for herself, accidentally, what I could never have achieved in her name; not in two lifetimes!  Fate is capricious, unpredictable, but in the end we can live with where it led.

... and there was a hidden bonus that occurred only after the session ended and on the long drive home.  This amazing outcome had been accomplished without my involvement.  A fine attorney had worked successfully on her behalf.  I don't believe I uttered a word beyond those mumbled during the polite introductions.  My role as " Guardian Ad Litem" all these months has consisted of occasionally reading and signing papers, delivering various materials as requested, and accompanying Dorrie for testing.    The entire proceedings had shown "The World" responding to Dorian without her mother's intervention.  Is this an example of interactions with "The World" after I'm no longer living? "The World" I've been so reluctant to trust with her life since the accident?  It's true that she was not physically present in the room that day, but her interests surely were, and those interests were properly presented and defended by total strangers; defended objectively and fairly.

It was at this point that I became danger to life and limb on the freeway as the tears of relief -- waiting for a lifetime were now released.  I began to brake in heavy commuter traffic -- and pulled off Interstate-880 at the first exit ramp and headed for the nearby waterfront where I  sat for an hour absently watching a graceful windsurfer through tears of pure joy -- and being totally at peace ... .  

I'm so grateful to those legal and medical professionals who deliberated in good faith.  There were no winners to declare nor losers to mourn -- only competent and compassionate men responding to a regrettable situation that none of us would have wished into being.

Now maybe Dorrie's mother will go arrange for those tango lessons!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dorian and I weren't the only family members enjoying the sky this day ... .

Checked email a moment ago to find a lovely photograph of my vacationing granddaughter, Rosie, standing on the rim of the Waimea volcano (the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific")  on the island of Maui -- making bubbles!

When have you seen synchronicity illustrated more beautifully?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Another week has passed, and today is Saturday and the day of the 26th Annual Kite Festival on the Berkeley Marina ... .

Dorian and I will get out our sweats, warm hooded jackets, binoculars and cameras -- pack a picnic lunch -- and head for the marina.  We'll spend the morning lying on our backs with eyes cast skyward, and if we're lucky, there will be not only kites of every possible description, but wind surfers and graceful sailboats to wonder at as well.

This afternoon at one o'clock I have a tour to guide for some members of the cast of "Rivets," starting at the SS Red Oak Victory and ending at the Rosie the Riveter Memorial; a full day in a week of full days.  But for now, it will be kites on the Green!

There are small rewards in life, one of them is that precious blue placard for the handicapped prescribed for Dorrie that proves to be almost equal to valet parking.  It means that we'll have no need to consider the walking distance from our car to our destination;  at times a real challenge.

Received a call from New York from the son of a childhood friend earlier this week informing me that his mother had died in late June.  In my busyness I'd not heard.  He was inviting me to her memorial service on August 20th here in Richmond.  A momentary flash of guilt clouded over as I remembered that the last time we talked by phone  (perhaps in late May), she sounded so confused -- hardly knew my voice.  I'd noticed when we last visited that her hearing was failing.  I stopped by a day or so later, rang her doorbell, and felt almost relieved when there was no answer.  Jacqueline was in the hospital at that time, and I didn't know.  I made a silent pledge to myself to stop on my lunch hour in a day or so to visit with her again; a pledge I failed to keep.  Having recently learned of another friend, Careth, on the eve of her eightieth birthday suffering a stroke, I felt a chill running along my spine, and invisible bumps along my lower arms.  Survivor's guilt?

But today is kite day on the Marina, and the last time Dorian and I attended this great event was a few years ago on the day that we delivered the remains of her beloved cat to the Berkeley SPCA for disposal (see post for July 31, 2005).   She woke that morning to find that Speedy -- who was pretty old and had been ailing -- had died during the night and was now frozen board-like into a lifeless lump.  Dorrie was devastated!

On the return to Richmond we saw them, kites of every size, shape, and hue dancing high against the cloudless sky.  Hoping to distract her from the feelings of loss, I impulsively slowed and pulled off the freeway to double back to find a place from which to watch.  We parked and walked along the road (this was before her accident and she was not yet needing a walker) where we soon found ourselves following the huge Sunday crowd to find a place where we could lie on our backs for the next few hours of pure joy!  I watched Dorrie's delighted face as the kites soon lifted her spirits skyward.   It didn't take long.   She asked if Speedy could see them ... .

