Big Birthday Memory #9: Remembering JFK: 44 Years and 2 Days After the Kennedy Assassination

 

On the campaign trail. I would have given anything to be that kid.
On the campaign trail. I would have given anything to be that kid.

 

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from November 24, 2007.

Thanksgiving Day was the 44th anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy.  I didn’t want that to be my holiday post, though, so I’m writing about it today.**  I was a senior in high school when our vice-principal, Mr. Hall, a huge scary guy (and football coach) came onto the intercom and announced, his voice breaking, that President Kennedy had been shot, and had died.  I remember standing up and just walking out of my creative writing class.  No one stopped me – or any of the rest of us.  We wandered the halls in tears, then went home, riding the school bus in tears.  I remember the next morning, taking the car out and just driving around — running in to my friend Jack Cronin on his drugstore delivery route – and standing on McClellan Drive in his arms as we both wept.  I remember, Jewish girl that I was, going to Mass at St. Elizabeth’s Church that Sunday just to be with the people of his faith.  I cried for four days.

Years later, working on the TODAY SHOW 20th anniversary of the funeral, I remember all of it rushing back as we cut tape and realized as adults what a gift Jacqueline Kennedy had given the nation through the dignity and completeness of the funeral.  I know that many younger people find the Kennedys a little bit of a joke, thanks partly to the Simpsons, but it’s not possible to describe the grief and trauma of those days.  Or the gratitude we all felt for his presence — and the profound nature of the loss.

Though only 13, I had the great good fortune to attend the Kennedy Inauguration, traveling all night on the train with my mom to sit in the stands near the Treasure Building and watch the parade go by.  We stood outside the White House at the end of the parade, in the last of the blizzard, and watched him walk into the White House for the first time as president.  I’d seen the culmination of all the volunteer hours my 13-year-old self could eke out to go “down town” and stuff envelopes — to respond to the the call to help change the world.

It seems so pathetic now; the loss not only of JFK but of his brother, so beloved by my husband that he’s never been the same since 1968, the loss of Dr. King and Malcolm X, the trauma of Vietnam and all that followed, later of the shooting of John Lennon, even.  It seemed that all we’d dreamed about and hoped for – worked for – was gone.  How could we have been so romantic – so sure that we could bring change?  Believed it again in 1967 and 68 as we worked and marched against the war, for Eugene McCarthy or Bobby Kennedy, for civil rights and for peace, for better education and environmental policies, for rights for women, gay Americans and so much more.  Most of us haven’t stopped but the American media obsession with America’s loss of innocence emerges from the pain of those weeks.

Now, to me, even the idea of innocence seems a bit — well — innocent.  In our case, innocence came largely from a combination of lack of experience and of knowledge.  We didn’t know that we stood for the take over of Central American countries and the support of Franco and Salazar as well as the Marshall Plan and remarkable courage and commitment of World War II.  We were too close to the WWII generation to have the historic separation that’s possible today.  So was much of the rest of the world: in Europe, South America, Africa — all over the world — the Kennedys had won hearts and minds.  It’s almost impossible to imagine in light of our standing in the world today.  And that’s part of the grief too.  Even though much of the anger at the US outside Iraq is based on a warped version of political correctness, we know the experience of riding from the glory of having “liberated” Europe through the Marshall Plan and the glory of the Kennedy outreach to the rest of the world.  Personally and publicly, John Kennedy validated all that we wanted to see in ourselves – all that we wanted ourselves, and our country, to be.  And today, despite all the revelations of the years since, 44 years and two days later, that’s still true.

Big Birthday Memory #8: In Honor of Indiana and Donald Trump (Pigs, Lipstick, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin And The Movies: “Bob Roberts”, “A Face In The Crowd” And Willie Stark)

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from September 10, 2008.  This post appears now because it’s about demagogues and politics and the Indiana primary is today.

Of course by now we’ve all seen this.

