No, this is not my new car. But Focus is a well-known member of the Ford Motor brand.
Drivers know that if they point their steering wheel in the right direction, four wheels will turn and the car will head toward a specific destination.
Announcing My Word for 2017: Focus
Focus is a Latinate word, which I don’t much like the sound of. It doesn’t have a pretty sound, like say, filigree or dulcé. But it does the job of describing my intention to complete my memoir writing this year.
Dictionary.com defines Focus – a central point, as of attraction, attention or activity; a target or point of convergence
In a way, “focus” complements last year’s choice, Wholehearted, a word which suggests passion and energy, all of which help fuel focus and concentration.
I am no longer young, but this lovely little girl is, pictured in one of Grandma Longenecker’s antique postcards (1912). Her body pulses with life and energy, just like this new year, my tabula rasa – a blank slate on which to write a fresh new story.
Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health even as thy soul prospereth. III John: 2
My Word Gift to YOU
I discovered this word on Rebecca White Body’s fine blog last year. Here’s what she says:
I recently learned the word “entelechy” from reading The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. As I understand it, it’s the force that drives things to become what they were meant to be, the spirit that makes the acorn into the oak–or, more relevantly to my case, a tiny handful of seeds into a welter of burdock.
May you be all you can be in the new year, my friend!
You are the beating heart ❤ of this blog, responding as you do by reading and commenting here. For this I am deeply grateful – thank you!
Grandsons Patrick and Curtis, born 7 weeks apart in Chicago, both turned thirteen this fall. If they were Jewish, they would each have observed the bar mitzvah ritual: Bar = son; Mitzvah = law or commandment, able to participate in all areas of Jewish community life. Such a rite of passage usually culminates in a party with gifts.
Neither of our grand-boys wore yarmulkes. Nor did tefellin dangle from their heads or arms. Although these grand-boys have memorized Bible passages, during their birthday celebrations they did not wear religious headgear or black leather boxes (tefellin) on their fore-heads or near their hearts containing sacred scripts from the Old Testament.
What They Did Do:
After they turned thirteen, they read letters their Grandma and Grandpa Beaman had written to them when they were newborns and sent in the mail to their parents’ address with a postmark. These letters have been kept squirreled away until a special day.
At his party, Curtis opened a letter his NaNa had written to him with a December 31, 2003 postmark.
The letter was typewritten, so he breezed through sentences, smiling as he read in his emerging bass voice.
But he struggled to read another letter, which I had dashed off in cursive handwriting, now a dying art, and no longer taught in public schools.
Then he opened his gifts: a wireless mouse for his hand-constructed computer, and The DaVinci Code book.
Then it was Patrick’s turn:
Grandpa Beaman wrote Patrick’s letter with a similar postmark. It was typewritten, so there was no struggle to de-cipher looped letters. Before Patrick read his letter, Grandpa showed him a photo colláge he made for Patrick when he was a few months old.
An excerpt from Grandpa’s letter revealed his observations of newborn development:
When we feed you, you suck that bottle down pretty quickly. When it come time to burp, we hear it loud and clear! And then there’s often a big milk shoot-out which sometimes lands on my unprotected shirt and a big white splat a few feet down on the rug.
You are also making lots of cooing and other sounds. During the last couple of days when I made sounds, you tried your best to twist your mouth around in odd shapes to mimic some of my sounds. You REALLY want to talk. And someday you will for sure.
Patrick’s reading of the letter ended with these words:
He did not open a wrapped present. His birthday request was a gift certificate to Five Guys, a burger place in Jacksonville. Why such a present? Simple: His love for food is in his DNA – a “gift” from his grandpa.
It remains to be seen whether the boys, later as men, consider these “parchments” sacred, letters written to them as infants.
Bar Mitzvah – or not, we wish them Mazel Tov . . . congratulations and good wishes to both as they continue to develop into manhood!
And finally, our hope for them from The Shamá . . .
Deuteronomy 6:5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
What can you add to my description of the Jewish ritual, the Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah for daughters)?
What other rituals or traditions does your family observe with children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews?
Yesterday, Tuesday, October 4, my Aunt Ruthie celebrated her 98th birthday. Born in 1918, she is a towering figure in my life and, and along with Mother and Grandma Longenecker, my strongest mentor. And she has been mother/teacher to many.
* * *
See the determination in that little girl’s face!
Her mother, my grandma Fannie Longenecker, replying to my sister Janice’s questions for a sociology-class interview assignment, mentioned that “Ruthie was industrious, a busy-body, a tomboy who would take risks.”
