Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

In 1985, eighty-six year old Lillian Boxfish once again defies stereotypes and the advice of others, walking alone at night through New York City, revisiting and ruminating on her past, while still very much alive to the present.

Lillian's aunt Sadie was a Manhattan career girl who wrote poems about her elegant advertising creation Phoebe. She inspired Lillie. In 1926 Lillie arrived in Manhattan, secured a copywriter job at R. H. Macy's, and in the 1930s became the highest paid female in advertising--and a best selling published poet. Lionized and the media's darling, sophisticated and daring, Lillian had been on top.

Now it is New Year's Eve, 1985. Lillian puts on her forty-year-old fur coat, applies her signature lipstick, Helena Rubinstein's Orange Fire, pulls on a pair of boots, and takes to the sidewalk. She has planned one last adventure to end the year. Destination: Domenico's for a do-over of a steak dinner that ended badly twenty years previous.

Lillian's life is revealed in bits and pieces through her memories; she came, she conquered; she fell in love and became a wife and mother; she lost herself, and then her man. Once a household name, her books are found in the sale pile outside the bookstore--worthless.

Don't think she is held hostage by her past. Lillian likes to keep up to date. She likes hip-hop for its use of words and is thrilled by break-dancing. She has a 'nostalgia for the new.' She makes friends with everyone she meets along the way, and fearlessly bargains with muggers. The city has lost it's lustre, the old places are gone or declined, but Lillian has never wanted to be anywhere else.

Non-linear in structure, the book must grab readers by Lillian's personal charisma and the mystery of her past. When Max arrives on the scene the drama picks up considerably as we learn about their passionate love and the marriage that required Lillian to give up her career and brought depression and alcoholism, shock treatment, and Max's affair.

The novel was inspired by a real ad woman, Margaret Fishback. Kathleen Rooney felt a deep connection to Fishback and wanted to bring her story to a new generation. The novel is also a love story to the city, memorializing its heyday but also celebrating its 20th c multicultural vitality.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Kathleen Rooney
St Martin's Press
Publication: January 17, 2017
$25.99 hard cover
ISBN: 9781250113320

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Eugene Gochenour's Memoirs: Life Goes On: Moving to Royal Oak

Dad continued his memoirs to include his new life in Royal Oak, MI. It is a story of the American Dream of the 1960s, a time when we believed that hard work and short-term sacrifice would lead to financial security.

Dad a few years after we moved
My Ramer grandparents and Mom's brother and sister were already living in Metro Detroit. Mom wanted to be near her family; Dad dreamt of a job in the auto industry. Dad was 34 years old and without retirement, life insurance, or health care. Working for the auto industry meant benefits, especially health insurance for Mom's psoriatic arthritis that was destroying her joints. 

Here is Dad's story.

Life goes on.

During the early 50s Joyce's family moved to Detroit where her father went to work for General Motors. Her sister Nancy was married and her husband Joe moved there also. Joyce's brothers Don and Dave were still living at home so they went, too. Her only relative living in the area was her grandmother, Delia Greenwood, who lived on Englewood Avenue in Kenmore.

We made a few short trips to Detroit, but I really did not like big cities. Occasionally, Joyce and Nancy would take a train to Detroit to visit Joyce's parents. Joyce had a serious skin disease called psoriasis and while she was there she would go to the Henry Ford Hospital in hope of finding a cure.

In 1959 our son Tom was born, so now there was Joyce, Nancy, Tom, my mother and I living together. Running the garage was a hard life, and I thought I had better make a change before I grew too old. I knew the mental and physical stress was wearing me down. Even with all the hard work and time spent at the station all we ever did was barely make a living. So, Joyce, Mother, and I started talking about selling the hose and business. We talked about buying a motel in the Adirondacks, or my going to work at a factory, or working as a mechanic at a car dealership, but I really didn't like any of those options.  I knew I did not want to go into another business.

Joyce wanted to be near her family and since my mother was living with us we decided we would move to Detroit where I would get a job with one of the major car companies. I hoped to get work at General Motors where my father-in-law and brother-in-law Don worked.

We put the property on the market but real estate sales were slow and we did not get any offers. When it was found out we were selling the business we lost some customers because they decided to find another place to service their cars. it took many months before we got the first offer and it was much lower than the price we were asking, but we decided to take it. The man who bought the house and business was named Harper and he used the station to run his gutter business.

Mother continued living in the same part of the house after my father died. Joyce and Nancy and I lived in the same upstairs apartment but we all agreed it would be better for Mom to have company and we moved to her apartment. At the time we sold the business Mom had lived with us for six years, and Joyce and Nancy and Tom loved her dearly, so we planned to all move to Detroit together. After the offer on the station was accepted I had to sell and give away many things to get ready for the move.

it was decided with Joyce's family in Detroit that we would move our things in and live with them until we got our own home.

My Grandparent Ramer's home on Gardenia in Royal Oak
I made several trips to Detroit, hauling my boat and other things, but our furniture and appliances were hauled there by a moving company we hired. I remember the day they loaded the van. All our furniture and possessions only filled about a quarter of it. It cost four hundred and fifty dollars for the mover.

When we finally moved in with Joyce's parents, their basement, attic, and garage was packed full. They were probably surprised by how much we had brought. It was a pretty big house, but we sure did fill it up!
Grandpa and Grandma Ramer with a relative
in back of their home on Gardenia, RO.
While we lived with them I slept in the second story
screened porch off the master bedroom.
My mother did not come with us when we moved in with Joyce's family. We planned to bring her when we bought our own home. In the meantime she lived with my sister Alice and her family in Tonawanda.