I wrote much of what appears below without knowing just how to begin it – and those wacky Republicans solved my problem.  The response to this boilerplate Obama statement was to issue a vicious attack accusing him of sexism because of Palin’s convention speech “lipstick/hockey mom/pitbull” quote.  This despite the fact that the metaphor has often been used by Republicans including Dick Cheney – to say nothing of John McCain – look here:

The McCain campaign, not only in its choice of Sarah Palin but in how they use her, is leaning on very scary  tactics that are similar to the successful exploitation of voters illustrated by some of the most memorable characters in American political films.  Watch this trailer for Tim Robbins’ Bob Roberts; see if it isn’t more familiar than you wish:

Creepy, isn’t it?  A demagogue making his way to the top by lying about his opponent and manipulating the alienation of the American people for his own ends.  That could never happen in real life, right?

Much, much earlier in film history, the beloved Andy Griffithplayed one of the scariest public personalities ever in A Face in the Crowd — written by Budd Schulberg and directed by On the Waterfront‘s Elia Kazan.  He’s not a politician but watch the trailer and see if it doesn’t seem familiar.  You have to watch until the end to get the full impact.

It’s so depressing — and enraging — to watch this campaign peddling pseudo-folksiness to win over its public.  It’s time for that to stop working in our country.  Stakes are too high to permit us (or the press) to fall for the most  approachable (and least honest) over the most excellent.

Finally, remember Robert Penn Warren’s remarkable novel, clearly based on Louisiana’s Huey LongAll the King’s Men?  It portrays a politician on his path to becoming a dangerous demagogue.  Yeah, I know it’s melodramatic but does it feel at all familiar?

Clearly we should consider these archetypal characters as cautionary tales; instructive representations of our future if we allow this kind of campaigning to prevail.  Movies are our largest export (unless video games have taken over while I wasn’t looking)  and often reflect, if not our truths, at least our ghosts, shadows and neuroses.  It gave us The Body Snatchers in the 50’s, Easy Rider in the 60’s and Working Girl and Wall Street in the 80’s.  It’s easy to be seductive, to manipulate language and truth; easy to pretend to be one of the people in order to win them. The vicious, craven strategies of this campaign – and Sarah Palin herself – are  perfect examples; John McCain, whom I used to admire, has allowed, no encouraged, this shameful campaigning in his name and surrendered all the positions of principal that he once held.  If we don’t want (another) Bob Roberts (He does remind me of GWBush) or a cynical populist pretender or a MS Wilie Stark as our government, it’s up to use to exercise vigilance and fierce commitment to fight off these transparent manipulations and to ensure that it does not happen.

Big Birthday Memory #7: Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still ….??

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from April 17, 2007. 

Cindy Rona Coby2Saturday night we went to my friend Rona’s 60th birthday party in LA.  The photo is me, Rona and our Today Show colleague Coby. It was really fun – how often does Famous Amos bake you cookies and Brian Wilson sing to you on a Bel Air tennis court turned party heaven?  How often do you see photos of yourself, your friend and your husband at Today Show shoots and crazy parties?  And how often, in the unexpected chill of an April Los Angeles evening, do you see a pile of blankets for guests that includes the one you made their now 14-year-old son when he was born?

I’ve written about Rona before but Saturday night was a real reminder of the nature of a gifted friend.  She asked everyone to stand up.  Those who knew her 5 years or less, sit down.  Then ten years.  Then fifteen.  We were feeling pretty cocky since we were in the 20 years or less category – until we saw how many people – from New York, DC, Hawaii, San Francisco, LA and God knows where else – were standing at 30 – and even 40 years!  And Rick and I knew many of them; we’d been to birthday parties or holiday events or just dinner with them over the years. I once heard someone quote Wendy Wasserstein as saying that you could judge someone’s character by how well they kept their friends.  In that as in so many other ways she was a star.