The blurb in her Elizabethtown High School yearbook photo acknowledged her brilliant mind. (She skipped two elementary grades.) The description below also foretold her teaching career and hinted at the math skills she used in her long career as tax collector for West Donegal (PA) Township. She was so young when she began college at age 16, she required a chaperone.
Ruthie attended business school near Elizabethtown and earned a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She earned a master’s degree in education from Temple University in Philadelphia.
Country children in rural Lancaster County usually did not attend kindergarten. Aunt Ruthie created kindergarten for me as a 5-year-old at Cherry Hill School, close to Milton Grove, PA. I remember bouncing up and down over hills and dales riding in the back seat of her brown Hudson on the way to Cherry Hill. Two or three days a week I learned the alphabet and numbers sitting along side first graders. In the one-room classroom with eight grades, I loved singing: “Good morning merry sunshine, how did you wake so soon? You scared away the little stars and shined away the moon.”
Hundreds of students remember Miss Longenecker at the age pictured below at Rheems Elementary School where she taught sixth grade and served as principal. Earlier in her career there, the school board (probably all male) refused to acknowledge her true function as principal and condescendingly referred to her as “head teacher.”
It galls me even now to disclose this awful truth, and so I ask:
What title goes to the person (man or woman) who approves the curriculum, supervises textbook orders and presides over faculty meetings, responding to parental complains. It’s the PRINCIPAL I tell you!
Host to Refugees and Immigrants
This 1979 photo below shows Grandma Longenecker, Aunt Ruthie and Phuong Le, a refugee from Vietnam, a young girl they welcomed into their home as a daughter. Phuong was the first among dozens who sought shelter from war-torn countries. She made the most of Aunt Ruthie’s mentoring from 1976-1982, later succeeding in a career as a computer programmer and raising a fine family.
Lutheran Social Services acknowledged Ruthie’s magnanimous contribution to refugees and immigrants with The Salt of the Earth Award, a plaque which recognized “her exceptional commitment and warmhearted compassion in welcoming the stranger. ‘Ye are the salt of the earth’ Matthew 5:13” (script from plaque)
Love of Family
“You are always welcome here,” were Aunt Ruthie’s words after my sisters and I married and moved away from home. She labored in the kitchen when her nieces from Florida and Michigan nested in her home during vacations.
In a small way, we returned the favor and relished her enjoying the citrus we bought from our orange and grapefruit trees in Florida.
Appreciation for Music
A music lover, Ruthie played the piano vigorously. If the apron is any indication, she is relaxing here after over-seeing meal making, her grand-niece Crista in the background.
Into her early 90s, she played dinner music for the elderly ( ! ) at Rheems Nursing Home. “They don’t have anybody doing much for them,” she said.
Playing the dulcimer – wholeheartedly!
Through the years, her Schnauzers, Fritzie I, II, III, and IV have been her ever-present companions, protecting her by day and warming her feet at night in bed.
The last Fritzie, # IV, has found a dog’s paradise, adopted by teen-age Jason and his family.
Love for Learning
Books, magazines, and the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal/New Era have kept her curious mind informed.
During most of her stay at Landis Homes, she has whizzed through Word Finds puzzle books.
Hands in the Soil
A life-long gardener, Aunt Ruthie has always had her hands in rich Pennsylvania soil. She was my hoeing companion in the 4 1/2 -acre tomato “patch” in Bainbridge, PA in the 1950s.
At home, she kept a large garden, the envy of passersby on old route # 230 that borders her property.
All summer long until Aunt Ruthie was almost 90, she mowed nearly an acre of grass on her land near Rheems, preferring outdoor work to household duties.
For decades, she kept a strawberry patch and a vegetable garden, bordered by flowers. Now the flowers come to her.
She has had a goodly heritage
Gutes Leben, her high school yearbook blurb concluded.
Yes, Aunt Ruthie, has enjoyed a good life.
Happy Birthday, Aunt Ruthie!
Coming next: Heart on Fire, Guess Who’s Voted for President!
“Mom, would you like to volunteer for Challenge Day at Mandarin Middle School in a few weeks?” Joel asked.
“I probably would but I would need to know more about it,” I answered.
Then my son proceeded to tell me about an initiative at the school he helps sponsor, “Be the Change,” a movement to help students break down walls of isolation and loneliness and replace them with compassion, understanding and love.
My day of change came on a Tuesday, when student ambassadors greeted me at the door and pointed me to the gym, where I found my daughter Crista, also a volunteer.
Seventh and eighth grade students filed in under an arch of welcome, volunteers forming a path of entry with our bridge of arms. Later, we found out students thought doing this was hokey.
There were rules:
The facilitators, Chris (a guy) and Trish began with games: “Find 10 people you never met before and give them a high five.” All the students were strangers to me, so that was easy. The day proceeded with other forms of friendly physical contact: fist bumps and eventually hugs.
