Thursday, June 20, 2019
I have never been sexually assaulted, unless you count the assault on my innocence and self-image as a young woman. This long overdue “Me Too” movement has prompted me to think of how much I was shaped as a female and a human being by the actions and words of men. Men who felt free to comment, stare at, and belittle me without hesitation or the least bit of concern for what they were doing. We have heard a lot about unwanted advances and physical attacks. I have not read anything about the subtle damage that can be done to young girls by consistent objectification by men. It traumatizes the spirit and self-esteem of females. It’s something most of us just learned to live with, even if at times, traumatic.
This is something men cannot possibly understand. There is no equivalent for a boy’s experience. Men often think mere comments are harmless and should be taken as compliments or jokes. But they are not. They are damaging and demeaning to a young woman’s sense of self and understanding of her place in society.
At the innocent age of thirteen I developed breasts much too large for my 5’2” petite body. I didn’t ask for them and I did not enjoy the attention they received. Up until then I only knew the love and affection of my father and grandfather. My favorite teacher in sixth grade had been a man. Males were safe until my breasts showed up.
Suddenly men were hanging out of truck windows and shouting at me as I walked home from school. Boys were staring at my chest in the most obvious ways. Adult males commented as I walked through a mall, even turned around and gaped. My mother was shaken by this turn of events and started buying me matronly clothing and swimwear which just furthered my humiliation. I went from being a carefree and happy girl to receiving the message that I must cover-up and become inconspicuous as possible so I didn’t provoke male attention.
Unfortunately, the things I loved to do involved gymnastic outfits and performing on stages. I was a natural gymnast. I spent my childhood cartwheeling and flipping across the front lawn, but by eighth grade I dropped out of gymnastics because of my discomfort with my body and the uniform I was required to wear.
At that age I discovered I could sing. My parents were thrilled and supportive. My church and the musicians there provided me with plenty of opportunities. I felt self-conscious in front of people no matter where I went, but at least church often included a bulky choir robe. Later, I did pursue musicals on stage but I was always aware of how the men in the audience were viewing me.
Throughout my teens and young adulthood my breasts were a millstone, a burden. Every piece of clothing I tried on in a store was evaluated by how much it de-emphasized my chest. I hated the off-handed comments of men like, “If you drop some food at least you have a shelf to catch it,” or wearing a Disneyland shirt, “Boy, does Mickey have big ears!” I’m sure men thought those comments were harmless, but they diminished me more every time I heard them.
At my first teaching job at age 22 the principal would comment on what I wore everyday. Each afternoon he would stand at the door of my classroom and stare at me—not the students or the lesson—just me. I wouldn’t have dreamed of saying anything. When I think about how insecure and unworldly I was then I am almost sure I would not have reported a sexual assault either. My breasts were a part of me and I considered them my fault and my responsibility. It would be decades until I found my voice and would be strong enough to be assertive or defend myself against anything that would diminish my personhood.
At the age of 40 I had breast reduction surgery at the urging of my respectful and loving husband. At the time I was teaching a college class. When I returned after the surgery it was the first time in my life that I felt comfortable standing in front of people. The very first time.
In our society there is terrible assumption of men believing they are entitled to say what they want to a woman, to look her over, sometimes to touch her as they desire. Not all men, of course. But that is the point. It is not an entitlement of manhood. It is not natural or just a “boy thing.” I don’t believe that crudeness in referring to women is part of “locker room talk” because the men I know, the men I have the utmost respect for, also respect women. Most men are capable of loving a woman for who she is not just for their favorite body part. We need to teach young boys that it is not a presupposition to treat a woman as personal entertainment. Adult men who think it is need to grow up.
Monday, March 4, 2019
First I was angry, indignant, now I’m heartbroken. The United Methodist Church has proven it is Divided—no different, no better than our riven country. A few verses taken out of context in the Old Testament have superseded the words of Jesus. (Verses that are surrounded with other dictates we do not live by any longer.) Jesus came to bring a new covenant. His message was love, acceptance and non-judgement. But fear wins. Judgement wins. I hope our denomination loses a significant amount of members. I hope there is a schism.
