Saturday, August 19, 2017

Nancy and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Year

Chris loved his sand box
On the day we moved out of our Philly home I took Chris and P.J. to a hotel while Gary supervised the movers. The next day we drove to my parent's house in Michigan, a twelve-hour drive across Pennsylvania and Ohio. The next day we left Chris with my folks and then drove to our new parsonage in Hillsdale. That night we stayed with parishioners who lived two doors down from the parsonage.

the parsonage back yard
May 22, 1989, was a beautiful day. All went pretty well until the movers brought the piano up the front sidewalk. The experienced man was instructing the young man on how to move a piano when suddenly it began to tip! Gary rushed in to support it, throwing out his back.

We drove back to my folk's house to pick up Chris, P.J., our computer, and good china. On the way back, we stopped at an ice cream stand in Jonesville. The car parking brake wasn't working well and the parking lot was on a hill. Gary and I got out to buy us drinks. The car started rolling towards the road! Gary had locked his car door, but mine was not locked and I managed to reach in and pull the parking break up to stop the car from rolling. We could have lost our son and our dog in a car crash!

Chris was excited by the new house, especially his new big bedroom filled with the toys and books he had not seen for weeks. And when he saw the huge yard he was doubly excited.

That night it rained. It was a deluge. The water was flowing under the garage door and across the floor--where Gary's entire professional library and clergy supplies were stored, waiting until he could move them into the church office! Even with his bad back, we had to move every box to safety.

The basement also flooded. All of our books and my papers and much of the household items were still in boxes there. The neighbor who had hosted us came with his wet vac and worked on the water, returning all day long, so I could care for Chris, unpack some, and so Gary could get settled in his office. It turned out that the basement had been flooding for years! The basement flooded several times a year every year we lived there.

Over the years I joked that all these near-miss catastrophes either meant God was protecting us--or was warning us to get out now!

The view from the house
All summer long Chris woke up at 5:30 am, eager to go outside and explore. He would start running and I had to run and catch him before he got to the road going into town.

Before we moved in Mom and Dad had arranged to deliver furniture that my grandparents had sold us, and they installed a swing on the pine tree. I had to push Chris in the swing for an hour every morning while P.J. snooped around, following the exotic smells of rabbit and groundhog and deer.

Hillsdale UMC 
In our meet-and-greet, we had been grilled about several concerns, including what I as a minister's wife was going to 'do'. The last one, I was told, didn't 'do' anything. The District Superintendent [D.S.] turned the discussion but he should have said, "You are hiring the pastor, not the wife." I was eager to do something. I missed teaching youth class and singing in a choir, but our son was not even two years old and being a full-time mother and wife were my first jobs.

The D.S. had suggested someone take me around to show me the area. A woman took me with her to the local farmers market outside of town. When I tried driving myself there I panicked. There were no road signs, just farm fields and dirt roads! I had driven in the inner city in bad neighborhoods, and on busy expressways, but the countryside unnerved me! It took a while before I ventured out again to find that market.

I was in culture shock. In those days Hillsdale's population was about 9,000 and the entire county was about 40,000. I went to a conference gathering and was surprised to see only one African American pastor. There were several chain stores, some mom and pop stores, but to buy Chris a winter coat I had to drive to Jackson or Adrian, or visit my folks and go to the Oakland Mall.

At a church social gathering, I put my foot in my mouth. The host worked in downtown Detroit in the new Renaissance Center. I commented on how bad Detroit looked, all the empty houses, compared to Philly. He was offended. When Gary used his UMCOR experiences in his sermons, or talked about personal experiences, he was criticized. I was corrected when I called Hillsdale a 'small town,' and told it was a 'city.'

Not a very good beginning.

We lived on a cul-de-sac on the last road at the edge of town, with no sidewalk for several blocks and so no safe way to walk into town. I felt isolated and so we broke down and bought a second car, a Lumina mini-van. It was so new people stared at its strange shape.

Gary was asked to return to New York City to train his successor and I went along on the trip. We left Chris with Gary's folks. We stayed in Greenwich Village. While Gary was at UMCOR I went shopping at Macy's, saw the Guggenheim Museum, and enjoyed my day. I ended up walking all the way to 475 Riverside Drive! I was exhausted!

My mother was thrilled to have her only grandchild a two-hour drive away. She made plans for mother-daughter shopping trips, and for Chris to stay with her on summer vacations.
Chris in the back yard
For Chris's second birthday three generations of family, Gochenour, and Bekofske, gathered. It was wonderful. Chris received his first Matchbox cars. We soon bought a sand box with a cover. I could sit on the screened porch reading while Chris created cities and played out stories.

My mom was staying with us when our neighbors told us to use their hot tub while they were away. After dinner, we went over and enjoyed a long soak. It was a turning point. We were not mother and daughter, we were equals, two women, without imposed ideals of who the other should be, without shame of our imperfect bodies. I was comforted to know we had reached a new level in our relationship.

The Importance of Appearances

I remember when your beauty was overwhelming.
I thought I could never achieve it.
In your perfection, your hair glowed
still blonde and long, pulled behind at your neck
in a ponytail that swung above me
as we ascended the steep stairway home.
And later, when I went out into the world,
I was amazed--the other mothers were so old,
hair gray and skin sallow, eyes dark-circled.
And I pitied the children, for my mother
was always the youngest, the gayest, the prettiest of all.