“Now, with your partners, slap the ball to the other side,” students stabbed at a super-sized beach ball to earn points. Music and dance underscored many of the day’s activities: Soul Train, Wildest Dream, Where are You Now? Time of Our Lives . . . .
Then the facilitators turned more serious, referring to parallel lines of blue tape they had previously attached to the gym floor.
“Cross the line if . . .”
you have ever been hurt by what someone said about your skin color, religion, or how you dressed.
you have been hit, beaten or abused in another way by a parent or other authority figure in your life.
someone you know hurts the family because of alcohol or drugs.
you have lost someone you loved recently or a long time ago.
Emotion was palpable as students and volunteers alike crossed blue lines. Viewing their somber faces, I intuitively felt students’ dawning awareness of similarities in the lives of their friends and classmates. One of the facilitators shared her challenging life story of abuse and neglect. Students sat agape, eyes transfixed as her startling story unfolded.
Before lunchtime we were assigned to family groups of 4 or 5, two boys and two girls. With guidance, each was ready to share something heartfelt in my group.
My parents fight all the time and I think they might get divorced.
I don’t know who my dad is and my mother left. I live with my aunt and cousins.
My mom died last summer and then we had to put my dog to sleep.
Tears flowed. Each group leader doled out Kleenex tissues.
There was share time, with scenes similar to this photo clip from a Challenge Day video in Michigan, which appeared on Oprah’s website.
Most of the students who grabbed the microphone at Mandarin Middle confessed to prejudice or bullying and then publicly asked for forgiveness. More hugs and tears.
The day closed with students writing a thank you note to express gratitude to a special person in their lives. Most chose their mothers. One girl in my group wrote two notes!
* * *
Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John are co-founders of the innovative Challenge Day program and the Be the Change Movement. Rich is a former high school teacher and championship wrestling coach. Yvonne is a gifted speaker, educator, and program designer.
Mark Twain joked, “When a child turns twelve you should put him in a barrel, nail down the lid and feed him through a knothole.” I’m suspicious of the quote because I couldn’t find the attribution on http://www.bartleby.com, a website I trust. Yet, these lines survive in pop culture as does its sequel: “When he turns sixteen, seal up the knothole.”
The leadership at Mandarin Middle School, including my son, doesn’t believe this quip. And neither do I.
Have you heard of this program or one similar to it?
How have you made a change, major or minor, in your life?
Every week, The New Yorker magazine features a Cartoon Caption Contest, inviting readers to submit a caption for consideration. After three finalists are chosen, readers vote for the winning caption.
Recently, in my cache of Kodak carousels I found a slide from the 1960s in dire need of a caption. Clearly, the season is autumn, and the family including Grandma Longenecker, my mother, brother Mark, and my dad are on a Sunday afternoon outing, judging by their dress. No one’s expression conveys a feeling of alarm over the possibility of Grandma’s imminent slide down the steep hill.
“What was going on here?” I ask. Everyone in the photograph registers a different band-width on the emotional scale, but most seem clueless about Grandma’s precarious position.
Help me solve the puzzle with a winning caption here.
Think free for all, not free fall!
* * *
If you would rather not submit a caption, you might speculate about what is going on here, who the photographer may have been, or offer a story about a memorable family outing you recall.
Pictures don’t lie, or do they?
Coming next: Signs & a Wonder in St. Mary’s, Georgia
Dorothy had the Good Witch of the North to give her “magical protection from fatal harm” on her journey to the land of Oz and back. Yet she followed an uneven path, using her brain, sometimes thinking with her heart, and slowly but surely developing courage.
I had my own Good Witch, Aunt Ruthie Longenecker from Pennsylvania, not Kansas. As a plain Mennonite, she never gave me glittering red shoes. I had to buy them on my own after I turned from plain to fancy. But she gave me plenty of golden advice, none more emotionally charged than the time she perceived I was veering off course at college and falling for a young man she imagined would be my downfall.
The advice arrived in a 4-cent envelope written in her flowing, left-handed cursive:
The Gibson greeting card is a cute pop-up.
Enclosed with the card was a terse note written on the back of a deposit slip from the First National Bank of Marietta, a curious choice of stationery. (You can read this note or the text below it in print.)
Here is her message in print form, directing me to forsake that boyfriend (aka “opera singer”) at the top of the hill:
Tell that opera singer on the top of the hill he has already sung his “swan song” and that you have decided to contribute more to this world than dishpan hands and another case for the marital appeasement courts. Think for yourself and your own future and let him produce positive evidence of his greatness. Call his bluff. – Don’t be licked. If he doesn’t understand English there’s always the possibility of a second semester transfer to Millersville, E-town or Goshen – Halloween is a good time to get rid of all ghosts and apparitions, so good luck to the Little Witch in Peachey House.