Bishops have voted to continue a ban on LGBTQ persons from marrying or serving as clergy in the United Methodist Church and to enforce this ruling. I wept throughout the service yesterday facing my choir director, a man devotedly and happily married to his husband. A man who has made my life better in every way; a friend, a mentor, a spiritual leader every single week. He draws people into the choir of every age, race and creed. He has done ten times more for others than anyone else I know. He was crying too, and it broke my heart.
My pastor gave an impassioned and powerful message that our church would never exclude anyone. That we are the same diverse and loving church we were last week. Of course, LGBTQ people are welcomed at our church. But what if two men or two women wanted our pastor to marry them in their beloved church home just as most of us have done? What if he did? Would he lose his job? Would we all lose his spirited and energetic leadership? Our church has continually grown over the years of his tenure—something rare in a mainline church.
Many years ago an ego-driven minister moved my childhood church out of town. It was the place where three generations of my family met every Sunday. He took that from us and I grieved deeply. It split up friendships and left people without a church home and it was completely unnecessary. My children left the church which broke my heart. I told them that the church is not God. God does nothing to hurt His children. The church is made up of flawed human beings, and while I know that I still don’t understand why church leaders willingly choose anything that hurts its members.
I hate the platitude: we love the sinner but hate the sin. No, you don’t love someone you are willing to deny basic human rights. Would you deny your own child food, shelter, love, acceptance? From Corinthians 13: love is kind, love keeps no record of wrong, it always protects. Banning people from what brings them joy and fulfillment is not love. At the conference a young gay man gave a beautiful speech telling of his lifelong dream was to be a Methodist minister. He will be denied that dream.
I don’t believe those of us in the majority understand what it’s like to be marginalized, discriminated against, denied what the rest of us so freely take for granted. This country is fueled by fear right now and Jesus told us repeatedly to not be afraid. Laws are made to protect us. When has a person who is gay hurt you? How have they taken away your rights or ability to live out your own life the way you see fit? They haven’t? Well, that’s what we’ve done to them.
Monday, January 14, 2019
This poem was chosen for National Poetry Month for the Cuyahoga County Public Library poem of the day forthcoming this April. It's about my grown-up children:
I see them together:
the connective tissues, the shared blood,
a counterpoint in firelight—and
something primal and holy in me turns.
Orange-yellow waves move over their glossy faces
and rotate like pinwheels in their eyes.
Her perfect tight-teeth smile and luminous hair.
His shoulders wide and strong, his great-grandfather’s silhouette.
White sparks sprinkle upward between us.
My diaphragm expands and my ribs crack in this invisible triangle.
I am stretched like early-morning yoga,
depth perception altered in this stasis.
Leaves flutter in the heat, tree frogs sing, dogs chase
each other in and out of deep shadows. His voice,
her laughter brings stillness to my maternal island
and resurrection to what time cannot take from my soul.
by Diane Vogel Ferri
from The Volume of Our Incongruity
Finishing Line Press 2018
Friday, January 11, 2019
Saturday, August 18, 2018
It started so innocently, so spontaneously. I am being trolled and harassed for a comment on Facebook. Oh, yes, this has happened many times with so-called “friends”, so I put a stop to all that. But this time, for the first time, I commented on a national post. I never do because I think who will read it and who will care? Apparently many people care about the opinion of total strangers and have the time to harass mercilessly, all day, maybe for two or three days.
Was what I wrote offensive, political, critical—nope. I was praising my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Horrible, right? How dare I! There was a clip from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I LOVE Stephen Colbert and watch him every night. I had no problem with the clip or the joke, but it was about Cleveland. I’ve noticed that Colbert often uses Cleveland in his jokes as somewhere you’d never want to go. I get it, but the river burned about 50 years ago so it’s an old joke.
I was naive enough to think, “Oh, what the heck, I’ll write something positive about Cleveland.” So I wrote that even though I love Colbert, here are some facts about Cleveland: The world class orchestra and museums, beautiful parks and amazing restaurants and the theater district that is second only to New York City.
Here are some of the things I was accused of: I have no sense of humor, can’t take a joke, I need to get over it, I”m ridiculous and, here’s the best one: Another Clevelander says he’s lived in Cleveland longer than me so what do I know? So I asked how he knew how old I was, and he’d gone on my page and looked at photos of me! Creepy! Then I got unsolicited advice about changing my settings, (which I have done). Another stranger even said I look good for my age, so at least something pleasant came out of this huge waste of time.