Years passed and when I had grown old enough
to talk of such things, you asked me
"Where you ever ashamed of me,
by my disease?"
Startled, I told you the truth as I knew it.
Where you had seen disease only,
I had seen only your beauty,
and felt blessed and proud.

Since moving to the country I was suffering from allergies. There was no air conditioning in the house. I was up all night, unable to breathe. Chris was sick, too, his nose streaming. We discovered the toilet off the master bedroom had been leaking. The entire subfloor had to be torn up, the wood rotten and black with mold.
Mom reading to Chris
Autumn came and mom was changing the curtains in her bedroom when she fell off the ladder and broke her knee. She spent months bedridden. Chris would crawl into bed with her as she read him books. Mom let him play with her costume jewelry, which he strung about his neck, or used as 'pirate treasure'.

We enrolled Chris in the day care center so he had other children in his life, and so I had mornings to myself. He loved being there.
Halloween. Chris as a TMNT at day care.
That winter Chris was constantly ill with upper respiratory congestion, sore throat, and ear infections. He was frequently on antibiotics. The doctor kept him on a low dose for the rest of the winter. We had to pay 100% of the medical expenses up front and send in the bills for reimbursement. Our yearly deductible was met by the end of January. We were very broke until that check came in from the health insurance. But, thank God we had insurance.

January came and Mom was to begin walking again. She was in debilitating pain. Months went by. The doctors gave her pain meds, but she complained this was not pain from being inactive, it was something more, a deep pain in her back.

My family managed a spring visit. We did not know it would be our last photo with the entire family.

Me, P.J., Tom, Mom and Dad, Chris
Finally, in late March, Mom convinced her doctors to order a scan.

There was cancer throughout Mom's body, in her pancreas and lungs and bones and brain. Mom had her first chemo treatment before she left the hospital.

 White Flowers

The doctor has told
that your body is a vase
full of small flowers
white, and greedy.
They multiply, like lilies,
grow stately, and bloom.

And it is our duty to kill them,
using the strongest poison bearable,
killing the flowers and the grass,
the trees and the ladybugs alike,
laying you bare and stripped
to the few essentials
 you could not live without.

What will be left are these:
A tenuous will to live for others.
The memory of trees.
The sound of a child's laugh.
A few fragile friendships.
And a great desire
to see tomorrow's evening
blush in the western sky.

The doctor asked if she had ever been exposed to toxins in the environment. She grew up in the Sheridan Park Project next to a creek contaminated by waste from a nearby factory involved with the Manhatten Project. The local Tonawanda dump was also used for the waste. Just a few miles away was Love Canal. Mom had also smoked from the time she was sixteen, only stopping when I was pregnant. I no longer allowed smoking in the house and Mom did not want her grandchild to see her smoking.

The cancer was slow growing and likely had been growing for ten years. The doctor gave her six months or less.


You have finally broken through to death, Mother.
It waits for you like the vast and dark night sky,
open, still, pierced with the living light
of memories reaching into its depths.
The living will always call back their dead this way:
reaching far into death's quiet places,
disturbing the peace of those whose suffering has ended,
those who labored long to achieve eternal rest.
And on this, the anniversary of your Baptism,
when you first tasted death's sweet wine,
you dress in white again, sleep in a white room
attended on by white beings softly working
and you look back to your old self,
a sinner grown attached to her way of life,
now an unwilling heir to God's grace.

It is not your place to think of us.
We must learn our way by ourselves
alone, as we always have done,
although you did not admit it,
you, who always hovered close
calling and guiding us
even when we stopped up our ears
and did not listen.

Yours is to look beyond,
to places we cannot even dream of yet,
to your final achievement of death.
Yours the labor of dying.
Ours the labor of life.
It is the hardest work ever given you
and longer than that which pushed me
into this world, and more painful.

There is no anesthesia for living;
to be alive is to be in pain
of one sort or another.
As well you know,  mother.
For in you was perfected
a physical and spiritual
epitome of pain.

Because of her psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis Mom always said she did not want to live into old age and be dependent on someone for her personal care. She said she kept smoking because she would rather die of cancer young. It always upset me when she said that.

Mom and Dad at a family Christmas gathring
But her last years had been better. Methotrexate had allowed her a normal life. She and dad were able to make trips around the state because she did not need the continual care for her skin to keep it plaque free. They had an active social life, enjoying a card group. And Mom was painting, taking private lessons with a professional artist.

Death Wish

Mother, how I dreaded hearing again
your annual announcement
voiced at some friendly moment
over coffee at a sunlit table
or while folding the laundry,
the litany of duties to fall upon me
once you had achieved your desired death.

Smoking cigarette after cigarette,
the air full of your gray curlicues,
the windows filmed yellow
you spoke, distant as Andromeda,
heaping burning ashes
into the small pan of my heart.

Mine was to be the burden of heirship,
the responsibility of the only daughter
of a woman who created a daughter
to be the sun and center of her world.
For ten years, not wanting to hear,
until I had memorized your will
more clearly than my own son's face.