One day I went to General Motors employment office and had an interview for a job, then went back to Joyce's family's house, expecting to get a call saying I was hired, but it didn't happen. After about a week or so I decided I should look elsewhere for a job.Then my brother-in-law Don Ramer told me of a shop that needed a mechanic. Louis Scott worked with Don at the General Motors Tech Center and his father Paul owned Scott's Garage which was located on Hudson Street in Royal Oak. So I went there, talked with Paul, and was hired.

The building looked like a garage from the thirties. It was deep and dimly lit. I remember that we had a radio there and I was listening to it on the day John Kennedy was assassinated. I was the only mechanic, and Paul did not have many customers. I knew only Joyce's family in Michigan and since it was not very busy, I had lots of time to think. One day I was sort of depressed and thought to myself, "What am I doing here, away from all my relatives and friends?" Back home I had dozens of relatives, many friends, and hundreds of customers. Here I knew almost no one.

But the feeling soon passed and when I would meet new people I would think, "that person reminds me of someone I knew back home." It was like a game, and many of the people I met did remind me of customers or friends form the past.

Paul did not always have a full weeks work for me, so I decided that I had better look for another job. One day Joyce saw an ad in the newspaper for a job as a mechanic at a Shell station that was located at Lincoln and Main Streets in Royal Oak. I went there and was interviewed by the manager whose nae was Bob Cupp. Bob was a fine and likable person and he told the owner about me, and I was hired.

I had worked for Paul for about a month when I told him that I had to have a full weeks work to live on and would have to quit. There were no bad feelings, because Paul understood.

I started at the Shell station at a weekly pay of 60% of the labor on the jobs I did with a guarantee of $126 a week. Harvel Akins was the name of the owner, and he was a fine person, and a good and honest boss. Harvel had served in the US Navy and the station was always spic and span.

He and all the station attendants were from Kentucky or Tennessee. They all had a Southern accent and the station attendants told many redneck and hillbilly jokes. This is one of the jokes they told:

Mother had a cat and every day when she walked into the bedroom she would see the cat sleeping on the bed next to a pile of cat poop. She told a friend about her problem and the friend said she knew how to cure the cat. She said the next time that happened to grab the cat by the neck, push its head into the poop, and throw it out the window. Well, the next day when she went into the bedroom the cat was again sleeping next to a fresh pile, so she grabbed it by the neck, stuck its head into the pile, and threw it out the window. Then on the following day when she went into the bedroom, the cat saw her, stuck its head into the poop, and jumped out the window.

She sure solved that problem!

I was the only mechanic and repaired any problem on any vehicle that came into the station. I overhauled engines, did wheel alignments, brake work, exhaust systems, tune ups, etc., on all makes and models. Even though I had power tools it was hard physical labor.

I had told Harvel when I started that I felt I had to go to work for a major car company because at 34 years old I needed to find a job with a good retirement plan.

All during this time Joyce and I were talking to real estate agents trying to find a house we liked and could afford.

Since I had never heard from General Motors about a job I decided to try Chrysler. One morning I went to Highland Park to their employment office and was interviewed for a mechanic job. They gave me many tests and when they finished they told me the would hire me for $113 a week. I accepted the offer that Monday and they told me to start on the following Monday. So, I went back and told Harvel that I had the job and had to quit. I told him I was sorry for the short notice.

But then on Wednesday, Chrysler called me and told me they could not hire me because one of their union members wanted the job. So, I told Harvel that the job had fallen through and he was happy and gave me a raise. But I told that sooner or later I would have to leave.
Photo of 211 W Houstonia from realtor
After checking out many houses we finally found one we thought liked and could afford. It was on Houstonia Street in Royal Oak. So we moved all out things from Joyce's parents' house after we cleaned and painted the inside of our new home.
Houstonia house, 1963
Since my mother was to live with us we wanted a house that could accommodate us all. The house we chose had two bedrooms downstairs and two upstairs. It had a two-and-a-half car garage and a large backyard. We paid $12,000 for it and put $3,000 down.

Then we called Mother to tell her about the house and I drove to Tonawanda to bring her and her belongings back to our new home to live with us. Joyce and the kids were very happy to see her. Moving out of Joyce's family's house must have been a happy day for them! While Mother lived with us she was very homesick.
Me, Tom, and Grandma Gochenour. Christmas 1963, Houstonia,
You can just see part of the remodeled kitchen on the right side.
This photo shows Nancy, Tom and Mother. It was taken at the dining room of our house on Houstonia Street in Royal Oak, Michigan. Not long after, Mother went back to Tonawanda, New York, to live with my sister Alice. This broke Joyce's heart, because Mom had lived with us for six years and she and Joyce were very close. She was closer to my mother than to her own.

Houstonia was a very nice street to live on, and we soon got to know most of the neighbors. At the house west of us lived John and Jerry Voight. At the home east of ours lived Mr and Mrs. Reynolds, an older retired couple. Next to them lived Laura and Irv Beaupied and their six children. Then came Jean and Gordon McNab with their two boys. On the corner of Houstonia and Main Streets lived Ruth and Bud Brehm and their two children. Across the street from them on Houstonia lived Edna and Art Lentner and their two children. So, because of the children, we all got to know each other.
Dad painting the Houstonia house
After we moved in we put in new cupboards, kitchen counter tops, a new oven, and remodeled the kitchen. I painted the outside, put shutters on the windows, and a wrought iron railing on the front steps. We also put in an above ground pool in the backyard.
Grandma Gochenour in the kitchen during remodeling

Here I am in the kitchen Dad was remodeling.
It had light orange painted walls and the Formica
countertops included an orange boomerang motif.
I worked five and a half days at the Shell station, on the house during the evening, and repaired cars in my garage on the weekends. That did not leave much time for play.