Then I was challenged and made fun of for saying we had the largest theater district after NYC. I have to say I got a lot of support on this one. A whole crowd of people validated my claim. This is going on and on, people! Whenever I went on Facebook I was praying there were no more related comments to read, but they continued and my original comment has 259 reactions so far.
As the days went on more and more people defended how wonderful our city is. Several people had visited and mentioned how impressed they were. I mean, this was a major issue! With one comment I somehow have gained access to the time and concerns of complete strangers. It’s amazing! The person who said I was ridiculous required a response from me: “I’m getting trolled for saying something nice about my city. Now THAT’s ridiculous!”
Monday, July 16, 2018
A Sunday in 2018
I love read to read and be informed. I look forward to an occasionally idle Sunday when I have time to read the two substantial newspapers that appear in my mailbox. I am passionate about the world my young grandchildren will inherit someday. Often my brain feels full of information after several hours of reading, but today it was more than that. It was full of despair. I had to stop reading, go into the bathroom, shut the door and cry. Actual weeping for our country. Nothing in the news was making America great again, just more cruel, more hateful, more discriminatory.
The Supreme Court nominee will make it harder for people to have access to voting if he has his way, as if we were in the pre-Civil Rights era. Unions, which I supported and greatly benefitted from may become decimated; poor working conditions and inequity in pay will prevail once again. A story about the WWII Japanese internment camps in America tells of families taken from their homes out of irrational fear. The author reminds us not to repeat history—but we already are. Thousands of children remain separated from their parents at the southern border. Imagine the damage being done to their psyches—all brought on by a party that claims to be pro-family and pro-life. I read that no hugging is allowed in these child cages. An older sister could not comfort her three year-old brother. I cried.
A friend tells me that her Japanese-American daughter-in-law and small grandson were harassed this week and called “F***king Chinks” at a Cleveland Indians baseball game.
In the UK our president is being protested and made fun of everywhere he goes. This is not normal. It is not normal or safe for our country for him to constantly be alienating and insulting our allies around the world. But he wonders why he’s not welcome.
On Facebook a distant relative cannot tolerate my views and harasses me mercilessly on my own post and timeline until I delete the whole thing and him as well. I accept that he has different views than I do, but he cannot tolerate mine. All of this is in my consciousness within two days. Does anyone else become overwhelmed?
After my tears over an America that I don’t recognize any longer I search for something uplifting and find a review of a documentary about Fred Rogers that is doing exceptionally well in the theaters. It says that people still want to see good. Yes, if we all were like Mr. Rogers and practiced kindness, tolerance and understanding our country would be a much different place, and I wouldn’t be crying at the news.
Thursday, June 28, 2018
My dear friend,
After decades of an easy and loving friendship we find ourselves on opposite sides politically. You recently expressed an opinion that you know I disagree with and I said very little in fear of it coming between us. I have strong opinions with cogent reasons too, but I’m not sure you want to hear them. My beliefs do not come from a radio pundit, a political news channel or any particular columnist, but from experiences that slowly changed my views without me even being aware of it. It was a natural evolution for me, based on my life and my faith, so the conundrum is that we are both Christians yet see things so differently.
My own experience of struggling financially for a time (even though I went to college and had done all the personally responsible things), and teaching poor children for 20 years in a diverse district gave me a new perspective. The adults I now tutor often had no choice about leaving high school but were forced to to care for younger siblings or to get jobs. There is so much judgment of those whose lives we know nothing about. The richest country in the world should help their own, but the current administration seems determined to take every good thing away from us: public schools, the EPA (which has greatly improved our lives and health for decades), arts funding, women’s health care, children’s lunch and after-school programs, being irresponsible stewards of God’s creation by allowing pollution to take over again to name a few. They want to reduce food assistance even though it is a minuscule part of the budget. Ohio wants to defund the Positive Education Program for emotionally disturbed youth, to say nothing of defunding Planned Parenthood whose services prevent unwanted pregnancies. I could go on and on.