"Don't bury my rings
The diamond's not worth much, but keep it.
Keep whatever depression glass you want,
but check the value if you decide to sell.
Keep my jewelry; these beads are good.
Take the oil paints and brushes.
Maybe Chris will be the artist in the family."

Year after year
calm as death
placid as a coma
you talked of not wanting to be a burden
and planned for your early death.
Your death wish was a stone in my throat always
resented, but no operation could remove it.

I went to stay with Mom for a few days. She calmly called everyone she knew, telling them she had cancer. Mom was only sad for her family. She was okay with dying. She worried that Dad would not do well. At least over the last months, Dad had learned about the bills and budget. She asked if she thought Chris would remember her, and if I remembered my Grandfather Gochenour who had died when I was three. I should have lied, but I said I did not remember him.

 Trial Run

I remember the first time I feared you'd left me forever.
I woke in the morning in my tree-guarded room
where the sun had to sneak through willow leaves
and was told daddy had taken you to the hospital.
Ignorant of birth and the small death of miscarriage
I wept privately. I did not even understand
that you would return to me.
I only knew absence where you had always been
every morning in my girlhood's long dream.
In my fear and loneliness, I ached to hold
some symbol dear, and fixated on the unattainable:
a plastic, pink, Little Bo Peep, crook in hand,
sheep-surrounded, hung high on the wall.
My ideal of womanhood.
I could not reach her, and wept bitterly,
believing myself helpless and alone.

You were returned, no longer pregnant,
another brother or sister lost.
After that, I recall the games,
forcing myself to imagine a just punishment
to childhood's anger, "What if mom and dad
were killed in a car accident..."
bringing myself to tears, the helplessness
of childhood's need to be sheltered splitting my heart.

All children must face it some day,
that walking into the world utterly alone
and untethered, free.
Without the luxury of knowing home
in a place we can always come back to.
But we never believe it will be so soon,
desperately hoping this is just
another trial run.

I would not spare you one moment's agony and doubt
if it meant keeping you by me one minute longer.
I am that selfish, mother, and do so
resent your lucky fate to be the one leaving.

I would visit Mom and keep up a cheerful demeanor and listen to her tell me what to do after she died. Then I spent nights up late writing poetry about watching a parent die.
One of Mom's paintings
Mom was fifty-seven years old and Dad fifty-eight. I was thirty-eight, my brother thirty-one, and Christwo years and eight months old. We could not believe we were going to lose her.

Chris and I had been tested for allergies. Chris had severe pollen allergies--as had my Grandfather Gochenour, and my brother also had allergies. I had multiple allergies as well. The doctor ordered a blood test for Chris that showed low antibodies, which is why he contracted so many infections. We were told Chris would grow out of it. The doctor scheduled a removal of his tonsils and adenoids and the insertion of ear plugs.
One of Mom's paintings
When She Has Died

When she has died
I will tell them
that life has its horrors
but death is gentle and kind.

When she has died
I will lecture on her art
full of winter's blast
and barren trees,
symbols we chose to ignore.

When she has died
I will speak of suffering ended,
the accumulated petty pains
which built into a Niagara
of deafening abundance
burying hope and joy.

When she has died
her life will be viewed
as a hymn to disease
with all its cynicism and boredom
and we will be sorrowful
and will forget that she ever knew joy.

After her second chemo treatment, Mom ended up in the hospital. A reoccurring infection had set in and she was dehydrated and in pain. Her nurse was a friend. Mom did not want to suffer and asked for morphine. You won't wake up if you take it, the nurse warned. Mom did not care. She had suffered enough over her lifetime.

Dad called from the hospital, clearly upset. He did not tell me Mom was dying but said Mom would not be able to talk to me. I insisted he put the phone to her ear and I told her about the doctor visit and that Chris would be alright and not to worry about him.

I made plans to drive to my folks in the next morning. Dad arranged for me to leave Chris with Jean McNab, our neighbor from Houstonia. By the time I arrived at the hospital it was too late. My grandmother and aunt, dad and brother, were in the hallway in tears. Mom had just passed. I kissed her cheek, already growing cold, and told her I loved her. Mom passed on April 4, 1990.

Gary joined us. The funeral arrangements were complicated because my folks had grave sites in Tonawanda. Mom had asked Gary to preside over her funeral services. Gary said yes. It would be the hardest thing he had ever done. He was very close to my mother, and he was not able to grieve as a family member at the services.

Mom's funeral was held in Clawson on April 5. Gary's parents came to the funeral and were to bring back Chris and P.J. to their house while we traveled to Tonawanda. During the funeral Chris was walking around, sitting under the raised casket, unaware of what was happening.

The next day we drove across Ontario to Tonawanda. At the visitation, I saw cousins and aunts and uncles and family friends I had not seen in many years. The second funeral was held on April 8. It was both a time of grieving and a time to reconnect. I called my childhood friend Nancy Ensminger. She was married with children, was still writing, and had finally bought a horse.
Dad with his sisters Alice Gochenour Ennis and Mary Gochenour Guenther
 and their mother Emma Becker Gochenour
My cousin David Ennis was living in Pittsburgh. He knew I had just moved back to Michigan to be near my mom just months before she was gone. He decided he did not want that to happen to him and he did move back near his folks.
Me with my cousins Bev and David Ennis
On April 9, Mom was buried in Elmlawn Cemetery, where many of my Gochenour and Becker relatives are.