Here are photographs of our first Christmas in our new home. Mom painted the walls light turquoise, still a trendy color in 1963.

Dad trying on a new robe while Tom checks out what Santa left him

Dad, me on the couch

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Another UFO Put to Rest & Book News

I finished a 2015 Row by Row into a table topper. Small strides...

We have been redecorating a bedroom to become a home office--Hooray! I won't have to write in the family room or kitchen! It's a north facing room and I wanted a warm color. I decided on a deep orange.

The room has white trim and cellular shades. I am searching for drape fabric, preferably a MCM print on a white ground.

My blog has reached over 191,000 hits! Book review readership has skyrocketed!

Scheduled book reviews include:

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney: a once famous MAD woman recalls her life
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough: a Domestic Noir thriller with a twisted ending
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker: a story of enduring female friendship 

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Ngyun: moving stories of the refugee experience in America
Hit Makers by Derek Thompson: the science of popularity and success
The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis: a debut family drama, insightful and beautifully written
High Noon, The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glen Frankel
The Typewriter's Tale by Michiel Heyns: Henry James' typist tells all

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan: a history of ecological peril
Like Death by Guy de Mausppant: a classic story of obsession
Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar: often funny, often wise debut novel of redemption
Whereas, poems by Stephen Dunn
Peggy Seeger by Jean R. Freedman: the life of folk musician and activist sister of Pete Seeger

Over the Hill and Far Away: A Life of Beatrix Potter by Mathew Dennison
A $500 House in Detroit by Drew Philp: seeking a new way of living in a resurrecting city

The Reminders by Val Emmerich: a charming tale of friendship

Galleys I have on my shelf include:

Ice Ghosts by Paul Watson about the ongoing search for the Franklin Expedition of 1845
Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker, a retelling of Jane Eyre from a new view point
Grief Cottage by National Book Award finalist Gail Godwin
The Physics of Everyday Things by James Kakalios
We Shall Not Sleep by Estep Nagy, a debute family drama set in Maine
Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay, a biography of Daphne du Maurier
and Madame President by Helen Cooper about the first female president of Liberia

And the spring titles are just showing up for review requests!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Hope is the thing with feathers":The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

I read Nicola Yoon's new YA novel in one evening. I had enjoyed her first novel, Everything, Everything; Yoon's second novel The Sun is Also a Star is even better.

First, I will admit that a story only about teenagers falling in love won't catch my interest. I'm not a hopeless romantic, and my teenage days date to the 1960s. But for those readers who love a good love story, Yoon delivers.

What I adore about The Sun is Also a Star is how Yoon combines a good love story, vivid characters with complex families and backgrounds, philosophical discussions on the nature of love, science, and human nature, and social commentary.

Daniel: "I think we are all connected, everyone on earth." Natasha:" Even the bad people?" Daniel: "Yes. But everyone has at least a little good in them...I think all the good parts of us are connected at some level....I think that's God. God is the connection of the very best parts of us." 

The Sun is Also a Star brings together, seemingly randomly, two high school seniors and depicts their one day together as they slowly reveal who they are and fall in love. Everything they do impacts other people, changing their lives as well.

Daniel is the son of South Korean immigrants who expect him to use his American opportunities to earn a high profile career and big income. At heart, Daniel is a poet. Natasha and her family are illegal aliens from Jamaica; her family is ordered to leave the country that day. Natasha holds to science and objectivity, distrusting romance and sentiment. Daniel falls for Natasha and spends the day convincing her to love him.

As we learn about the characters and their families we also learn about the realities of immigrant life, the feelings of displacement and hard cultural adjustment. A chapter on Korean American History explains the history of how South Koreans became experts in African American hair care. Daniel's brother desperately wants to be 'American' and rejects his heritage and his family in the process. Natasha's father came to America to act, and he has a remarkable ability but his thick accent precludes his advancement. His family lives in near poverty, Natasha and her nine-year-old brother sharing the living room as their bedroom.

As Daniel and Natasha progress through the stages of new love, even to their first fight and separation, Yoon shares their thoughts in lovely epigrams.

"We tell ourselves there are reasons for the things that happened, but we're just telling ourselves stories. We make them up. They don't mean anything."

"Touching him is like order and chaos, like being assembled and disassembled at the same time."

"Maybe falling in love with someone else is also falling in love with yourself. I like who I am with her."

The lovers struggle with the impact of their families expectations and experiences of racism and class. "Who are we if not a product of our families and their histories?" wonders Natasha. Parents "can't see past their own history," and they want to protect their children by encouraging, or forcing them onto paths for their own good Daniel learns.

 The book has been on the YA bestseller book and won acclaim. For good reason.

I received a free book through Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Sun is Also a Star
Nicola Yoon
Delacorte Press
$18.99 hard cover
ISBN: 978-0-53349668-0

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

"They had wanted to love. They had gone too far."

