Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tying things together

My father bought this house in 1938 for about $2800, if 
remember right. We had electricity but no indoor plumbing 
for a while, chickens out back, an outhouse. Not exactly 
log cabin origins, but I'm not above claiming humble origins 
when it suits me. The current owners still may take down the 
"storm windows" and put up screens for the summer, just as we did 
since the early 1940s, but I see they haven't done that yet. 
Fifty years ago there were many more trees.
My last blog entry (Between Winchester and Barkhamstedhad to do with my home town of Winsted, which I was trying to introduce to friends Sharmon and Luis and to Taku, before heading to Connecticut to Sol's graduation. We're now back. Here's how it looks from the after-side.

high school
Friend Bill flew out from Indiana to sit with Miki and Bounce for five days so that Taku and I could get on a metal tube and fling ourselves through the air to the coast of my birth. As I sit here I am fighting the urge to rant over the practice of American Airlines of dropping you at one gate at an airport and then expecting you to sprint at the age of 77 across a mile and a half of airport to a gate at the other end, to catch a plane leaving in ten minutes. Without a word of understanding that this is not something kindly beings do to one another. And then cram you into tight seats built for folks under four foot eleven and less than ninety-nine pounds. Won’t rant about that. Will just tell you that I vowed as I left the airport after returning that I would walk, the next time I felt the urge to travel across the country.
First Church

But that’s the down side. Had to get that out of the way.

Taku and I took the trip to do three things: attend the graduation ceremony of a treasured chosen family niece at Yale Law School, drive up to Winsted to visit the biologicals, and then drive up to Northampton, Massachusetts to visit a dear dear friend I have not seen for fifty-five years.

Luis, Sharmon, grand nephew
Joseph III, Taku, Jamie,
nephew Joe,  Stacey
brother-in- law Joe

brother-in-law Joe,  Luis, nephew
Joe Jr., moi
Stacey, grand niece Clara, sister Karen

Somehow it all worked. I got to revisit my sister after ten years, meet the wife, Stacey and daughter Jamie of my nephew for the first time, catch up with grand nephews and nieces and put the biological family all together with husband Taku and chosen family Sharmon and Luis. If they didn’t actually enjoy the experience, they fooled me. I left the home town with very warm feelings indeed. But not until we had visited Ralph Nader's Tort Museum, missing Nader and his sister Claire by about fifteen minutes, the receptionist told us. Fine fine museum. Worth a visit to Winsted just to see, I'd say.

clockwise: Stacey, Joe Jr., Clara,
Karen, Nick, Joe, moi
Despite growing up in Connecticut and knowing dozens of Yalies over the years, I had never been to the Yale Campus. That, too, turned out to be an exciting adventure. I’d share pictures, but aside from a couple  showing the tradition of turning mortar boards into silly hats, I’d recommend getting professional quality photos of the campus and its history. Wikipedia does a good job on Sterling Library and the Beineke Rare Books library.

Seriously. Have a look here if you get the chance.  Really enjoyed walking into a cathedral, complete with stained glass windows, a mural of Mary at the front (who is actually the very secular “Alma Mater” and not Mary at all.  Loved too reading about the squabble between folks who, like Nation magazine, sneered at the “cathedral orgy” sanctimony, and folks like me who have always loved cathedrals and see something noble in building one that will hold over five million books. Fought the urge to genuflect before moving on to the Music Library because I wanted a quiet place to sit down for a while.

happy grad
Sol gets her degree
Sol twixt mama and papa

Graduation was fun. Fought like everybody else to get a good shot of our already tall graduate girl in heels towering over many other future ruling class movers and shakers listening to speeches by the dean on the importance of remaining humble and seeking to do good. A special treat was the presence of John Lewis, who really did embody the professional career of a guy who took the sticks and stones and spit of the retrograde forces in American life to make for a better America. Had no idea he would be there. He talked about chickens, also. I didn’t get the point, but that was OK. I was too busy hero-worshiping.