 Given For You

The first night of the first day of funeral homes
I slept one hour and woke suddenly.
You were calling me.
I arose and going to the dresser
put on your clothes.
I could feel your arms in their embrace.
They smelled clean,
Like springtime, or rain.
I imagined your pleasure in them,
your deliberation in choosing them,
the luxury of your wearing them.
I wanted to keep them all,
a treasure beyond price.
Could I but shrink the inches
to your petite hunched frame
and, like the Barbie doll you always
wanted me to be, dress up for you,
wearing the silky blouses, the vivid
knit tops, the open-toed shoes.
 I wondered at the smallness
of a mother who had borne so much.
Now, in death, I feel you here,
watching, blessing, and so I go
through the paces again, taking what is yours,
as if it were August, school beginning
you on the bed, I trying article after article
to check fit and wear,
you planning a shopping spree.
There is no privacy in death.
I do not want known
your accumulation of finery
bought to cover a diseased body,
the extravagance of your need for beauty.
I want to embrace every article
and hide it in a daughter's love.

Life did not 'go on'. Everything had changed.

My brother was living on his own and considered if he should move back home with Dad. Dad had never believed Mom would die first. He had turned in his request for retirement, planning to be home during Mom's last months. He had no job to keep his mind off his grief. Chris acted out, sensing the anxiety and despair and disorder around him.

When Mother's Day came, every card and commercial cleaved me to the heart.  I was encouraged to go to the Mother-Daughter church banquet. The speaker talked of the importance of grandparents to children and I broke out in tears and rushed to Gary's office, crying. After many minutes a lady came to check on me, but had no idea what to do and left again.

 A Mother's Love

I had thought, once, that death
would finally free me.
No more hand- me-downs, no more
the worried call to see if I was home safe,
no more being a child.
I was wrong.
For in your dying, mother,
I am imprisoned more deeply than ever,
a chattel whose debt is beyond calculation.
I am made, finally and again,
completely thine, like the baby
you loved beyond all understanding.

Your continual habit of giving
made me want to shake free.
It is the discomfort of those loved
too dearly to bear.
It is the knowledge of never being
good enough to deserve it.
It is like being
confronted by God.

And so I discover I am not freed,
but bound more tightly in the cord
of your love.

Shortly after mom's passing, I was at Dad's house and we watched Field of Dreams. After the movie, Dad told me that I owed it to Mom to lose weight, that I had broken her heart all her life by being overweight since I was a child. He thought being fat was a moral failing, the symptom of an addictive personality. I felt blindsided, wounded, and distressed. I had gained 20 pounds with the pregnancy, lost several dress sizes in the exercise class, but since the move, I had put back on weight. The only exercise in town was Jazzercise and I couldn't follow the steps and gave up. But I knew that Mom had accepted me as I was, just as she had finally accepted her own body's imperfections.

When Dad visited us for Chris's third birthday party, Dad was withdrawn and depressed. Chris could not get his attention and grew upset and acted out, and Dad became angry. No, nothing was the same. We could not explain to a three-year-old why his beloved Pops was ignoring him.

Dad's boss at Chrysler contacted him and said that he had never submitted Dad's request to retire. Dad could return to work and regain some normalcy. But it was hard coming home to an empty house. An operation for a stomach ulcer years previous had not gone well, and he was left with an inoperable bleeding ulcer in his colon. The wrong diet would make it act up and keep him homebound. Dad didn't cook and eating out brought a weight gain.

To help him grieve, we gave Chris a book by Tomie DePaola titled Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs. Mom had asked for Chris to call her Nana. It is the story of a great-grandmother who becomes ill and dies. The grandson is told that a shooting star was his grandmother sending him love. When the August meteor shower came, I took Chris outside and we watched the night sky until he saw a shooting star. And he knew his grandmother loved him still.
P.J. in his last days
P.J. had been suffering from declining health. He was on Synthroid and also had adrenal issues. We had been putting off the inevitable. P.J. had become confused and blind, unable to find the door or the water bowl. One morning I woke up and he was laying on the carpet, looking up at me and wagging his tail, but unable or unwilling to rise up. I knew it was time. And so we lost our doggie, too, which was very sad for Chris.


After the sickness
after the dying
after the leaving
after the hundreds of dollars spent

after battling depression
after the money problems and housing problems
after the replacement of rabbit nibbled pansies

after the meeting with families
after the care-taking and hand-patting
after the third-year birthday party
after the allergy shots and antibiotics
after the solitude of empty rooms
where somebody had reclined, dying

and after the questioning
and doubts and tears
one can merely decide
live or die
knowing which, inevitably,
would be the easier,
knowing the courage necessitated by the harder,
knowing, as in a book,
it is the mystery of the end of the story
that lures us to go on---

This year was about family. It was about change and learning to live in a changed world. It was about learning to live with a broken heart and finding some solace in memories.