Parental love, it's obsessive envelopment and fierceness, is the theme of Shanthi Sekaran's moving and thoughtful novel Lucky Boy. I loved the writing, the characters are sympathetic and real, the story heartbreaking.

Kavya and Rishi Reddy have spent their savings on fertility treatments. While investigating adoption they are sidetracked into foster parenting, with hopes of adoption of their foster child.

Solimar Castro Valdez is determined to leave her impoverished Mexican village to find a better life in America. Her journey is harrowing and terrifying, but for Checo, the young man who protects her and with whom she conceives a child. Soli finds her place in Berkeley, CA working for a troubled family that also tries to care for her. Soli's love for Ignatius, her Nacho, is her home, her reason for existence.

When Soli is found to be an undocumented alien she is separated from her son and interned in a series of horrific prisons where she is brutalized and dehumanized. Meanwhile, her son has been welcomed into the Reddy home, newly christened Iggy by Kavya who has fallen deeply in love with the child.

The battle for this lucky boy takes the Reddys and Soli on a journey fraught with dangers, the most dangerous being broken by the loss of one beloved child.

Sekaran's writing is amazing. Her insight into her characters and human nature is spot-on, imparted to the reader in beautiful and insightful language. Anyone who has known couples struggling to conceive, who have turned to adoption, will recognize the Reddy's difficult and emotional journey. I applaud the author for tackling the divisive and politically explosive issue of immigrants and immigrant rights, creating a character who gives a face to the unnamed masses who by any means come to America dreaming of a better life and the ability to improve the lives of family left behind. The descriptions of detention centers, the justice system, and the prejudice encountered will enlighten readers to realities behind the headlines.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Lucky Boy
Shanthi Sekaran
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
$27 hard cover
ISBN: 9781101982242

Saturday, January 7, 2017

My 1963 Diary

For Christmas in 1962 I received a Girl Scout Diary with a key. During the last months spent in my childhood home in Tonawanda, NY, I wrote about my family and three-year-old brother; school; Nancy Ensminger and Janet L.; the death of Phil Ensminger, Nancy's father; Girl Scouts; piano lessons; reading Man O'War by Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry's Sea Star; snow storms and the ice jam at Niagara Falls; Dad's frozen toes; going to Sunday School at the Broad Street Baptist Church; and a lot of television. I added links to the actual television show I watched!

Tommy and me, 1963

One Year Diary
Property of
Nancy Adair Gochenour

A Wonderful Diary, but now just wonderful things in it. I wish I had all of ’63 in it, then I wouldn’t have to count on my memory on remembering Buffalo, N. Y.
Nancy G.[later addition]

January 1
Today when I got up I watched TV with Tommy. Then we went outside. I baby sat Tommy while Mom, Dad and Grama went to a funeral. Nancy E.’s father died December 30, 1962. Then I played with Tommy until dinner. I was tired from staying up until 12:00 last night, so then I went to bed.

January 2
Today was the day we go back to school. I got up, dressed and ate breakfast. Then I watched TV until it was time to go. In school we went to gym then we had music. We did artih., spelling, and Cit. Ed. In Social Studies we started the unit about the Middle Atlantic States. Nancy E. didn’t come to school because she went to her father’s funeral. We had Girl Scouts today. We made our “crest.” It was a penguin. After dinner I listened to my Wonderful World of the Grimm Brothers record. Then I watched TV and went to bed.
Nancy Ensminger pics. I am in lower left photo on the left.

January 3
Today I went to school. In school today we had art, then Arth., Lunch, Cit. Ed., and Science. In Science we are starting a unit about geography. Nancy still couldn’t come to school. Tomorrow, she might. After I came home I did my Arith. homework and practiced.
We ate dinner and then went over to Kuhn’s. When we came home I fiddled on the piano until bedtime. Then when I was in bed I remembered I had spelling to study, I studied my spell. And went to bed.
Me and my brother at my piano

January 4
Today I had school again. We had gym. We also had a spelling test. We did Arith., Read., Science, Cit. Ed. Today. Nancy didn’t come to school today. After school Janet called. She wanted to play. got an American Girl Magazine today. Janet gave me a gold [autograph] dog for Christmas. It was a late gift though. After dinner we went to Skip [Marvin]and Katy’s house and Jerry’s house. Then we came home. Tommy and me went to bed. It was past 10:00.
Janet L. posing at my house near our Christmas tree. December 1962.
January 5
Today is Saturday. After watching TV I ate breakfast. I practiced and went to piano lessons. I then played with Nancy. After that I played with Janet until 3:00. Then I came home. Soon it was time for dinner. We ate dinner then I played with my Barbie and Ken dolls. I dried the dishes. After that Daddy and I looked at different things through my telescope. We then watched Saturday Night at the Movies. I like the movie a little. The movie lasted until 11:00. Then I went to bed.

January 6
Today was Sunday. I went to Sunday School. In worship service I said a prayer. When I came home I watched TV. Then I played with Janet. We played with my horses and dolls. I played with Janet until 5:00. Then I put my toys away and watched TV. Grandma went to the bowling alley across the street to get our dinner. After dinner I watched TV until 8:00 then I read in bed until 9:00.

January 7
I woke up and played laying in bed. Then I got up and I didn’t feel like going to school. But I got up and ate breakfast. I got ready for school. In school we did Arith., Spell., Reading. Then we went to lunch. After lunch we did Cit. Ed., and then the people went to religious instructions. After school I walked home with Nancy. After school I played in my room until dinner. After dinner Mommy told me that the TV was broken. Tommy and I played until bedtime. When I looked in my jewelry case I couldn’t find the key to my diary but at last I found it.