Added to this note was a “Hazel” cartoon clipping to reinforce her words:
The ink jotting has become almost indecipherable over the years, but she notes:
Hazel never went to High School, but she sure is a graduate student of human nature – by the length of the unwritten line the word must be “nuts” – or maybe it’s “yellow.”
At the time (my sophomore year at Eastern Mennonite College), I was trying to keep my life on track academically despite romantic upsets and did not then realize the full force of Aunt Ruthie’s words or the depth of feeling behind then. Squinting back through the telescope of years as a much older adult, I do now.
In Aunt Ruthie’s day, women usually chose either the single life and a career or motherhood and maintaining a household. Hardly ever both.
I was beginning to see from the models emerging in the 1960s that one could answer the call of both vocations, professional and domestic. Choices did not have to be an either-or proposition, and they didn’t have to happen simultaneously either.
How about you?
Did you ever benefit from unsolicited advice?
What models of vocational choice made an impression on you growing up? How did these influence you?
The closest thing I ever came to living in a convent was my year in the dormitory at Lancaster Mennonite School. It was much like living in the dorm at my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite College, now a University, but only more awkward. “Awkward?” you ask. “In what way awkward?”
As beginning teachers Verna Mohler (Colliver) and I were squirreled away in the LMS girls’ dormitory. Because of our tiny salaries, living here represented a major cost savings, but being so close to students, we sacrificed privacy. You can read all about this experience in last week’s post.
Students and faculty alike dressed plainly at LMS, no jewelry or fancy dress allowed. Students were sequestered from the world in other ways too: no competitive sports teams, no band or orchestra, and no theatre department.
My prior life in college was similar but a tad looser. There were intramural sports at EMC but musical expression was limited to various choruses which sang a cappella in four-part harmony. A highlight of the year came each spring when the music department presented Alfred Robert Gaul’s oratorio The Holy City, its celestial strains ringing in the rafters. However, no band or orchestra existed there either. And certainly no theatre department. To be fair, students performed plays staged in the chapel as for example Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Our graduating class donated to the college its first piano.
During my junior year at EMC when the college dormitory was filled to overflowing, eight women students were selected to live on the edge of campus in a home called Peachey House.
Verna Mohler and I lived with six others including Martha Maust, who wrote in Verna’s yearbook: ” What with mice sitting on the kitchen floor, a chicken in a book-bag, plus eight girls with plenty of vim, vigor, and yelling power you couldn’t expect anything but great times.” Then too we lived through the mighty snowstorm in the winter of 1961-62 that cut us off from the rest of the campus.
One of my fondest memories is playing the violin with Thelma Swartendruber (Chow) one of my roommates here in the Peachey House living room.
I had played my instrument at Elizabethtown High School, where I was the only Mennonite girl in the orchestra simply thrilled to wear a fancy dress for concerts. My violin case followed me to college. Sunday afternoons we played with others, sometimes even with a faculty member whom I later dated.
* * *
Mennonites have always had a love affair with music ~ hymn books, tuning forks, and four-part acappella singing a staple of all worship services in this era.
Though the Lancaster Conference Mennonite Church did not allow instrumental music in the 1960s, many Mennonite families had a piano at home. We had one, a mahogany Marshall & Wendell upright with melodious richness, especially evident when I pushed down on the damper pedal for a gorgeous, sustained tone.
The photo below portrays a young Mennonite girl, Anna Leaman, with covering and caped dress circa 1926 playing the violin. Whether Anna was posing to please her parents or whether she loved playing the violin, it’s impossible to say. I do see a faint smile playing around her lips. Obviously she had been taking lessons and making music solo here.
But rest assured, when she went to church on Sunday, no piano, organ or violin would drown out the blend of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices who worshipped in blessed harmony.
Did you play an instrument during school or college days? Do you still play it? Any anecdotes to add to the dorm life episodes here, or living with a roommate in an other arrangement?
Coming next: Moments of Discovery, The Story Behind the $ Bill
I bought this portable meal, a Lunchables, to give to a homeless person. So why is it still sitting in my refrigerator?
Last week I planned to give this lunch to the next person I saw holding a “Hungry & Homeless – Will you Help?” sign as I waited in my car for the traffic light to change on a busy boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida, a city that attracts the destitute for several reasons including its mild climate.