Me and the sister in the Tort
Museum (note the exploding
Corvair on the T-shirt
behind us)
Lewis was only the latest of a long line of people I admire whom I was able to listen to in person this last week. Amy Goodman came to Berkeley and talked about her work with the Dakota Indians fighting the pipeline. Bill Moyers spoke at the Castro Theater about the “alien” nature of Trump in the White House and the importance of recognizing that although there may be two or more sides to every question there are not necessarily two “right” sides. And recognizing that change takes place when lots of little people get involved and do little things. He spoke of how proud he was of the stop sign his wife had forced their town to put up at an intersection near their house. “Just as important, I told her, as the work I was doing to further President Johnson’s Civil Rights efforts.” That would be bullshit coming out of most people’s mouth. From Bill Moyers, I knew it was sincere – making the point that it’s the effort to actually make something happen as opposed to simply ranting and raving about it, that makes the difference. Following in the footsteps of Ralph Nader, for example.

Winsted Pet Parade
I actually left Connecticut in 1958 when I went away to college in Vermont, because I never lived there after that. I still carry a New England identity, however, and the monsters that plagued my conciousness as an out-of-place teenager died off decades ago now, so I can go back to that little town at the intersection of the Mad and Still Rivers, dominated by St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church (and four other stone churches), and a Main Street with buildings on one side only and a pet parade that has been going on in Winsted since before I was born. 79 years. It touched my heart that our family reunion just happened to coincide with Winsted's pet parade of 2017. I got out in time to photograph Section B (No dogs), where the kids were walking their pet chickens down Main Street. Failed to get a good photo, alas, so here's a stock photo from 2013 from the Winsted/Torrington paper.

Me and Nathan
The Yale trip was that shot in the arm I need from time to time to convince myself that a) there is beauty in the world, and b) there are good people working to do good things, and c) it cannot be said often enough that the sine qua non for what ails this country is not impeaching the Mango Mussolini in the Oval Office (satisfying as that would be), and holding back the moneyed interests from robbing the poor (necessary as that is), but the importance of insisting that people provide evidence for their assertions.  Here's me at the left with yet another hero. Nathan Hale this time (as in "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country" - which he did at age 21, by the way - "For God, For Country, and For Yale.")

Then there’s Hasi.

Gertraud ("Hasi") and me at
 Middlebury, 1961, maybe 1962

and now in 2017
In 1961 when I came back to Middlebury to finish my senior year after spending my junior year in Munich, I was a fish out of water. I missed Germany something fierce. It had been my first exposure to the big city, to art and culture and an exciting world I had no idea existed, and I missed it terribly.  Hasi eased the shock and sense of alienation I felt at having that all taken away so suddenly and we spent a lot of time together. She had come from Hinterpommern (“Farther” Pommerania) in East Germany, was still reeling from her escape with her family as refugees after the war with the Russians pushing the Germans out of what is now Poland, and then finding herself in America being poked and probed as a curiosity who knew more about Das Kapital than most of her contemporaries. She suffered terribly from having to go and speak at all these church socials and faculty get togethers. When I asked her why she didn’t simply refuse, she said, “I was raised in the East. We never learned how to say no.” We became fast friends, but lost contact over the years until I found her again on Face Book a couple years ago.

We had the day Tuesday after the graduation. Our plane back to San Francisco wasn’t until five, so we drove to Northamption where Gertraud (whom I knew as “Hasi”) taught German at Smith until she retired.

Before saying good-bye and promising it
will not be 55 years this time. 
Hasi with the Spousal Unit

Another dash, this time from one end of Philadelphia airport to the other to change planes,
and home to the girls.

Whose welcome wiggles after five days made the discomforts of air travel fly away in an instant.

Luis and Sharmon, after all this activity in New Haven tracking their second daughter's accomplishments, got to drive their rental car back to New York and hop a plane for Colombia, where their older daughter Paz (how many of you have kids called Peace and Sunshine?) is marrying a marvelous man named Quique, whom I hope to have in my life from here on in with the rest of these marvelous people. Would love to keep up the pace and join them in Cali for the wedding, but it would prevent my taking a long long nap.  And I know my limitations. (And they're doing a second wedding just for us California folks, so all's well, I say...)

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