It took time for Dad to overcome his depression but he and Chris became best buddies again. Tom spent most of his weekends with Dad, traveling around Michigan.

When Dad did actually retire he reconnected with Houstonia neighbors who got him into breakfast and lunch groups, and he took up golf. He would ride his bicycle around Clawson. He rescued trash to repair and repurposed items which he sold cheaply in garage sales. He found an interest in pinball machines and had several in the house, which Chris loved to play. And he repaired old boat motors.

After a few years, Dad bought a cabin 'Up North' on Lake St. Helen. Dad had wanted a cabin for a long time. Dad, Tom, and Chris, made many wonderful memories at the cabin.

Dad and Chris raking leaves in Clawson
Jitterbug Queen
"Remember Nana playing Hooked on Swing?" I asked as we watched Disney's classic cartoon Woodland Cafe. “She used to Jitterbug like that.” And, remembering, Chris danced, the way she had taught him.

Dancin' fool
   ain't she cool
      hooked on swing
          the Jitterbug Queen
              danced all day
                  danced all night
                      boys flocked 'round
                          when the sun went down
                               to dance all night
                                   till broad daylight
                                       with the Jitterbug Queen.

Twirlin' skirt
    and daddy's shirt
        scuffed saddle shoes
           dancing two by twos
               bobby socks
                   at the hops
                       hooked on swing
                          she's the Jitterbug Queen

She's got rhythm
   I ain't lyin'
      heart pulse soars
             she goes flyin'
                 stops for pop
                   then back she hops
                              she don't tire
                                she just flies higher

Ponytail swayin'
    girlfriends yeahing
       hands clapping
          feet a-tappin'
             there's music in
                her feet and soul
                    way long after
                         her joints go
                           in her mind
                              she still sees
                                  the swingin' scene
                                      of the Jitterbug Queen.
Mom as a teenager at a Project dance

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mao's Last Dancer

My library book club read for August was Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin, published in 2003. I read a Young Reader's Edition. I don't know if that was what everyone in the group received, but I would have preferred to read the 'adult' version of the memoir.

Cunxin relates how he grew up in poverty, part of a peasant family working on a commune. In spite of nearly starving, he believes in the pro-Communist propaganda about how lucky they were to have been saved by Chairman Mao's takeover. When Cunxin has an opportunity to be chosen for Madame Mao's new dance school, withstanding physically torturous tests, he is determined to succeed for the sake of his family, and to escape the hard life of manual labor.

Winning a coveted place in the dance school means Cunxin must leave his village and family, and the freedom of boyhood. He was eleven years old and had never seen a city, indoor water, or so much food. But he was lonely and homesick.

" ...[I] grabbed the precious quilt my naing [mother] had made for me. I plunged my face into it and wept. ...My naing's quilt was like a life-saving rope in the middle of an ocean of sadness. I couldn't stop thinking of my family back home."
The dance school brought together children from the working and peasant classes, to teach them traditional Chinese dance, politically sanctioned dances, and Western ballet, along with academic and Communist political classes.

The regime was brutal, but the rewards motivated the boy to succeed. He found mentors who taught him to love dance. He excelled and won a place to study in America for a year. He discovered the Chinese propaganda about America was false and his belief in Mao and Communism was shaken. Cunxin was overwhelmed by the wealth he saw, the abundance of food, the freedom to criticize the president, and even the luxury of a hot bath. After falling in love with an American woman they married and Cunxin defected.

Cunxin became a ballet star. After the failure of his first marriage, he later married and became the father of several children. His second career was as a stockbroker, embracing the capitalism that he was warned about as a child.

The memoir was interesting and I appreciated learning about his early life and the challenges of dance. But I found the book not deeply probing. Perhaps this was because of it's being a young reader's edition. I wanted more depth than offered in this version of the book.

At the book club most loved the book. We had a lot of discussion about dance and what it took to become a great dancer, the single minded dedication, and the pain. It sounded like the complete book was not very different in content from the young reader version I read.

Read interviews with Li Cunxin at

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Irish Pixies vs Hillbilly Pixies

Some years ago I came across a quilt being sold on eBay with a pattern I later recognized in a 1973 copy of Blue Ribbon Quilts Patterns by Ruby Hinson. These Hillbilly Pixies had funny faces with hillbilly hats and were meant for applique and embroidery.

Recently a friend had an old Quilt World magazine with Irish Pixies. The idea is the same, just tweaked. The setting was even the same as the 1973 pattern.

The Irish Pixies have buckled hats and are all smoking a pipe.

The faces include funny expressions.

Here are the eBay quilt and sample pages of the Hillbilly Pixies pattern. The hats are appliqued and the rest of the details are embroidered.

So even a seemingly original idea has several interpretations! The Hillbilly Pixies all have antenna while all the Irish Elves have pipes.