I am sincerely curious about how Christians reconcile these types of efforts with the teachings of Jesus. Breaking up immigrant families, putting the arguable right to own an assault rifle over the safety of American schoolchildren, unnecessarily raising rent on the poor, are all contrary to repeated commands of Jesus who showed us how to feed and care for the poor without question, to live peacefully and turn the other cheek. He told us not to worry about tomorrow, that all people are our neighbors which includes Muslims, immigrants and the poor. And of course, to love our enemies. The words of politicians and the Second Amendment have superseded the words of Jesus.
You say you need guns because you fear “they” are coming for you. I don’t even know what that means. “Fear not,” is the most repeated command in the Bible, supposedly 365 times, one for every day. The commandment to not kill I take literally and don’t think there are exceptions. I do not find the promotion of guns pro-life. Just the opposite. “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body and not the soul.” Mt 10:28.
I do not oppose a conservative viewpoint but there is one news station that has done great damage to our country. Everyone I know who watches that station seems to live in fear and believe in conspiracies that never materialize. I saw it happen to my own parents. They went from being happy and content to constantly worrying and even obsessing about things they heard on television. Of course, none of their fears were realized. It was sad to me to see that change in them. They had the station on most of the day so I was exposed to it. I heard daily ranting and vicious name-calling of Democrats. Don’t tell me that doesn’t have a divisive effect on people. There may be liberal viewpoints on other stations but I have never heard the ugly vitriol that I’ve heard on that station.
The thought of abortion repulses me, but I also do not judge those who feel they need one. I do not know their circumstances and believe judgement is left to God. There is great hypocrisy in wanting babies to be born, but not cared for after birth. When we remove help for those children, defund public school resources, food programs and the like we are just pro-birth, not pro-life. I have never walked in the shoes of a gay or transgender person so I do not have the right to tell them how to live their lives or what their human needs should be. It is only when we dehumanize people that we insist on our preferences over their civil and human rights.
One of the most divisive ideas is that this has always been a White Christian country and what we saw on 1960’s television was the “way it’s always been.” Think Mayberry. But that is a false image. That was before the civil rights movement when black people were segregated in every way in this society, when Japanese were interned, when what we saw on TV did not reflect reality for many Americans in any way. Life wasn’t great for everyone in decades past so there is nothing idyllic to go back to. Even though I attempt to live my life by Christian principles I do not believe this is a Christian country. It began as a Native American country and for a long time everyone was welcome here. Building a wall to keep people out and travel bans are in direct opposition to the freedom America stands for. I have the right to worship as I want in America, but so does everyone else.
Liberal and liberty share the same root word. It is defined as: marked by generosity, broad-minded, open to new opinions, and believes in political change. I am not ashamed of that and no one has convinced me of any of these views except living the life that God gave me and coming to know people unlike myself. There cannot possibly one right way to live among the billions of people on this planet. If God is the Creator then He made all of us.
So maybe we should find our common ground and stick to that. All over this country relationships are strained by the deep divisions that we are exposed to 24 hours a day. Let’s not be one of them.
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Last week two prominent, widely admired, successful people committed suicide. I heard a lot of misconceptions from people who most likely have never been there. The first thing you think is why anyone with money and fame would do such a thing, but money and fame have nothing to do with what is happening in the depressed person's mind. It's a physical imbalance. It is not rational.
Many years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression (and two other temporary mental illnesses) that occurred for a very specific reason in my life. I had counseling and medication. I got well and it is not a chronic problem for me. I can't really imagine living through it again or what it would be like to battle this disease all of my life. Some people do and this is why they cannot take it any more.
Depression is not sadness or discouragement—it is utter hopelessness. It is not feeling anything, not caring about anything, it is like already being dead. When you are hopeless and cannot feel human feelings your life does not matter to you and you cannot imagine that it ever will. This, of course, is not true. It is not rational thinking.
You will hear things like - remember how many people love you, think about your children, it will get better. The problem with those thoughts is that they involve emotions and reasoning and when you are clinically depressed you cannot understand those thoughts and cannot feel hope in them. If you've never felt complete hopelessness it is almost impossible to comprehend.
I did not seriously contemplate suicide. I do remember wanting to get away from myself, but there was no way to do that. I hated myself. I hated being so weak, so sick, for worrying the people who loved me and I would have done almost anything to end that experience. I thought about how everyone would be better off without me, which is pretty close to life-ending thinking. In my mind I knew hope existed but I could not feel it or sense any light at the end of the tunnel. That's exactly why it's depression.