Maybe kites will work for me today.

Later:  A dirge has been sounding all morning in the background of my mind; a feeling of disquiet; life-dulling disembodied overwhelming sadness. And once settled on our sleeping bag  (remembered seeing it in the trunk of the car, luckily), and lying on our backs watching the sky dance of an amazing array of kites -- suddenly the tears began to flow as I remembered that this is July --  the one year anniversary of the death of my younger sister, Lottie.  It was last year on the Day of Remembrance of the Port Chicago explosion in 1944.  I'd worked at the ceremony.  On arriving home from Concord, the call came from my niece to let me know that Lottie had died that morning in approximately the same time period as the ceremony; some time between eleven o'clock and noon.

This year's commemoration ceremony was held last Saturday, and though I was aware of this sad anniversary, I've been able to fend off the affects until now when it, uninvited, rose to consciousness to be dealt with and tucked away.

Just as the tears began to flow Dorian shouted out urgently, "Look, Mom, it's a cat!"  And looking up there she was, a black and white "tuxedo," a large kite replica of her beloved Speedy complete with four legs and tail and prancing kitten-like on the winds high overhead -- to Dorrie's total delight!

Then came the hugging, the rolling on the ground,  and the laughter at the absurdity of it all!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

 And finally ... .

35.  What specifically encouraged you to pursue the path your life has taken?
Answer:  My life has been neither  planned nor predictable.  It seems to have not been "a" life, so much as a series of incarnations that recurred in 10-year cycles starting about the age of 40.  Every decade appears to have served as an opportunity to re-invent myself.  However, that's only seen in retrospect, and none of the roles in which I found myself (beyond those of wife and mother), were in any way planned or anticipated.  I've tended to live life in a constant state of surprise.  It has been one grand improvisation, and for that I'm grateful since I'm still waking up to new days to own, and fresh expectations with each new sunrise.
 36.  What do you get to control as far as the development of the park goes?
Answer:  Not sure how to answer this question since it's not so much a question of control as there are opportunities to influence events through my participation as a "first source asset."  I bring those with whom I work a sense of the era of WWII simply by having been a part of it.  That my role is atypical of the experiences of other women of those times by virtue of being a woman of color, my presence as a member of the interpretive staff provides an element that's otherwise missing from the narrative. The reality as we lived it is so much more powerful than myths that we've created to describe that era.  But I'm also an American woman (sans the hyphen), whose life experience in many ways reflects the human experience of my generation, yet with greater complexity than most.  It is through those aspects that I feel that I'm helping to shape this national park, and with the full consent and support of the National Park Service.  And much of that comes not so much from "doing," but simply through "being."
37.  In the face of the racism and sexism you've experienced in your lifetime, how have you channeled that into courage and motivation for change rather than into fear, anger, or violence?
Answer:  Haven't a clue.  I believe we grow and evolve in direct relation to how early in life we develop the tools with which to survive and prosper.  I'm not sure just when the transition came for me, but somewhere along the way I outlived my rage without losing my passion.  This has enabled me to look beyond the insults and outrage in most cases, through the gradual realization that none of it was deserved, so that I didn't have to own it unless I so wished, or was going through some temporary vulnerability.  My race may have been your problem, but rarely was it mine.
I once overheard a friend remark to another mutual friend, "it's really difficult to feel superior to one who refuses to be inferior!"  She was referring to me.  I grinned to myself because I knew that Eleanor really "got it," and that she was both bemused and relieved by her own insight.  I rarely remember "owning" the negative, and more likely felt empathy for those who didn't realize my worth as a person and as a potential friend.  I credit those with whom I "grew up" in the turbulent Sixties -- at a time of re-definition and activism that has guided my destiny ever since.  For at least 2 decades during those years I lived a life of affirmation.  That period may have provided the cushion against hate that I'm enjoying through these final years.
38.  What social justice do you hope to see in the United States before the end of your lifetime?
 Answer:  I'd give almost anything to see an end to the broken system of justice that's been so crippling to the nation; the shameful incarceration of so many young black and brown youth; to see the necessary corrections made to the system of public education that has been all but demolished in our time; an end to capital punishment -- the need to end the  insane policy that causes us to kill people in order to show that it's wrong to kill people!  And, world peace can't happen soon enough for humankind, but I'm fearful that there's little hope of that occurring any time soon for reasons beyond comprehension.