Perhaps by 1986 Hillbilly was considered a negative stereotype and the pattern morphed into an Irish elf. According to Wikipedia,
The "classic" hillbilly stereotype reached its current characterization during the years of the Great Depression when many mountaineers left their homes to find work in other areas of the country. The period of Appalachian out-migration, roughly from the 1930s through the 1950s, saw many mountain residents moving North to the Midwestern industrial cities of Chicago, Cleveland, Akron and Detroit. This movement North became known as the "Hillbilly Highway." The movement brought these previously isolated communities into mainstream United States culture. Poor white mountaineers became central characters in newspapers, pamphlets and eventually, motion pictures. Authors at this time were inspired by historical figures such as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. The mountaineer image transferred over to the 20th century where the "hillbilly" stereotype emerged.[4]

See all of the Hillbilly Pixies patterns at

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Exposed by Lisa Scottoline

Mary DiNunzio comes from an Italian South Philly family and her loyalty to her neighbors is fierce. When the son of one of her dad's best friends comes to her needing representation, she had to accept the case, even if a conflict of interest means she has to give up her new partnership with Bennie Rosato in a top law firm.

As Bennie and Mary try to hash out the legal aspects of representing businesses owned by the same parent company, Mary's client Simon is not only fighting being wrongfully fired from his job, his daughter is in the Children's Hospital battling leukemia.

Simon does not know that he has inadvertently revealed a fatal design flaw in his company's product, and there are people willing to do anything to protect themselves.

I always love a DiNunzio book; she is a character with heart and a dedication to those she loves. In Exposed she makes hard choices, she and Bennie suffer horribly, but the book ends with joyful news.

Scottoline always has a nice quick read to offer, and this legal thriller does not disappoint. The last half kept me turning pages. And besides, I love that Simon graduated from Temple University-my alma mater!

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

Lisa Scottline
St Martin's Press
Publication August 15, 2017
$27 hard cover
ISBN: 9781250099716

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The World Broke in Two: 1922, The Year that Changed Literature

Willa Cather pronounced that 'the world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts'. WWI had been one of the most devastating conflicts in world history, leaving 41 million dead. Those who survived combat returned home wounded in body and soul and mind. Vast stretches of Europe had been turned into a wasteland, leaving millions of refugees. The Victorian world view and values were irrelevant and archaic. A new world view was arising from the ashes.

The World Broke in Two by Bill Goldstein presents the personal and artistic struggles of  T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and D. H. Lawrence to create literature that spoke to this changed world.

James Joyce's Ulysses and the newly translated In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust were the literary sensations of the day. T. S. Eliot was a huge promoter of Joyce's book, which Lawrence found unreadable. Proust was a huge influence on Woolf, as was Eliot's poem The Waste Land which he had read aloud at her home. Forster was inspired by Proust. Each writer was searching for a new voice and vision.

"Well--what remains to be written after that?" Virginia Woolf after reading Proust in 1922

The authors' personal lives were a mess.

Eliot suffered a nervous breakdown and had an ill wife. He could not seem to let go of his poem The Wasteland and strung publishers along. He wore green tinted makeup to appear even more pathetic.

It had been years since Forster's last published novel. He lived with his smothering mother and was sexually frustrated, longing for love. He escaped by taking a position in India. He fell in love with a younger, married man who played the lovestruck Forster. And then the man died. Forster was in grief, unable to finish what was to become his last novel, A Passage to India.

Woolf was ill much of the year. She was trying to find a voice and style that was new. Mrs. Dalloway started as a minor character but was growing into her own novel. Goldstein writes that Joyce, Proust, and Eliot seemed to raise the question: "What connects it together?" Woolf sought to find "some sort of fusion" that was missing in Ulysses and The Waste Land.

And Lawrence continued to wander the world with Frieda, his novels banned as obscene. They had left England in 1917, going to Australia, and then America. Invited to live in Taos, he determined to write an "American novel from that centre."

The Waste Land was finally published late in the year, and a monetary prize was given to Eliot. He left his bank job to work for the publisher that became Faber and Faber. Forster's novel A Passage To India was published in 1924, dedicated to his beloved, and became a best seller. Lawrence published Aaron's Rod in 1922 and his Australian novel Kangaroo the following year. He became financially comfortable. Woolf's story Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street was published in 1923 and her novel Mrs. Dalloway in 1925.

My first Forster book was A Passage to India. I discovered Eliot in my late teens. Woolf was a later happy discovery; I have also read several books about her life. Although I have not read Lawrence's novels I have enjoyed his stories and poetry. And, in college, I had an honors course on Joyce's Ulysses.With this background, I was very interested in learning about the relationship between these writers and how they were inspired by Joyce and Proust.

I had not realized how much of Eliot's personal life can be found in The Wasteland, including clips of conversations. The oppression felt in the poem was very personal, rooted in his private life, as well as influenced by his contemporary world. Forster, Woolf, and Eliot suffered from depression and were emotionally fragile. Poor Forster, unable to be open about his sexual orientation, writing about love between men and women and longing for a fulfilling adult love of his own.

A reviewer I read said she would not want to spend time with any of these writers. I found that sad. I am amazed to think what these authors accomplished considering the burdens they labored under, Eliot working in a dull office job, his loveless marriage and ill wife; lonely Forster staying with his overbearing mother; Woolf fighting depression; Lawrence driven from place to place with Frieda. All having seen a devastating war upend everything that seemed permanent.

I found Goldstein's book an interesting read both as biography and as an examination of an important moment in literature.