January 8
Today I walked to school with Nancy E. In school we did writing, Arith., Reading, Lunch, Spell., Science. We also had a story and game. After school I practiced and played with Tommy. Then we watched TV until dinnertime. After dinner I did my dishes then I did my homework. I forgot, after school I went to the library. I got Man O’ War and Sea Star After I did my homework I had an orange and watched TV. At a little past 9:00 I went to bed. Tommy was still eating his apple so he went to bed latter.

January 9
Today I walked to school with Nancy. We were a little late for school. First thing we had gym. In gym we are doing basketball. After gym we did Spell. then Arith., then we had lunch. After lunch we rested 5 mins. Then we had Social Studies. In S.S. we had a filmstrip. After school we had Girl Scouts until around 6:00. Then I came home and had dinner. After dinner I baby-sat Tommy and watched TV until 9:00. Mommy came home, but I watched The Beverly Hillbillies. Then I wrote a poem for school. In reading we have to write a poem. The poem is called,

The Bat
There was a bad
Who lived in a hat
And there he sat
And sat and sat.

One day he flew
Into the blue
And there he grew and grew.

And he grew old
And was Oh,
So cold, so cold.

So he flew back
To that hat
And there he sat
And sat and sat.

January 10
Today I went to school. I walked with Nancy. In school we did Arith., Spell., Reading. Then we had lunch. After lunch we had chorus for an hour. Then we had Cit. Ed. Then it was time to go home. I walked home with Nancy. Then I practiced and did homework until dinner. After dinner I watched Sea Hunt. Then I played with Tommy and made a Valentine for Nancy. Then I watched Dr. Kildare until 9:30.

In reading we read a story and while making Nancy’s Valentine I listened to my record The Wonderful World of the Brother’s Grimm.

January 11
Today was Friday. We had Arith., gym, spell., Lang, then we had lunch, Story, Cit. Ed. After school I practiced them played school until dinner. After dinner I played and watched TV. I watched SilentPlease, half of Flintstones, and 77 Sunset Strip. Then I went to bed. In gym we had basketball again. Also at lunch I got to talk with Nancy.

January 12
Today when I woke up I just laid in bed. But I did get up, ate breakfast. Them almost for the rest of the morning I watched TV. Then I made lunch for me and Tommy. After lunch I played with Nancy until 5:00. Then I played with Tommy, watched TV, and helped make dinner. Then at 6:00 we ate. After dinner I watched TV. Then I read books to Tommy. Then he went to bed. I watched TV for the rest of the day.

January 13
Today when I woke up I didn’t feel like going to Sunday School. I was tired. But I did go to Sunday School. After Sunday School, Aunt Alice drove me home. Then I got into some play clothes and watched TV. After I watched TV I called up Nancy to see if she could play. he could play. I went to her house. We played all afternoon. My mother called up and said she would pick me up and that we were going to eat dinner out. After dinner I watched Wonderful World of Disneyon TV. Before I watched TV I ate lunch.

January 14
This morning I got up and saw that there was snow all over. I got ready for school. On the radio it said that there was school. Then Uncle Skip [Skip Marvin] came and said that there was no school. So, I didn’t go to school. I ate breakfast and went outside. The snow was above your knees. Then after a while we came in and ate lunch. After lunch I played indoors for a while. Then I played with David [Ennis] until dinner. After dinner I watched TV, read, then I laid down and went to bed at 9:30.

January 15
Today there was school. The snow was deep. I walked with Nancy. In school first we did writing, Arith., Spell., lunch, Cit. Ed., and Science. Then it was time to go home. When I got home I played with Tommy until dinner. After dinner I washed the dishes, practiced. I took a bath. Then I played with Tommy again until bedtime.

January 16
Today I went to school. In school we had gym, Arith., Spell., lunch, Science and Cit. Ed. After school we had Girl Scouts. I was late because I washed the boards. In Girl Scouts we played games. I was walking with Nancy when Grandma came and picked us up. We dropped Nancy off and went home. After dinner I read books and watched the Beverly Hillbillies. Then I went to bed.

January 17
I got up, got dressed and ate breakfast and went to school. In school we had Arith., Science, Lunch, and Cit. Ed. After lunch we had chorus. Then it was time to come home. I had homework. I had to write as many uses of coal I could think of. I came home and played in my room until dinner. After dinner I practiced. Mommy, Tommy and Grandma went to Great Grandma’s [Greenwood] house. She also went shopping. I watched TV. After I practiced til 9:30. Then I went to bed.

January 18
Today I went to school like usual. We had Cit., Ed., gym, Science, Arith. After school I played with Janet until 5:00. Then I came home and watched TV until dinnertime. After dinner I watched TV until 11:00. I practiced before school.

January 19
Today was Saturday. I got up and watched TV. Soon it was time for lunch. After lunch it was time for piano lessons. Piano lessons lasted 2 hours. Then I played with Nancy until 5:00. We ate dinner and then I watched TV. After watching TV I did my projects. Then I watched the last half an hour of Saturday Night at the Movies. Then I went to bed.