So when you wonder how someone could do such a thing to themselves or to their family remember that at the moment of their decision it didn't matter at all.
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
There is a cemetery nearby where many of my paternal relatives rest. Four great-grandparents, three great-aunts, and my own grandparents are in one family area. My mother and father are in another place in the same cemetery. I was close to my grandparents because they lived five houses away on my street as I grew up. I could walk to see them any time I wanted. I would bring my grandmother flowers and we'd play board games together. I was also close to my great-aunt Irene. She never married and lived a simple, and I thought, lonely life. My mom and dad took very good care of her in her old age and she was a part of all of our family gatherings. She was 87 when I had my first child and I gave my daughter the middle name Irene so she would be remembered.
Cemeteries are not fun. They make you think about uncomfortable truths. Many people have nothing to do with cemeteries because they say their loved ones are not there. But, in a way I disagree. When you go to the grave of a loved one you can feel their presence. Even though you may think of them frequently you are solely focused on their memory as you gaze at their names. I like to think that when I am there they feel a surge of love wherever they are. It's a time to talk to them, catch them up on earthly matters, and once again, tell them how much you miss them. There are always tears, but it feels important for me to do.
When I go to the Vogel plot of my ancestors I always say "I remember you." I say this because no one else will remember them. Why would you think of them when you don't even know where their plots are? The rest of my cousins were not close to my grandparents and they live in far away. My grandmother and grandfather have been gone since 1970 and 1972 respectively. Who thinks of them now that my dad and his sister are gone? I do.
I am still overcome with sadness to think that all of my many aunts and uncles and even a few cousins are now gone from this earth. My mother was the last of her generation in our family when she died in 2016. So now my cousins and I are the matriarchs and patriarchs. Something you never imagine. It's a completely unique part of life when all those before you are gone. Life takes on a different meaning when you see another generation coming into the family as I do with my three grandchildren and my cousin's grandchildren.
I recently read a novel that took place in post-war Germany. The main character visited a cemetery and inquired why graves were being dug up. She was told that they are dug up and replaced every thirty years because after thirty years no one remembers them. That's not particularly true these days, but it was a shocking reminder of the brevity of life.
I recall my parents devotedly caring for the Vogel gravesites and I will do the same as long as I am able. No one else will. Every time I visit I will say, "I remember you" to each one there who lived and breathed and made it possible for me to be alive.
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Have you ever lost a friend without knowing why? The kind of friend you have everything in common with, the kind of friend who chose you to stand next to her as she married. A friend whose children were your children’s friends and you went on vacation together, made music with, a friend you loved and admired.
Then suddenly one day there was no more communication. No return calls, no accepted invitations, no more best friend for your daughter. Life was changing for both of you, but that shouldn’t have precluded a friendship, in fact, the situations created one more thing in common. You spend years in occasional mental and emotional confusion.
Many years later you see her at a movie theater and exchange a few pleasantries . You discover she lives only minutes from you, and that is a further injury to your heart. But it is clear nothing has changed. You send a letter asking for an explanation, but there is no reply. You must eventually let it go. But the thing is, you never really do. Years pass and it doesn’t come into your consciousness, but all of a sudden something will remind you of the mystery you will never solve. Then the relentless questions begin again, but there is no one to ask. You eliminate so many possibilities, but never come up with a possibility.
Another decade goes by and with no apparent provocation one night you awaken with her on your mind. You have been on Facebook for ages but never thought to look her up. You are sure she is not the type to be on social media, but there she is. You send a message and she accepts the request, but again, does not reply.
Why are some things so impossible to let go, to accept? You only want to know the reason. What unforgivable thing did you do? You don’t really need any more friendships, but you needed hers.
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Many years ago I was in a marriage that was an emotional and financial disaster. I had done all the responsible things in life. I went to college and became a teacher. I took care of my two young children and a large run-down house in a pleasant neighborhood. We were very active in our church and had many friends. We looked like your average suburban family. But I couldn’t support four people and a house on a teacher’s salary alone. We were deeply in debt and our house in disrepair. I was using a second mortgage to buy groceries and ironically, to pay the mortgage. The years of disappointment and stress finally ended in divorce—something I never dreamed would happen to me.