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

The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster and the Year that Changed Literature
by Bill Goldstein
Henry Holt and Company
Publication: August 15, 2017
Hard cover $30
ISBN: 9780805094022

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Interlude: Saying Goodbye to Philadelphia

The view from the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps
down the Ben Franklin Parkway towards Center City
A week before we moved from Philadelphia I spent a day alone at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was where I had fallen in love with the city back when we first came to Philly for Gary to interview with the Eastern PA Conference.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art
with the Schuylkill River and Water Works
Bicentennial era pamphlet
I stood on the steps of the art museum, looking past the Washington Monument fountain down the Ben Franklin Parkway to the Second Empire City Hall. Behind me in the art museum was "Sandy" Calder's mobile Ghost, at the far end of the parkway was Alexander Stirling Calder's Swann Memorial Fountain, and atop City Hall was Alexander Milne Calder's William Penn: three generations.
detail from a lithograph of Philadelphia

Philadelphia as we knew it when we moved
I recalled my first views of the city, coming in on the expressway along the Schuylkill. Across the ravine was the strange sight of Laurel Hill Cemetery, the white monuments gleaming.

Then came the view of the art museum and the water works in front of it. Going down the Ben Franklin Parkway, bedecked with flags, past fountain circles, and ending with the imposing City Hall. I knew my ancestors had come into this port, and that in some way I was coming home.
Rodin's The Thinker at the Rodin Museum on the Ben Franklin Parkway
Our first anniversary after moving to Philly we went to Old Original Bookbinders for our first lobster dinner. They put a plastic bib on our necks. The lobster was amazing, dipped in butter, and so rich.

Ads including Old Original bookbinders
Saladalley was one of my clients when I was in sales
One birthday I ordered poached salmon with dill sauce at The Fish Market
The Fish Market 
We shopped at the Reading Terminal Market where we bought fresh vegetables and whole fish, boned leg of lamb to grill, and home made cottage cheese.

Reading Terminal. Photo by Gary L. Bekofske
We had our first Tabouli at a lunch stand in the Reading Terminal Market. I felt vindicated for always eating the spring of parsley from my parent's plate at restaurants. Here was a whole salad of parsley! We now grow our own parsley to make this salad.
Ad for the Reading Terminal Market
Bicentennial pamphlet

Reading Terminal. Photo by Gary L. Bekofske
We went to the Old City festival and bought exotic foods from the Middle East restaurant and Indian food from Siva, some of our favorite cuisines to this day. We loved to eat in Chinatown, where we had Peking Duck. We enjoyed chicken mole' and authentic dishes at a Mexican restaurant that opened near the Academy of Music.
restaurant ads in Bicentennial pamphlet
We had dined at Dicken's Inn, run by Charles Dicken's grandson, and took my brother for Cajun food at an expensive restaurant on South Street. I accidentally ordered raw oysters while dining on the Moshulu, and Gary and I each tried one.
It was during the Avenue of the Arts on Broad street that I heard an orchestra play Vivaldi's The Four Seasons for the first time. Under a huge tent along the Delaware River at Penn's Landing at a free concert, we sang along with Pete Seeger, "Bit by bit, row by row, gonna make my garden grow."

We had gone to the Mummer's Parade on New Years Day, crushed in a crowd of thousands on South Broad Street. We heard the Beach Boys in a free concert on the steps of the art museum on a muggy July 4th.

I had stood in light-filled Christ Church where our patriot forefathers worshipped and supped by candlelight in the City Tavern where they broke bread.
Bicentennial Ads
We had seen the St. Lucia festival at Gloria Dei, the earliest church in Philadelphia when it was first settled by Swedes. I had worshipped at Arch Street Meeting House and in African American churches.

We had seen plays--from Athol Fugard's Sizwe Bansi is Dead to Dracula: A Pain in the Neck; George Bernard Shaw and Shakespeare; Jean Marsh in Too Good to Be True and Leonard Nimoy in a one man play about Vincent Van Gogh. We had seen Cats on Broadway and Candide at the New York City Opera.

And the concerts at the Academy of Music! The Christmas ballets of The Nutcracker and Coppelia. The outdoor concerts at the Robin Hood Dell and Mann Music Center. I remembered the cooling dusk, sitting on a blanket on the grass, transported by Scheherazade, white dining on brie and fruit and wine.
Riccardo Muti
We saw repertoire movies including the first time I saw Limelight and City Lights by Charles Chaplin, and Casablanca, and The Marx Brothers. We went to the Ritz and saw foreign movies with subtitles, and to the large downtown theaters for the re-release of Lawrence of Arabia and the premieres of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future.
The Liberty Bell in it Bicentennial location
I recalled the Bicentennial, history come alive for a whole year, the museums and free plays, the excitement and uplifting belief in America.
Scenes from around Philadelphia in a Bicentennial pamphlet
Goodbye to the many public statues: Emmanuel Frémiet's gilded Joan of Arc, Robert Indiana's LOVE statue and Claus Oldenburg's giant 'clothespin statue' that looked like lovers kissing, and the Lipchitz statue Government of the People which some thought looked like a pile of shit, and Henry Moore's Three-Way Piece. and the Pilgrim and Playing Angels and even the giant frog. Goodbye to one of only two statues ever made of Charles Dickens.
Dickens and Little Nell by Francis Edwin Elwell. Clark Park, Philadelphia
Photo by Gary L. Bekofske
Goodbye, walks along the Schuylkill where Thomas Eakins painted the scullers. Goodbye, Independence Hall and Carpenters Hall, to the second bank of the United States modeled on the Parthenon, to the Bourse and the Merchant's Exchange. Goodbye to Latrobe's Water Works and to Boathouse Row.