The ice jam in the Gorge 1963

January 20
I woke up and just layed [sic] in bed. Tommy came in and layed [sic] in bed with me. Today I didn’t go to Sunday School. I watched TV, ate breakfast and got dressed. Then we ate lunch. After lunch we went to Niagara Falls. I saw the ice jam. Then we came home and ate dinner. We looked at pictures until 5:30. Then we went to Beverly’s [Ennis] birthday party. We had cake and ice cream. Then I copied my reports. Then I watched TV until 9:00. Then I went to bed.
Niagara Falls, January 1963

January 21
Today there was a snowstorm. We stayed in the kitchen all day because it was cold in the parlor.

January 23
For the last three days I stayed home from school. The second day (Jan. 22) we could go in the parlor. The first night we slept at Aunt Alice’s house on the couch. The couch could be made into a double bed. The second night I slept on the davenport at our house. Most of the time I played with Tommy or read. The third day I slept upstairs and I played with Janet. My father got 1 frozen toe on each foot.

January 24
Today I went to school. I had gym then arith., spell., science., cit. ed., and reading. When I came home I watched TV. Ate dinner and went to bed.

January 25
I got up and watched TV. Then practiced and ate lunch. Then I went to piano lessons. After piano lessons Nancy, her mother, Judy, and me went shopping for dresses for Nancy. I ate dinner at Nancy’s house. Then I came home and watched TV and went to bed.

January 26
Today I had eggs for breakfast. After breakfast I went skating with Aunt Alice from 12:00 til 4:30. Then when I came home we had dinner. Then I watched TV until 11:30.

January 30 Nancy E.’s Birthday
Lucky Nancy. She got a Blaze King, a scarf and handkerchief, and I don’t know what else. We had spaghetti for dinner. I ate at her house.

February 13
Miss Manos came today and she really surprised us. We had candy and of course plenty of Valentines.

March 17
Well of all things, it was beautiful this morning, but the rest of the day it rained.

March 19
Long time no see! Well I got mixed up back in January. I’ll tell you what I did. Miss Manos came on Valentines Day and St. Patrick’s Day. I didn’t do anything today, except the old routine. I am going to catch up. Bye!
My Brownie uniform. I don't have a pic of my Girl Scout uniform.
March 20
Today was Girl Scouts. We got something like $235.80 cookie money.

March 21
First day of spring. It snowed. Almost all day! We had art today. We had had a student art teacher for weeks. The art teacher had a bad leg and had to stay in a hospital. Well, bye! I have to clean my room. A man is going to look at the house.
Mrs. Sellers

March 21, 1966
Three years ago I wrote that. Three years ago I was in Buffalo. I moved to 512 W. Houstonia. I came to Michigan to stay. I know how to write in a diary now. I’m 13. I was 10 then.

[Later, undated entry]
Silence all around me. Except the ringing in my ears.
12:00 midnight.
All in bed, except Mom.
I will now write.
Starting my greatest story.

(Later entry:
March 19--

? I know it couldn’t be the saucer—Atom? I can’t and don’t remember.
The man who was going to look at the house was Mr. Harper who bought the house and gas station from my family. I remember knowing we were to move, but I also know I had no idea the implication or reality of what it meant 'to move'. 

The last entries, added when I was still thirteen, refer to my first short story, The Saucer. It was about a space alien stranded on earth and assisted by children, very influenced by Star Girl by Harry Winterfield, a book read to my class in elementary school. My story was written and illustrated for a school assignment. My Eighth Grade teacher Mrs. Hayden was very supportive of my interest in writing. I had never felt so affirmed by a teacher before.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Aaronsburg Story: Grassroots Gathering for Tolerance in 1949

I inherited many books from my grandfather Lynne O. Ramer, including The Aaronsburg Story by Arthur H. Lewis.

The book is yellowed and the slipcover torn and repaired with Scotch tape. It was given to him by Maude Shannon Ramer in remembrance of her cousin Jim Shannon whose photo appears on the back of the slipcover. Lynne sent it to all his friends to read.

Maude Shannon Ramer was Lynne's cousin, 75 years old in 1955 when she gifted the book. She was the widow of Lynne's second cousin Harry Webster Ramer and blood cousin of  the Rev. James Shannon.

The book is dedicated "To the memory of James S. Shannon without whose understanding, intelligence, and love of mankind there would be no Aaronsburg Story."

In 1949 the small town of 321 inhabitants hosted a meeting dedicated to tolerance and universal brotherhood. 40,000 people came.
The village of Aaronsburg was established in 1786 by Aaron Levy, a Jew who believed in freedom of religion. He donated the land on which Salem Lutheran Church was built. Levy never lived in the village, which was established near the center of Pennsylvania and which Levy hoped would become the state capital. Levy owned most of central Pennsylvania and made his wealth in trading with the Native Americans and in land speculation.
Rev. Jim Shannon
Arthur Lewis met Jim Shannon and became interested in how Aaron Levy, a Jew, came to donate land for the church. Shannon showed Lewis the pewter communion set Levy had donated, inscribed in German, "This gift to the German Congregations in Aaronsburg from Aaron Levy." The pewter was marked "William Will--Philadelphia."

"It wouldn't do to have a bigot," Lewis was told.

Although no Jew or black had ever lived in the village, they held to their heritage of tolerance.
Lewis learned that Rev. Shannon was hired in 1942 when Salem put out a call for a pastor who would uphold the village tradition of liberalism and tolerance. "It wouldn't do to have a bigot," Lewis was told. When Shannon arrived in town the Ku Klux Klan invited him to join. Shannon said he would give an answer that Sunday: when Reverend mounted the pulpit he had with him a friend and fellow pastor, who was African American.