I was raised in the middle class, but now I suddenly had a taste of what it must be like to be poor. I learned that anything that could happen could happen to me. No one is immune to one bad decision changing the course of life. I was certain I would be better off on my own and I would have been, but while going through the agony of divorce my teaching job was reduced to half time with no medical insurance. I imagined living in my parents’ basement with two kids, a dog and a canary.
As hard as I tried to hide my struggles many people from my church family offered to pay a month’s mortgage or help in other ways. I turned them all down. I felt ashamed of my situation even though I had done nothing to cause it. It felt humiliating to accept help.
One day my children and I were in the living room after school and the doorbell rang. The delivery person at the door was holding a large beautiful plant—a peace lily. I brought it in and opened the card. There was no signature, but ten one-hundred dollar bills floated out onto the floor. A miracle and an enormous amount of money at that time. I never found out who sent this anonymous gift, but it carried us over until I was offered a new full-time teaching job on the very last day of August.
Friday, October 6, 2017
I chose Stella from a shelter 13 years ago and I felt her love, devotion and gratitude every day of those 13 years. She was my walking companion. She always pulled on the leash. I knew that should have been corrected but it made me walk faster and we both stayed trim. I estimate we took over 1300 walks together until last spring when she could no longer make it around the neighborhood.
She was a beautiful, gentle dog and I miss her terribly.
A dog often forces you take them to their final destination. You make an appointment to end their suffering and although you know it is the right thing to do it is not normal to take something you love to die. It seems wrong and guilt and doubt accompany your decision. But I believe that a dog knows when their time has come and September 27, 2017 Stella let me know she was ready. I will miss her always.
It seems silly to think there is a heaven for dogs but I hope there is some reward for all the joy and love they give us while they are here. And just like people you hope there is relief from pain and suffering for eternity.
Monday, July 10, 2017
Euclid Beach Park was an amusement park in Cleveland from 1895-1969
The Collinwood area was unfamiliar to me when my daughter and I headed there to attend a concert at the Beachland Ballroom. I drove right past Waterloo Road and had to pull in somewhere to turn around. I looked up to see a very familiar sight and said, “Oh! We’re at Euclid Beach!”
Seeing the Euclid Beach Gateway Arch prompted me to ask my dad to tell me more about his summers living in what was called Tent City at the park. I had heard so many stories about Euclid Beach throughout my life, but I never completely understood why my father, his sister and my grandparents had lived there from April to October for seven consecutive years in the 1930’s.
“Did you really ride your bike down the Flying Turns after the park closed?” I thought maybe I had misheard this familiar story from my own childhood because it now seemed implausible.
“No, I had a sled with wheels for that,” Dad answered, “I rode my bike down the Racing Coaster, but only once.”
“How do you ride a bicycle down a roller coaster?”
“On the wooden slats between the rails,” he replied as if that would be obvious to anyone.
In 1933 when my dad was 10 years old, he contracted osteomyelitis, a inflammation of the leg bone caused by an infection. He almost died from the fever and was packed in ice while in a coma to bring the fever down. Part of the bone was removed and he was bedridden for over a year of his boyhood.
At that time my grandfather worked for City Ice and Fuel, located at Superior and Euclid, delivering huge blocks of ice. (Dad said that in the summer children would run after the truck picking up the chips of ice that fell off for a cold treat.) After Dad’s hospitalization my grandmother went to work there also to help out financially, taking coal orders.
My father’s lower lip trembled as he told me of a nurse who came to his home to take care of him while his parents worked. She was also a certified teacher, and although she was to be married soon, she delayed her wedding for five months so Dad could finish the school year at home. Years later he would graduate from Cleveland Heights High School only a half year behind his classmates because of her generosity.
“I think I fell in love with her,” he said with tears filling his eyes.
As Dad recovered the doctors told my grandparents that he needed as much exercise as possible. There were not many opportunities for sports on the busy side streets of Cleveland Heights in the 1930’s. So they rented their house out to a professional golfer for the season and took up residence in a large tent on the grounds of Euclid Beach Park. The tents had electricity but no running water. There were communal water pumps, bathrooms and showers. My dad played baseball and tennis and roller-skated every day. He played kick-the-can and badminton with the other children. He swam at the pool and the beach on the shore of Lake Erie.