On the tables were CDs for all of us – with a photo of her at Woodstock on the cover (one that I’d used in our 20 year anniversary piece (it was really great) to close it out.  Sunday I was driving around LA while my husband was at his conference so I stuck the CD into the player.  The next thing I knew I was driving down the 10 Freeway in tears — not sweet little showers but huge wracking sobs.  Not really sadness, it was more a recognition of all the treasured time that has passed – of how much I loved so much of it and how real it still feels to me.  I’ve never read Remembrance of Things Past but I’m told that the entire epic emerges from memories evoked from the smell of a Madeline (a kind of French cookie – they sell them at Starbucks I think.)

Well each song – Van Morrison or Bob Dylan or Paul Simon or Marvin Gaye took me someplace.  The thing is – sad as I was, I was also absurdly grateful to have the memories and moments so powerfully evoked by the music.  Not until I hit 60 did I realize you really DO get older – that some things are in the past for good.  When the music is there, though, nothing’s really gone.  Memories and senses arise in all their glory and float me back where I came from.  Not for long – and not entirely – but enough to remind me of the privileges of my life and the wonders of life itself.  Corny but oh so true – music brings the gift of memory and joy.  Yet another thing to thank birthday girl Rona for adding to my life.  Happy birthday one more time, my sister.

Big Birthday Memory #6: May Day, Pete Seeger, Joe Hill, Music and Values, Past and Future

Pete Seeger with Bob Dylan
Pete Seeger with Bob Dylan

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. This post – from March 3, 2008, appears today in honor of May Day.

I once had the opportunity to interview BB King. In preparation, I brought his latest album home and played it for my sons. The older, then around 5, asked me “Why is this man named King mommy. Pete Seeger is the king of music, right?*” Well, how do you answer that? Our boys grew up on the Weavers, the Almanac Singers, Pete and Arlo at Carnegie Hall… all rich with wonderful songs (with pretty wonderful values) for children. I asked my husband, no folkie, why he didn’t complain about the “noise” – and in fact joined us every Thanksgiving at Carnegie Hall to hear Pete and later Pete and Arlo. He said (I’m paraphrasing here) “It’s offering them something whole to believe in. Even if they don’t always believe it – they’ll understand the feeling of believing – and always seek it.” As far as I can tell, that worked.

Rerack a few years though — to the Vietnam war, when songs like this informed some of my earliest political ideas.

In fact, Pete has been a hero of mine for more than 40 years (How is that possible?) As I sit watching the AMERICAN MASTERS documentary on his life, I can’t stop thinking about all the hope, idealism and dreams tied up in his music – at least in my life — and, for a time, the lives of my sons. Seeger always has believed that music has infinite power; his own music made us believe that we could bring about the world we dreamed of. I’m embarrassed by how much I long for those feelings; it’s probably one reason Barack Obama and his young supporters interest me so much – they remind me of…. ME. Pretty feeble, isn’t it? To still be whining about long-lost days and dreams. Most of all, to feel such rage and sadness at what we weren’t able to do for our children; we leave them a world, in many ways, so much tougher than the one we inherited.

Pete, though, would hate such talk. I once met him, around the time that there were civil rights battles raging in the old Chicago Back of the Yards neighborhoods that Saul Alinsky helped to organize. I asked him if it didn’t bother him that the residents there revealed attitudes so contrary to what had been fought for — for them — just a generation ago. His response “No. When people are empowered they have the right to want what they want. If we believe in empowerment we have to accept that too.” NOT a usual man, Mr. Seeger.

The music was more than a transmission of values though — from “A Hole in My Bucket” to Union Maid. It was our family soundtrack. One of my kids was watching WOODSTOCK while he was in college, and was astonished to hear Joan Baez singing Joe Hill – and to recognize it from when he was little (this is a bad YOUTUBE version; the proportions are off, but just listen..

In our house, that old labor song had been a lullaby. I’d learned it from Pete’s concerts. Recently, so many years from those lullabies, another family favorite presented us with a great, rolicking tribute to this remarkable man. I wanted to end with a more of this (way too) sentimental tribute to Pete, but the joy of watching another generation up out of their seats in song is probably a better way to end. Right?

*He went on to become an enormous BB King (and Albert, for that matter) fan, for the record.