Research by Dr. Rosenbach of Philadelphia revealed that Aaron Levy's family was Polish or Russian before moving to Amsterdam near the end of the 17th c. Aaron was born there in 1742 and at eighteen he came to America, where he worked for relatives in Lancaster and Philadelphia.

The proverbial story was that when Aaron was twenty-six or so he was walking to synagogue when he passed the Chew mansion on Third Street. Aa girl was scrubbing the mansion steps in tears. When he asked her what was wrong she did not respond until Levy addressed her in Yiddish. She was a Jewish bonded servant and cried because she had to scrub the steps every day, even on the Sabbath. Levy bought out her bond and married her.
Arthur Lewis
Lewis suggested to Shannon that Aaronsburg hold a pageant and began seeking support and raising money. Shannon believed it was an opportunity to prove that democracy was strong, and that rural people were not bigots and wanted the world to know it. A Liberal was considered a person who respected differences in religion and political opinion within the framework of the Constitution.

Speakers were drawn from across the religious and ethnic spectrum. Suggestions included Ralph Bunche because of his work in Palestine, Justice Felix Frankfurter, and Dr. Tobias, Chairman of the board of the NAACP and previous head of a foundation to improve US-African relations. Dr. Tobias agreed because "Aaronsburg is a graphic demonstration of something in which I have always had faith--that rural, white, Protestant America is not the last stronghold of bigotry but in reality an untapped source of democratic power."

"...something in which I have always had faith--that rural, white, Protestant America is not the last stronghold of bigotry but in reality an untapped source of democratic power." Dr Channing Tobias

Additional speakers from the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Anti-Defamation League, were added, along with movie star Cornell Wilde. It was decided they needed a voice from the Far East and Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan of the United Nations agreed to speak. "It is a good omen for the world when a village as tiny as yours girds its loins to do battle to prove the equality of all men, even the skin of some as dark as mine. I think, too, that your community's willingness to pay homage to a man of a faith different from its own is good, and that also appeals to me. Like your Bible, our Koran says, 'Let him who wishes, believe, and let him who so choose, deny!"

"It is a good omen for the world when a village as tiny as yours girds its loins to do battle to prove the equality of all men, even the skin of some as dark as mine." Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan.

Three panels were set up address The Handling of Prejudiced People, Religious Intolerance in American Society, and Assurance of Rights to Minority Groups.

The book goes on to tell how a surprising 40,000 people came to Aaronsburg, filling each church to overflow, emptying the restaurants of food. It was a miracle.
Note from Justice Felix Frankfurter to Lynne O, Ramer

Justice Frankfurter warned, "Where the entire people do not take a continuous and considered part in public life there can be no democracy in any meaningful sense of that term, for democracy is always a beckoning goal, not a safe harbor." He went on, "All the devices of political machinery, parties and platforms and votes, are merely instruments for enabling men to live together under conditions that bring forth the maximum gits of each for the fullest enjoyment of all." And "Freedom is an unremitting endeavor, never a final achievement."

 "Freedom is an unremitting endeavor, never a final achievement." Justice Frankfurter

Dr. Bunche spoke asking, "Who can doubt that there is anything as sorely needed in the dangerous world of today as a universal recognition of a fraternal bond of kinship among peoples, the realization of a sense of brotherhood among all men, of human understanding, of a broad spirit of tolerance toward those whose races, creeds, cultures, and ideologies may differ from one's own?"

Dr. Dan Poling warned, "We cannot keep another down without staying with him. We cannot fail to share without losing our own better part. This road of intolerance leads only to disaster. Those who take it may cry peace, peace, but for them and their system...there is and there can be no peace. We shall not finally disarm the world until we rise above intolerance. We shall not find the cure for war until Aaron Levy's creed of brotherhood becomes the law by which we earn our bread, administer our government, and each, according to his own conscience, worships God."

"We cannot keep another down without staying with him. We cannot fail to share without losing our own better part." Dr. Poling

And Major-General Donovan said "The measure of a man's loyalty and patriotism is not judged by the length of his ancestry but by the quality of his mind and the depth of his courage. The great danger in our country is tat hatred and intolerance can be swords turned against out people."

Dr. Channing Tobias urged "It would be a great thing for a bewildered and pessimistic world if the leaders of the great religious denominations could sit around a common table--Jews, Mohammedans, Hindus, Buddhists, all divisions of Christians--for the sole purpose of calling attention to the broad principles upon which is it possible to unite in the interest of bringing understanding and peace to mankind."

Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein declared, "I am convinced that in troubled times like these it is our sacred duty not only to talk brotherhood but to act brotherhood...with a consecrated determination to treat our fellowmen on the basis of their merits and not on the basis of their antecedents, to live with them as free men on the basis of equality and democracy."

Sir Muhammad explained that "God is not a tribal or national deity, nor are His Benevolence and Providence confined to the followers of any particular religion or creed. ..You should therefore strive to establish conditions in which a man would be free to believe in whatever he chooses to believe in for the sake of God alone."

And Governor Duff of Pennsylvania declared that  October 23 would be Aaronsburg Brotherhood Day.

The book continues; in 1951 Lewis ran into Dr. Bunche and Dr. Poling in New York City's Pennsylvania Station. They lunched together, fondly recalling the day, the crowd, and the spirit of the day. Dr. Bunche suggested repeating the program.