When I was growing up, no matter what sport or game of skill was being played, everyone wanted to be on my dad’s team. He was good at everything, and considering these childhood years, I understand why. When he was eleven years old the man in charge of the Euclid Beach skee-ball gave Dad the job of retrieving the balls thrown out of the alleys. If he would crawl in the dirt and dust to get them he was allowed to throw for free. When he was 15 he got the job of running the skee-ball alleys. He always claimed to be the reigning Northeast Ohio Skee-Ball champion because he won the title the last year the contest was held. It’s a long-running family joke.
“Because of the osteomyelitis,” he said, “I was behind in school and then I was deferred stateside in the Navy during World War II. If you had the disease they wouldn’t let you lead a battalion because they thought your leg would break. Now it would be different. They would know better now...” My father never got over not being able to serve his country overseas during the war but we are all proud of the four years he served in the Navy.
Of course, like so many Clevelanders, I have my own memories of Euclid Beach Park;
The custard and popcorn balls, being terrified of Laughing Sal, the old-fashioned calliope music filling the park. There were old-timers still working there that remembered my father. My neighborhood has rented a Euclid Beach Rocket Car on the Fourth of July. As we fly down the side streets, I wonder if I’d ridden in the same car so many years ago as a child.
My grandparents took my brother and I to our last visit to the park in 1969. By then it was run down and deserted. I remember feeling sad knowing what a special place it was to Dad. Now I can take my grandchildren on the restored Euclid Beach Grand Carousel at the Western Reserve Historical Society—something my father didn’t live quite long enough to ride on again—passing away only weeks before it opened in November 2014 at age 91.
I never imagined I would feel so connected to a place that no longer exists. Sadly, it lives in the memories of fewer and fewer Clevelanders as the years go by. It was a place that brought joy to countless families. A place that helped heal my father.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
When I retired from teaching I wanted to do something worthwhile, to reciprocate for my good fortune and to use my teaching skills. I spent my career teaching children with learning disabilities and wanted to work with adults—people who had a deep desire to learn and came to school of their own volition every day. This brought me to Seeds of Literacy.
In the past several years I have worked with many students and they are always appreciative and friendly. I admire their determination to make a better life for themselves and their children. Many of them are middle-aged and some even older. One woman I tutor is older than I am. When I asked her why she was doing this she said she just wanted to get a job—at an age when some of us are retiring.
My teaching career was spent in an inner ring suburb of Cleveland, so I am familiar with the struggles and challenges of poverty and lack of education. I dealt with so many families just struggling to get by and school was often low on the list of priorities when compared to paying the rent or feeding their children. Students moved in and out of the district regularly. The lack of stability has a terrible effect emotionally and educationally. The social challenges of making new friends as well as entering into a different curriculum can lead to discouragement and behavior issues. By high school some students were angry and discouraged because school was a place of failure and they could never hope to meet the expectations.
I knew single mothers working a third shift and leaving the children with a teenaged cousin after school. Students often showed up at school hungry or distracted by a painful situation at home. I taught twin boys who would enter my room visibly upset and focused on each other because of an unhappy interaction at home. One of them was in need of medical intervention for severe asthma but never received it, and his day would be wasted in the clinic.
At Seeds, I overhear conversations while tutoring, and they remind me of the lives of the children I taught. Sometimes it is between the students sitting together at a table. They share their reasons for not completing high school, and it’s eye-opening. In many instances, the decision to leave school was completely out of their control. One day, two young women at the same table told me they were both forced to drop out of high school to watch younger siblings. They didn’t want to leave school then, and now it is so much harder.
One of those women now needs her eldest daughter to watch her younger children when she works. The young teenager may struggle to find time to do her own homework. This mother may have no other option but to work to support her children. Imagine how overwhelming life might be to work, care for a family and study for a GED at the same time. As a society we expect people to be responsible and move forward, but how many of us realize the obstacles and sacrifices that takes every day?