Goodbye to being surrounded by history, to walking past where Phillips Brooks wrote 'O, Little Town of Bethlehem,' the Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman Houses, Ben Franklin's grave and the first library which he founded. Goodbye to the 18th c houses and Elfreth Alley and New Market.

Goodbye to the 30th Street Train Station, place of the opening scene of Witness, and to John Wanamaker where a car drove into the display window in the movie Mannequin. I only have to watch Blow Out or Trading Places to revisit the city we knew.
Bicentennial ad for Wanamaker
And the shopping! The department stores, now gone: John Wanamaker, Strawbridge & Clothier, Gimbels, and Lit Brothers. The new Gallery and Gallery II. And Encore Books where I bought so many books for so few dollars.
The Gallery and John Wanamaker
We had gone to the amazing Philadelphia Flower Show and to Longwood Gardens.
At Longwood Gardens
And to the Tyler Arboretum and the Ambler Arboretum. And to the Tinicum Nature Preserve to see the migrating birds, where once we saw thousands of white egrets in the trees.
Tinicum Nature Preserve

A cluster of trees
            jade green fans brush-stroked against
            blue skies dappled with pearly gray clouds
stood lit by a noon-high sun.
Vivid and verdant, richness of growth,
nature's masterwork swathed in movement:

White flight checkering green 
like phantoms
or gathered angels.
Souls in gala celebration
saluting the season.

Egrets, white flames 
Leaping from cool still green,
darting from depths of green
into shadows of green.
Hovering, alighting.
Eternity's crown,
nimbus of elms.
The miracle of flight
visiting the permanence of roots.

It was where I finished my education. I remembered Professor Olshin who taught the Jane Austen seminar and how we were on campus and ran into her and within a year she had died of the cancer she had been battling.
photo by Gary L. Bekofske of Kensington. 
How many hours had I spent on mass transit? The subway and the El? Going to school, work, to shop, and for days spent walking around the city?

the new subway station
I said goodbye to the city that formed my twenties and was the background of my adulthood.
View of the Ben Franklin Parkway from the top
of City Hall
My footsteps echoed as I walked up the stairs under Augustus Saint-Gaudens's Diana with her bow and arrow to visit my favorite art: Fish Magic by Paul Klee. Carnival Evening by Rousseau. John Singer Sargent's Luxembourg Gardens. Van Gogh's Sunflowers.|8
I remembered when we brought Chris to the museum and how he was so interested in Salvador Dali's Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War) and having to explain it to an eighteen-month-old.

I returned home to Gary and Chris, excited for the next big adventure waiting for us, but knowing that Philadelphia had left its mark on me.

Views of the City

I saw your familiar yet unnamed face
flicker across the movie screen’s blank stare
and every image burned with recollected stain
the wall-writings, the liter,
the detached reflected city streets
in the towered window’s glare.

diesel perfume and urine-soaked stair,
the rapid rush of walkers
going somewhere, anywhere,
with intense vengeance.
The panhandler’s challenge, the derelict’s sleep
on steamy subway grate, the wind
whipping down manufactured canyons
with a whirlwind of refuse.

And yet among all this came creeping
the quiet vacuum
where small things took root:
the flower of a fountain,
the square of sycamore where a child played,
the balanced architecture of a hopeful past,
violin strings slicing air,
you were also this, and more----

A dreamed, racial memory,
the place where my ancestors first came ashore,
when baffled, tongueless, full of faith
they sought new life in a foreign place.

Recalled, my first view of you,
driving down the river’s gorge,
your ancient dead saluting on the far hill,
gleaming white in spring’s green leaves;
passing Eakin’s famous bridge,
turning our eyes to the temple
rising over falling water
where I would learn to worship
the craft of  human hands
and mortal imagination.

Distancing the parkway,
flag-full and fountain-embraced,
until reaching  your heartbeat,
the clash of ages
where generations of Calders and Rouse meet.
In that disconsonance, I knew
I’d returned to the home
I’d always dreamt I’d find.

I gave you my best years.
And you, you stamped your imprint
on my most tender and childish being.
Here I viewed the extremes humanity can achieve:
where the lame led the blind,
and the powerful bomb the children of the disinherited,
and subway tunnels echo with solemn saxophone  songs,
and shop windows beckon entrance
into organ-filled halls.
I memorized your every aspect and view,
walked you from South Street’s decay
to Kensington’s skeleton-lined avenues,
I knew your markets and your alleys.
The light-filled rationality of Christ Church
to the Occidental streets behind the Chinese gate.

I have been damaged
as by sunlight too bright,
too well observed,
and no one understands here
in this peninsular Midwest,
what I have seen
and what it meant
or why I dream of you yet.