Big Birthday Memory #5: Ed Bradley – Fini Bi Bi 41 Years Ago Today

Ed Bradley 1 sized
NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from November 9, 2006 – the last from this year.

Ed Bradley died today – of leukemia.  He was not a usual man — not at all.  Good, funny, gifted, fierce, loving and decent, he was a gentleman to the core. For two political convention seasons in the 80s I was his CBS News floor producer.  In the midst of one of them, his mother had a stroke and was very ill in Philadelphia.  She wouldn’t let him miss work though – insisted that he be on the convention floor every night.  The convention was in New York , so Ed drove to Philadelphia after we were off the air each night, sleeping in a limo on the way to Philly – spending the night and morning with his mother and then returning in the limo the next day.  He was there for her — and for his work, as she insisted that he be.

If you saw him on 60 Minutes, interviewing Aretha Franklin in the kitchen with a dish towel over his shoulder, chopping while they talked, or jamming with Aaron Neville, you saw another, wonderful Ed — no pretense, no baloney.  And if you saw him with his godchildren – daughters of the wonderful Vertamae Grovesnor, you saw yet another part of this wonderful man.

Frantic efforts to escape on the last US choppers to leave Vietnam 4/75
Frantic efforts to escape from the US Embassy roof on the last US choppers to leave Saigon 4/75

Somehow though, when I read the CNN Alert just an hour ago — what I remembered at once was that night in 1975, 41 years ago this month, when Saigon fell.  I was just back from maternity leave and alone on the overnight for the foreign desk at CBS.  As a long-time CBS correspondent in Vietnam, Ed was the last guy out — or just about.  What I can’t get out of my head is his account of walking down the deserted embassy hallway — where almost all the lights were out except one far down the hall — and his description of thinking of “the light at the end of the tunnel” — and then – as he signed off for the last time from Saigon – ending with the words of Saigon hookers “fini bi bi.”  I’m not sure I can describe the sensitivity and sadness of this report – but I do remember sending him an email “Ernie Pyle, move over.”

The thing is – he was at least as wonderful as he was gifted and as talented as he was dear. It’s just so sad to think of him gone and of such a miserable disease.  He’s leaving a beautiful legacy but that doesn’t make it OK.  Not at all.

Big Birthday Memory #4: Patti Smith, CBGB and an Observant Life

image

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from October 16, 2006

I’ve never been to CBGB OMFUG.  Why do I care about a punk music club whose entrance was always spattered with graffiti and most of whose musical appearances were by people I knew almost nothing about — except Bruce Springsteen [he wrote this with Patti Smith] , Patti Smith [two favorites: People Have the Power, Peaceable Kingdom], Joan Jett [I Love Rock and Roll] and a few others? (I don’t t know the lore all that well – but it always seemed to me that women really got a crack at center stage at CBGB.)  I think it was just nice to see it there – waving its fist in the air.  It has closed – maybe to reopen, maybe not – and I’m just kind of sad to see it losing its lease to what some have called “the suburbification of Manhattan.”

Patti Smith, whom I had the honor to meet at last year’s Media Reform conference in St. Louis, was a real CBGB heroine and I felt, meeting her, a deep connection.  We’re the same age.  She’s a heartbreakingly honest person who lost her husband way too soon (and wrote People Have the Power partly at his instigation) — a mom and a singular human soul.  The music she made was remarkably articulate (she is a poet after all) and inspiring.  I’ve linked above to two of my favorites — one of which, People Have the Power, was an anthem of the Vote for Change election tour in 2004.

So what do the final days of a gritty music club where I never went have to do with my life as an observant Jew?  Believe it or not – plenty.  Both of them were fascinating universes I always observed from the outside and wondered about.  Both stood for making one’s own way to truth.  That search has taken me, for some reason I’m still grappling with, to the Orthodox Jewish community  where I’ve found a home and spirit that brings a new kind of meaning to my life.