Another student worked all morning with me on writing a personal story. I learned she had a baby boy when she was seventeen and her family kicked her out. She lived on the streets for eight years “hustling” to take care of her son. She would drop him off at a friend’s house, make some money and buy her friend’s family some food to repay their help. One day her sister went to the babysitters, took her son and put him up for adoption. She said, “My reason for living was gone. I didn’t see him again for sixteen years until he found me.” She continued to survive alone for many years and was incarcerated several times. She told me she wanted to make her son and her two grandchildren proud of her by finishing school. But I have not seen her for months and we don’t know why she left. The circumstances that kept her from graduating from high school are probably still there, and making a commitment to education is still difficult for her.
Recently a student shared that he is sixty-six years old and his children do not know that he never finished high school. In his last semester of high school his mother became sick and made him quit to be “the man of the family.” That set a difficult course for his life. Now retired, he wants to complete his education.
Not everyone has grown up with the same advantages and family support. When I grew up in suburban America, I understood that I would graduate from high school and go to college. There are few, if any, obstacles in our way. My parents helped me with homework and raised me in a safe, healthy environment. I never came home to an empty house or heard gunshots outside my window. I never lacked for basic health care or went to bed hungry. I was never neglected or discouraged from reaching my goals.
I’ve realized where and to whom each one of us is born is pure chance.
What if you were raised with very little guidance or love? I’ve heard teenage mothers say that a baby gives them the unconditional love they’ve never had before. I was born in the middle class and spent my childhood feeling a sense of belonging and love. I did no have to go out and look for it in ways that could be harmful to me.
The students I work with left high school for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, poverty and the limited options that come with it don’t go away just because someone grew up.
I have seen people come to Seeds of Literacy for months and suddenly disappear. They were attempting to do what our society asks of them even though our society might not fully understand where these adults are coming from and what they’re living with. Giving these adults and their children a chance at a better future benefits all of us. None of us did it alone and neither should they.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Half of Us
Half of us remember the water and air pollution of the 1970’s when streams and lakes were too filthy to swim in, air dangerous to breathe, animals and birds endangered and nearing extinction. The EPA worked for decades to create a healthy, safe environment for Americans. Half of us now think that a manufacturer has the right to pollute public waterways and air in favor of making more money. Half of us do not care about the health of the next generation—corporations are more valued.
Half of us value public schools that have provided free education to all American children in their neighborhoods. Half of us want school choice that would drain the resources from public schools and still only provide choice to the lucky ones who have parental advocates and a quality charter school within their neighborhood. This would possibly provide a better education for some, not for all. Half of us believe we simply need to support and help public schools reach their potential not continue to take from them—then every child will benefit. This also starts with reform for fair and constitutional funding of all public schools.
Half of us say that government should stay out of our lives, but think it’s okay to tell a woman what to do with her body and make decisions that will impact the rest of her life. The other half of us are most likely not in favor of abortion, but understand that we are not in that woman’s shoes and cannot possibly know her circumstances.
Half of us call ourselves pro-life but are not concerned about the lives of poor unwanted children after birth or that 30 million American children are hungry everyday. Half of us want to take away preventative care, prenatal care, contraception (which prevents unwanted pregnancy) and check-ups for those who have no where else to go, but call themselves pro-life. Babies, children, adults and the elderly—all are alive.
Almost all of us can trace our family history to immigration, yet half of us have decided that all immigrants should be demonized for the actions of a very few. Half of us boldly proclaim our patriotism but deny that freedom of religion applies to every religion, not just our own.
From 2005 to 2015 there were 24 American deaths from terrorism. In that same decade 280,000 Americans died by gun violence at the hands of other Americans. Even though there are no recorded instances of someone saving others with a gun and there are thousands of instances of innocent bystanders being killed by guns, half of us think gun rights are more important than the right to safety and life.
Half of us are vocal and vigilant about defending the American flag, the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. Those traditions and ceremonies do not make America great unless they apply to all Americans no matter their race, religion or gender. Discrimination of our fellow Americans is still overwhelmingly present in our society.
Half of us revere the Constitution yet disparage those exercising their First Amendment rights when we do not agree with their stance. Peaceful protest has brought about change in this country from Civil Rights to the end of the Viet Nam War to Women’s rights to vote. Freedom of speech and assembly applies to everyone—all the time.