They decided to ask advise from others about what to do next. A list of 181 important American leaders was complied. and letters telling about Aaronsburgh and asking for ideas were sent. and then Lewis went on the road to interview the leaders.

The letters read, "The present world situation is a challenge to every one of us. There is today widespread unrest among nations; there is a rising tide of nationalism among those we used to regard as benighted peoples. The past twenty years have seen the resurgence of bigotry, persecution, and intolerance in the world...It seems to me that there are wide areas of agreement from which men of various races and creeds can embark on a program of mutual trust and action not only for the benefit of America but also for the better understanding of world problems."

Marian Anderson in her interview suggested "there's nothing in the whole world that brings people closer together than singing together...Do this someday and let me sing with them."

Dr. Milton Eisenhower of Pennsylvania State University states "Segregation is one problem I don't have at State College, there is cooperation everywhere." He offered the college to house visitors to the next assembly.

Father LaFarge agreed to help with programming and planning, explaining that his grandfather was a white slave for year under Henri Christophe, ruler of Haiti.

Lewis met with Lillian Smith and Mr. Baruch and Professor Albert Einstein who, hearing the story of Aaronsburg, agreed it "must become a meeting place for all men of good intent. Norman Cousins, Ronald Reagan, and Edward Murrow were interviewed.

He meet Eleanor Roosevelt at the United Nations. "The world doesn't have much time left," she told Lewis. "We need every bit of illumination we can get to bring the light to the darkness that is engulfing all of us."

On June 19-21, 1953 the second assembly met. The four sessions focused on How to Live Above Your Prejudices in six areas--government, school, home, work, recreation, and religion. Each panel had a moderator, one Friend and One Neighbor. "There would be no holds barred, and any question within the range of each panel could be asked and answered...There would be no "talking down.'"

Although Lewis intended to evolve the Aaronsburg Story to panels across America it never happened. But he did hear stories from people whose lives were changed by the experience, A man who had been anti-union changed his mind after sitting with a man from the Steel Workers Union. Aaronsburg  built a new state of the art school. Local citizens who had been against building a new school changed their attitudes after hearing from the country's leaders in education.

Lewis hoped to begin the Aaronsburg National Assemblies held in 350 communities on one day. The book was published in 1951. On October 23, 1968 the Center Daily Times published an article, "Lesson Wasn't Caught." It read, "Nineteen years ago today the world heard about Aaronsburg. More than 30,000 people gathered in the tiny East Penns Valley community for a day long study of religious understanding. Peoples of all faiths participated in discussion programs, church services, and historical pageant which told the story of Aaronsburg and America. The Aaronsburg ideal, apparently, was a decade and more ahead of the nation. If the lessons taught there had been learned, much of today's unrest would have been unnecessary."


On July 20, 1961 in Ben Meyer's column We Notice That appeared in Lynne's hometown newspaper, The Lewiston Sentinel. Lynne wrote,

Jim Shannon Story
Dear Ben: Remember the old saying, "Thought conceived, but never penned--perish unheard." Well, I just gotta tell you about some correspondence that occurred recently.

It started in the long ago, back in 1949, when a story was born across the Seven Mountains. 'Twas called "The Aaronsburg Story," sparked by a five-church-circuit country parson, Rev. James S. Shannon.

It was an attempt, an experiment, to break down the barriers--that separate groups and peoples from "agreeing on essentials." We have such terrible barriers today--locally, nationally, and internationally, such as Jim Shannon probably never dreamt of." (Incidentally Jim's grand-pop established St. Paul's Lutheran in Milroy.)

This book should be read by every American and certain by every honest-hearted Pennsylvanian. Long time ago Mrs. Harry W. (Maude) Ramer sent me a copy of it. It's on the go all the time, being read by my friends. Maude and Jim Shannon were blood cousins. Maude 'n' Harry will be remembered in the Burnham era, 1915-19.

Last September, 1960, Old Salem Church was rebuilt and rededicated on the ground where those two "Aaronsburg conference" were held. Maude just sent me colored snapshots of the exterior and interior of the church and of the marker made simply and of wood, that commemorates the conferences.
Maude Shannon Ramer's photographs of the new Salem Lutheran Church
Well, I thought those pictures were so good I promptly sent them to Dr. Ralph C. Bunche, undersecretary of the United Nations, to look at. He returned them with a gracious reply and told me to relay to Maude his concern for her health, which hasn't been too good.

Now Dr. Bunche was acquainted with Jim Shannon and was a leading attender at the pageant in 1949 and at the later, or second, Aaronsburg Conference. All the world knows Dr. Bunche and his concern for education, racial opportunity, and for the future and present of the new African nations.

As to friendship of nations, some short-minded people have been raising a fuss about 4,000 Canadians that work in Detroit--pressmen, steel men, auto workers, etc. John Manning, Free Press editor, says the best printers he ever knew were from across the Detroit River, from Windsor, Can. Many editorials have been written against closing the tunnel and Ambassador Bridge to these workers. Prime Minister Diefenbaker says he was assured no U. S. Official has such intention's. As regards Canada, its high time we take stock of who our friends are. And try to keep 'em, not ruffle their feathers with such ill-timed proposals.

Lynne O. Ramer

At Rev. Shannon's funeral the eulogy was given by Lester J. Waldman of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, saying, "A few men in each age have a deep conviction that there are some things everlastingly right and some things that are everlastingly wrong. Jim Shannon was a fighter for the things that are everlastingly right."