Lastly, I don't envy your generation and the problems of climate change to solve.   I look forward with fear as the signs of melting glaciers and rising seas becomes more threatening with each day, and, as the scientists warn of irreversibility (a dreaded word!).  But it may be helpful for you to know that the models for how to solve the emergency of your time may well lie in studying how my generation met with the emergency of its time.  It was in the period of the Home Front mobilization (1941-1945) that, under Franklin Roosevelt, we formed ourselves into the great Arsenal of Democracy which produced (in Richmond) a workforce of 98,000 unskilled Americans -- and built and launched 747 ships in 3 years and 8 months led by the visionary industrialist, Henry J. Kaiser, who had never built a ship.  Together, despite having to do so under the badly flawed social system that ruled our lives at that time; we helped to save the world from the brutality of Fascist domination.  We know it can be done because my generation did it.  There is little doubt that yours can, too, given a more enlightened nation achieved through many decades of continuing social change, and unimagined technological advancement at your command.  How can you not?
Had it been possible to choose the era in which to spend my time on planet earth -- even with the often bitter challenges it presented -- I would choose my own, 1921 to whatever time of exit.  It's been a great run.  I wouldn't have missed it for anything.
 And in the words of the great Stephen Sondheim and his muse, the much-beloved and celebrated Broadway diva, Elaine Stritch ...
"I'm still here!"
Home from work today waiting for a plumber to repair one of life's unexpected contingencies; so while waiting I'll continue our conversation ... .

29.  What advice would you give a woman who is trying to make a career in a basically all male profession; for example engineering?
Answer:  I'm not at all sure that I could give advice to anyone since my life experience did little to prepare me to do so.  However, at this late date I find myself in a somewhat gender-specific role of a park ranger among a staff made up, primarily, of  young men -- and all that seems to matter is that I do my job with integrity and to the best of my ability.  Maybe that's all there is to it, at the end of the day.
 30.  How exciting is it to see the world change so greatly in such a short period of time?  Is it exciting?  Or scary?  Interesting?  The inventions ... mannerisms of people ... war tactics ... how we treat one another ... cell phones ... have all changed dramatically since the early 1900's.
Answer:  Having lived such a long life that "change" and "progress" seems to have happened with lightening speed!  Looking back -- it all went so fast -- and so much of it with little advance warning. Hope lies in the fact that so much has occurred over my lifetime that has thrust us forward.   I have the eerie feeling at times that I'm living in the future that I helped to create as time began to fold in on itself!
Having grown from Betty the Little Girl for whom Christmas took 365 endless days to return each year -- to Betty the Elder for whom Christmas now occurs every six weeks, is dizzying.  The illusion of time is stunningly under-appreciated.  I'm as fascinated by Einstein's Theory of Relatively and Stephen Hawking's black holes and parallel universes as I once was at the mysteries of the virgin birth and the resurrection, and with little need to choose between, but to consider them as acceptable conflicting truths for those who so believe. 
Much of scientific theory and religious belief I now think of as the way in which various civilizations have explained the nature of the universe to themselves down through the ages.  I suppose that one of the hallmarks of maturity may be an increasing ability to live comfortably with uncertainty, though I'm less drawn to religious thought these days, and more to the continual unfolding of Darwin's Theory of Evolution and to current studies of an expanding universe.  I'm struck by the way that science projects forward with hypotheses to prove or disprove which thrusts the edge of what is known ever forward -- while religion continues to reach back in time for its references, and measures new discoveries by how well they fit into belief systems set in antiquity; centuries before written language was widespread.  People of goodwill have debated interminably which of these leads to salvation, and I'm sure that it will not be solved in my time; but at this stage, I opt for the scientific approach, even though I can barely grasp the meanings of current writings from the sages of the academy.  I'm more intrigued by their mysteries.
Cell phones?  Who on earth could ever have predicted such a thing?  I came from a time of two tin cans connected by a string!
(I'm not sure that my answer bears any relation to the question posed, but it's where my mind went -- maybe to the inner change that is the more important to me.}