At my last big birthday I complained to a friend about my age and her response was “but you’re completely reborn in this new life – you’re not old AT ALL!”  In some ways she’s right.  I certainly feel that there’s a universe I’m traveling through that’s new, moving, inspiring and mysterious.  Sometimes though it’s also a pain.  For the past several weeks, from Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) to the end of Simchas Torah (Ending the annual, week-by-week reading of the Torah: the five books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and beginning again) the holidays consumed days of time: in synagogue, inviting guests to meals and going to meals at friends, building and dismantling a sukkah and observing the prohibition on driving and work.  Since this year many of these days fell on weekends it meant NO catching up on work on Sundays and no farmer’s market. (two weird examples, I admit.) Since it’s the end of tomato season that last was sad though not critical to the future of the human race or my household.

Even so, all these small requirements, which I try to follow since I’ve made this commitment, can consume time and tax serenity and spirituality.  I’ve come to love the prohibition on the Sabbath and enjoy the quiet days reading, taking walks, visiting, napping and sharing ideas.  But the surrender to and acceptance of all these rules is a peculiar experience and I grapple with it daily.  Even so, the quest, like that of the young rebels who put CBGB on the map, is a great adventure – and the learning is exhilarating.

Go listen to People Have the Power whether this post makes sense or not.  It will make you happy on a Monday – although that’s easier here today since it’s the third amazingly gorgeous fall day in a row – with leaves turning and leaf smells beginning to fill the air.  Which, I just realized, takes us right back to faith and gratitude for the world’s beauty when it shows up.

Big Birthday Memory #3: TRY TO REMEMBER — THE FANTASTICKS, JERRY ORBACH, THE INTERNET AND ME

Fantasticks album sized

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from August 24, 2006

OK – so I should be used to it by now.  I’ve been — as I often say, a walking demographic Baby Boomer as long as I can remember.  But on this morning after the re-opening of THE FANTASTICKS*  – which ran off-Broadway for 42 years, I read “adults 55+ adapting online.”  Of course they are — sooner or later whatever I’m doing becomes part of a generational wave.

Don’t worry – there IS a connection.

I saw THE FANTASTICKS  with my college room mate and her mother during fall vacation of my freshman year.  That was 1964 – four years after it opened.  At the end, all of 18, I was crying so hard that the woman sitting next to me – probably 25 or so – handed me the rose her date must have given her at dinner.  I kept it on the wall of my room for years.

El Gallo swordEl Gallo — the irresistible seducer  and originator of the “hurt’ without which “the heart is hollow” —  was first played by Jerry Orbach.  [hear him sing Try to Remember here.]  I met him when I was close to 50 – and told him I’d seen the show when I was 18.  His face just changed – not a trace of Lennie Briscoe but a combination of affection, nostalgia and pleasure.  We spoke a bit more and then I apologized for approaching him at a reception and acting like a groupie.  He replied “You saw the Fantasticks when you were EIGHTEEN!  That wasn’t an interruption that was a pleasure.”  So I guess the story had the same impact on the cast that it had on girls like me.  “Please God please,” the young girl (“the girl”) cries out – “don’t let me be NORMAL!”  That was me alright.  Please let me be singular – not like the others!

Well it hasn’t turned out that way.  Whatever I come to, my peers hit within a year or so.  It made me a great talk show producer – never a visionary too far ahead to be relevant, just enough ahead to know what story to do next.  I guess that’s why I accommodated to my role as close enough to normal but with an edge — rather than the downtown woman I had once wished to be.

I know about this headlong Boomer journey online because my older son, in the industry, had read a similar study.  Last weekend I told him that I seemed to be getting a lot more online consulting work and his theory was that companies need boomer consultants more because more “civilian” boomers are finally hitting the web.  I always knew we would; the tribe that is the baby boom loves to be connected.  The web was a perfect home for us.  Just like THE FANTASTICKS.

*OK Feminist friends, there’s an element of sexism in this original fairy tale (they’ve rewritten the only really troubling song) but I have chosen to ignore it.  It just can’t trump the wonder and poetry.

Big Birthday Memory #2: Home and Heartache

Home in DC
Home in DC

NOTE:  As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May.  Today – from December 4, 2006.

Yeah, we’re home – and as usual it’s like walking into an electric fan. We landed, unpacked, did laundry, slept (until 3AM) then Rick went back to the airport for a fund-raising trip to California. I’m working on several major projects and wanting to organize for when the boys come home for the holidays. Grocery lists and activity planning in addition to many hours of business obligations.

Lots on my mind. Today a friend told me about the last conversation she had with her father and I was ambushed by a deluge of memories. It’s tough to come to terms with the loss of a parent. Both of mine have been gone for years and there isn’t a day I don’t think of them — and, often, wish I could ask them something – or tell them something — or just feel their love again. I haven’t felt this way in a long time and it surprised me. I just wasn’t expecting the intensity.

I once sent my dad the lyrics to a Judy Collins song about her father. It’s a wonderful evocation of the love between fathers and daughters and the bitter-sweet realization that one’s life will exceed that of a beloved parent. It’s what they’d wish for us but it’s complicated. Anyway there wasn’t a moment of my life when I doubted the love for and faith in me felt by both my parents.

There were also circumstances in my life that led me, in my memory at least, to be less attentive than I wanted to be. I think it will haunt me forever- times when finances or my own parental responsibilities kept me from visits; times when I let my dad tell me not to come because he didn’t want us to “see him like this.” — all those things we all wish we’d done differently. I am beginning to think that this is a real issue for me and one I’ve got to get some clarity about.

This is the second time in the space of the 90 days or so I’ve had this blog that my dad has come up and he’s been gone since 1991. Somehow though I’m more at peace with the loss of him. I can summon memories that make me smile and I know that he had a profound and lovely effect on my sons, which adds to my own fond remembrances of him.

My mother, who died in 1998, haunts me though. I know things in her life frustrated her – and that she would have liked to do more in the world outside the house. My husband told both her and me that I was guilty that my arrival had pulled her out of a promising career but she insisted that that was HER choice and I should get over it. That she loved raising the three of us. I don’t doubt that she loved raising her daughters but I also think she needed more than she was able to get in life as a suburban mom. I don’t know – all I know is that I feel a need to be particularly helpful to elderly women on the street, or the bus, or the synagogue steps. As if I can do for her by doing for them. Agh. I don’t know. I’m going to bed to see if I can beat the last of the jet lag. This is too sad.

Big Birthday Memory #1: My Mother’s Sisters

Wedding Pic Kalish GirlsNOTE:  As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here.  Today -from June 30, 2007: the end of a generation.

They’re all gone now – my mom and my aunts. Here they are at the wedding of Barbara, the youngest, who died this week. My mom, Jeanne, the oldest, gone since 1998, is the one on the right – that’s my dad next to her. On the left side of the photo is Bettie, and my Uncle Jim.

Growing up in the Depression, they were wartime girls – my mom worked for the Office of Price Administration — the agency that controlled prices and tried to prevent gouging and war profiteering. She met my dad there – his hearing loss prevented him from active military duty so he fought unscrupulous businessmen instead. Bettie was in the WAVES. Barb, the youngest, came of age closer to the war’s end; her husband Bob was a Ranger, decorated several times.

The Depression had been hard on them. My grandfather was unable to bring in much. It was so traumatic that once, when Bettie started to talk about putting cardboard in their shoes to cover the holes, my mother cut her off. We were in a car, the three of us, and Bettie was just kind of spinning yarns. But to my mother she was raising things better left alone. I have always understood that these three sisters – so lovely and happy here — went through plenty. I also understood that they were not alone; no one their age was untouched by the Depression and the war.

I’ve come to realize over the years that my parents’ Depression experiences had a profound effect on me. Not only did I read menus from the price to the item – and check dangling price tags before examining clothing on a rack. That was the obvious stuff I inherited. Beyond it though was a sense of sadness for them all. My mother, who was an artist, got a scholarship in education, so she because a teacher. My father, who wanted to be an architect, got a scholarship to law school so he became a lawyer. My Uncle Bob was to be a veterinarian but his wartime injuries impaired his movement too much for him to be able to lift the animals so his dream died too. That was just how it was.