31.  You mentioned that one of the reasons you began your blog was because you had a particularly hard time reclaiming the history of the women in your family.  Could you please illustrate a little more on your process of discovering those stories, if you were able to, and some of the reasons why you think those stories in particular were harder to uncover?  How do you feel that the loss of women's histories within families affects the broader narrative about women in history?
Answer:  There's no mystery about why women are so hard to trace; their names changed through marriage, and in the event that there has been more than one marriage, the mystery deepened and they became lost.  If this is true in the search within families, one can imagine how it affects the story of women in the larger society.  As an amateur genealogist, it was frustrating, thus the birth of my blogging so that future family researchers might have the benefit of not only my life story, but all of those female ancestors whom I've been able to place into the record.
32.  In one of the videos you tell a story about a high school experience you had in drama class.  Specifically you mention how the teacher, though obviously stunned by your performance, wouldn't cast you because of your race.  You mention that your reaction to this as thinking, "Oh, of course, how could I have thought otherwise?"  I guess I was just wondering how experiences like this have affected you, and whether or not you think that the societal messages you received as a young black woman are similar to the ones received by young black women today?  If you believe they are different,  how would you describe the change?
Answer:  I suppose that my response to the situation had to do with the fact of my acceptance and understanding of the difficulty of her position.  I can remember there being such mixed emotions at the time, but I was not mortally wounded by the situation (though it was burned into my memory where it remains to this day).  I understood both her recognition and appreciation of my performance and her regret that she couldn't handle a confrontation with the prevailing attitude at that time in that community.  There was little for me to do (since I felt personally supported by a teacher whom I truly liked and respected, despite the circumstance in which we found ourselves), but then immediately switched to a class in public speaking where such a situation might be less likely to occur. It was a matter of needing self-protection, and taking control of a matter that I had no answers for at the time.
I'm not sure that a young black woman of today would tolerate such an assault upon her dignity, and stifling of her ambitions.  I'm certain that she should not since doing so only invites further abuse.  But then, the institution is on the side of today's student.  At that time it was not.
33.  Why do you think there's a negative connotation to the word "feminist" in mainstream America, even among women?
Answer:  Haven't a clue.  Maybe because the declaration of emancipation of today's women upsets the status quo and re-defines the traditional role of the men in their lives as well.   But that's only a guess.  About the women for whom the word "feminist" is not acceptable, that's less understandable, but at least in my experience the anti-feminist women also tend to be relatively conservative in other matters.
 34.  How difficult was it to get substantial information in regards to your family tree?
 Answer:  Surprisingly, it was extremely easy, given the availability of Internet access which introduced me to the Mormon's Family History Center with its tremendous resources and volunteer assistance to the amateur researcher.  Once the search begins and family names are entered into the system -- the mysteries begin to unfold and -- added to that, other researchers from everywhere begin to find you and for comparing notes and, over time, unbelievable discoveries begin to be revealed.  I've found related family researchers across racial lines in all parts of the country and the world.  At one point I was sent 26 generations of my maternal line by a family researcher in Louisiana.  To have lived into such a time so rich in possibilities is almost unimaginable.
35.  As long as you've been in your line of work (as well as your lifetime ) what is the greatest change for the better (or worse) that you've observed as far as the evolution and a result of social justice and CRGS (critical race, gender, and sexuality studies) activism?
Answer:  The changes have been monumental -- more than one might have imagined even over such a long lifetime.   The rate of change has accelerated dramatically so that generations that use to be measured in lifetimes are now measured in 5 years or less.
My grandfather could tell my father what the world would be like when Dad reached adulthood -- and it would pretty well be realized as predicted.  My father could predict and prepare his children for what our world would be like, and to a large extent, he was right in what he envisioned.  The changes that occurred between my birth and those of my children were so extreme that the world they inherited from my generation was no longer predictable.  My grandchildren are living in a world that -- even with my admitted intelligence, sensitivity, and intuitiveness -- is a total mystery to me and, I believe, to my generation -- the rate of change has so dramatically accelerated over time.

 (This conversation is almost over.  Will conclude with the next post)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Continuing conversation with Humboldt State University students ... .