In some ways, they were the lucky ones; all three sisters and my father and uncles — were able, on scholarships, to go to college. All three marriages, despite tensions and tough times, survived with a real friendship between spouses for most of their lives. Each had three children who were smart, interesting, and self-sufficient. Even so, the bounty of choices they gave to us was so much more than they had had themselves. The young women in this photograph, and their husbands, never had the luxury of dropping out of school to campaign for Eugene McCarthy or majoring in music or theater or spending years doing trauma medicine a couple of months a year to pay for a life of mountain climbing and exploration. There was no give, no leeway, in the lives of those whom the Depression and the war that ended it – had stamped forever.

None of that shows here, of course. It’s a wedding. There’s no hint of all the scars the Depression had left on them, no hint of the loved ones and friends lost to World War II, no indication of the profound pain of watching a father who couldn’t support them and a mother who was permanently enraged. Nope. This was a wedding day and a lovely one at that. Tonight – well tonight I’m thinking of what it must have been like as the third sister, the baby sister, married. Who, I wonder, was missing – lost to the war. Who, I wonder, were the absent friends lost to the jolt of economic inequality when their parents retained a steady income and my grandparents could not. What are the stories my sisters and cousins and I will never know?

When we cleaned out my mom’s apartment I found the strangest thing: the Phi Beta Kappa key of the husband of one of my mother’s best childhood friends — a woman whose first husband had died early in the war. Why did my mother have it instead of her? What, if anything, had been between them when they were young? To me, the key is a symbol of all that was never said – the reserve of this brave and noble generation who didn’t want us to know how tough it really was. One picture and so many random thoughts — probably self-indulgently cobbled together here.

I’m writing this at the beach — the ocean slamming against the shore just steps away. This little barrier island on the Jersey shore has been a family destination since I was little –well more than 50 years — so I’m probably more available for all this nostalgia as memories rise up unfiltered on the sidewalks and sand dunes and ice cream parlors. But that’s not all it is; these thoughts are never very far away and when my sister sent this photo tonight many rose to the surface. I so wish I had asked more questions and said more often “You guys were great, so brave, so remarkable.”At my mothe’s funeral I said something to an old friend of hers about their role as “the Greatest Generation.” He laughed. “We weren’t great Cindy. We just did what we had to do. If you have to, so will you.”

Look at this photo and think of all that touched these young women and their families. If, as they did, we faced more than a decade of economic and political upheaval, wiould we be as strong, as determined?

So long girls. I know we always loved you, but appreciate all you were and all you never got to be? No we didn’t do that. At least not enough.

Grief, Prince, Bruce and a Lost Friend


This is one of just many musical tributes to the loss of a great artist and since it’s Bruce, it’s especially meaningful to me.

When a celebrity dies, the public memories of respected peers add a kind of emotional gravitas that helps all of us who love the mourner or the mourned – or both.

Personal loss. though, has a weight and impact hotter, sharper and deeper.

Sunday, we went to a “shiva,”a home memorial services held for a friend.  We’d met him and his wonderful wife on a cruise, sailed all through the Mediterranean and had a great time; we were so happy they lived nearby, especially since we  shared so much: they’d been married as long as we have, also had grown kids and grandkids and, it turned out, lived just across San Francisco Bay from us.

Gerri Larry tender fixed2
Gerri and Larry Miller Summer, 2015 Outside Gironda, Sp;ain

Larry was a blast to be around, intense, funny, smart and curious; he and his wife Gerri were a great pair and it was so very hard to see her grieving so intensely.

As I near my 8th decade with very little sense of age, I’m so aware of each loss of a peer and remember my dad telling me with astonishment every time one of his friends left us; it seemed to impossible to him.  Like so many other things, I understand this so much more now.

Of course it’s easier to grieve the loss of a public person, no matter how admired:  the sharp reality of a more personal one, deep feeling for his family and realigning of each memory of them, especially in the years that we become so much more aware of our own mortality, cuts and lingers so much more.