22.  How has knowing a living relative who experienced slavery firsthand affected your personal identity?

Answer:  Mammá's persona was present throughout my childhood by virtue of the fact that the relatives with whom we lived most of my younger life had all grown up in her little house along the levee in St. James Parish in Louisiana.  Papa George, her eldest son and my grandfather; my mother, aunt, and 3 uncles who were her grandchildren, plus many cousins, made up my world until I was about twelve.  Upon arrival in California in 1927, (with the exception of the cousins) we all lived under one roof in Oakland for a time.
There was a constant stream of stories that gave form and personality to my great-grandmother long before I met her for the first time as a teenager.
Strange.  I can't recall ever hearing stories about how slavery affected her life, or for that matter, slavery as a subject never came up at all until I began to learn about it in high school while studying the Civil War era.   The shame of it must have been unspeakable; visceral.   The pain of it must have been equally so, and denial may have been the key to survival. 
Even then, I can't remember having made the connections with my own family's experience.  Those facts may indicate how little even some African American families have processed that history.  That white families have not done so should not be surprising.  It is a shameful chapter in our national story, and one that needs to be exorcised in order for the much-needed healing of the national psyche to begin.
23.  In an interview you gave regarding your role as a park ranger, you said you felt it was your job to promote important conversations.  What types of conversations were you referring to and are there any topics that you believe to be as important that maybe you do not have the chance to cover as a ranger?
Answer:  I find that -- if I allow myself the freedom to express whatever rises in the course of the telling, either on a bus tour or on a walking tour of the Rosie the Riveter Memorial -- there is a connection between me and those who are in my charge at the moment.  There are variations that rise up each time, and, though the truths have been long-hidden and sometimes troubling -- I'm always aware of the distance we've all come over the past 67 years on this journey toward eventual freedom and greater equality.  Each experience I've had over the years has brought me further along the path toward a deeper understanding of myself and of those with whom I interact as an interpretive ranger.
Since my work doesn't make up my total life experience, what other "important   conversations" occur fall into other areas of a very complex daily existence.

24. In a video you mentioned not listening to the voice inside you.  What was the voice telling you and why did  you ignore it?
Answer:  Probably different things at different times.  I would have ignored it depending upon how vulnerable I may have felt at the time, and whether I felt strong enough to listen and be guided by it.
 25.  What specific experiences led you to advocate for women's rights?
Answer:  I've never seen myself as an activist in the feminist movement, nor have I ever advocated for women's rights, specifically.  I've often found myself marching for human rights -- in which women's rights are incorporated -- or for peace and justice, or against the death penalty, but rarely have I been drawn to the cause of women in particular.  Not sure why that is, but it is.
26.  When African American women were admitted to work in the shipyards, was their work different or more difficult than the work being assigned to white women?  Taking racial segregation into consideration, what was the difference in treatment of black and white women while performing industrial work?
Answer:  I had no experience working in the shipyards.  I was employed as a clerk in a Jim Crow (blacks only) auxiliary union hall, and never was aboard a ship under construction.   In fact, I never saw a ship under construction. Therefore I have no firsthand knowledge of the working conditions of those women -- black or white -- who were in that world.
27.  I'm sure that she will continue her research in genealogy of the history her family, but as she wrote in her blog post the other day that she's "so afraid that it will remain unfinished even as this amazing American family saga continues to unfold ...".  Should this occur, have there been any family members or other relatives who have expressed interest in continuing or helping her out with this?  Has she thought of compiling her blogs of research into a book or some sort of keepsake?
Answer:  By now younger members of the family (both a son and a younger cousin) have been drawn into continuing the work.  As they age, as happened to me, the importance of keeping it current and involving others yet to be identified will  surely maintain it for future generations.  I believe that no one is indispensable, and I trust that others will step in as the needs arise, if only out of enlightened self-interest.
I'm considering having my blog published in annual volumes by one of the online publishers soon (miracles of miracles!), so that the "keepsake" will be fulfilled for my family.
28.  Even though women were asked to join the work force in helping to build ships and planes during WWII, was there any animosity from men not at war but working in the factories toward the women workers?
Answer:  Of course.  Though I had no experience in the workforce except as a clerk in a somewhat distant small office, the times and the social climate would indicate that the rapid changing of the traditional role of woman as caretaker and domestic helpmate to "Rosie the Riveter" or "Wendy the Welder" would have been threatening to the men who were surely uncomfortable by their presence on the job in what was seen until then as belonging exclusively to males. 
That the women proved to be capable and in many respects expert at the non-traditional jobs they held proved to be more than some men could tolerate, and they acted out accordingly by being disrespectful.  By the end of the war an uneasy truce was in place, but upon the return of the veterans -- and the need for them to re-enter the workforce, women were unceremoniously dismissed to two decades of watching Donna Reed and June Cleaver in aprons and high heels on television as models of society's expectations of the "weaker" sex.
(continued ... )