Sure enough, I was first in line at the red light leaving the grocery store, and I spotted a downtrodden young woman looked eager for my help. I popped the trunk and jumped out of the car, intending to offer her the lunch, but she declined, “No, ma’m. That won’t help at all. I need $ 99.00 to blah – blah – blah.” No, I didn’t give her $ 99.00 because I never give cash to the homeless. Instead, I give to the needy through our church or through homeless shelters in town.
Yet, this brief encounter left me conflicted, with two opposing strong sentiments: a Yes and a No
Yes, I did feel cynical as the light turned green, knowing the woman was probably scamming people. No, I will never stop feeling sorry for the “homeless” regardless of their intentions whether it’s a real physical need to survive, untreated mental illness or something else.
Giving money to the homeless is an economic crisis of the heart, a tug-of-war between the instinct to alleviate suffering and the knowledge that a donation might encourage, rather than relieve, the anguish of the poor. The Atlantic
On my nightstand sat a copy of The Invisible Thread: The true story of an 11-year-old panhandler, a busy sales executive, and an unlikely meeting with destiny. It was time to read it!
An Invisible Thread, a Review
“Excuse me, lady, do you have any spare change? I’m hungry.” Those were the first words out of the mouth of Maurice, as Laura Schroff, a publishing executive at Time Inc, rounded the corner from Broadway to 45th Street in New York City. She passed him by, but something special in his eyes halted her and she turned on her heel and, nearly killing herself in traffic, went back. Thus their paths converged and the story of a thirty-year relationship began.
No, Miss Laura did not give Maurice spare change but on the spot she took him to McDonald’s for a Big Mac, large fries, and milkshake. Then over the years they met every Monday night often at her luxury apartment where Maurice learned about ritual and rules for living: sitting down to eat a meal, showing up on time for school. Laura’s cozy nest provided a safe haven, an escape from his one-room hotel room, a den of violence where 10-12 assorted needy “friends” and family flopped to sleep off a drug binge or cook crack to deal on the streets.
Not until Chapter 8 does the reader learn about the tug on the other end of the invisible thread – the unspeakable violence in Laura’s middle-class childhood home where a father in drunken rages would fling full liquor bottles against the wall and destroy his son’s sports trophies.
She admits, “I couldn’t help but think that the terror and uncertainty we faced as children because of my father was similar to the chaos that Maurice now had to endure.” (107)
Laura’s memoir, reminiscent of The Blind Side, interweaves three dynamic narratives: The first, the story of Laura and Maurice’s growing relationship. Secondly, Laura’s back story as both victim and then survivor of her dysfunctional home. And finally, Maurice’s maturation into an adult with a family of his own, reflecting what Joseph Campbell calls “the hero’s journey” often fraught with obstacles and setbacks.
I began reading the book because I was intrigued by the disparity between an accomplished woman in Manhattan and a needy young boy from Brooklyn. I was compelled to read on because I wanted answers: Why would a young woman who helped make USA Today and InStyle successful publications risk all to build trust with a young man who had nothing to offer in return? How did an ill-kempt beggar boy, who has since developed a career in construction and is raising his own family, enrich that woman’s own life?
In the end, Author Schroff realizes that both she and Maurice had traveled together on a voyage of self-discovery. Her message: “This is a book about how, if we learn to let go of fears and burdens and expectations, we can find ourselves plunged into the sweet, unplanned blessings of life” (book blurb).
Should you give money to homeless people? According to the article in The Atlantic: “The short answer is no. The long answer is yes, but only if [you do it through] an organization that can ensure the money is spent wisely.”
But maybe . . . if you are someone with the incredible courage of Laura Schroff, there is still another answer.
Click here for a short video, a Lunch Date with Destiny
But there was a plate. A plate of cupcakes. I can show you the plate, but the cupcakes are missing. Why? Because our grandchildren ate them all up. In fact the two older boys ate theirs up seconds after they landed on the plate. I missed the photo op completely.
Last weekend the family gathered to celebrate the Fourth of July. Some months ago, I had read Laura Brennan’s suggestion about celebrating success of family members with a plate of accomplishment. I caught her enthusiasm and thought “What a great idea!” All four grand-kids had received recognition at school this past year, so it seemed sensible to combine a national holiday with a family celebration.
We have a fun and easy way to celebrate in our house: it’s called The Plate of Accomplishment. In going through my mom’s stuff, I found one lone, gorgeous dinner plate – shimmery, just lovely. So when one of us has an accomplishment to celebrate, they get to eat dinner on that plate. It comes out with much fanfare (a mini-parade, actually) and a song: “It is the Plate of Accomplishment, it is the Great Great Plate of Accomplishment …
Our grand-kids’ accomplishments were not measured by degrees as adults might do. There was as much hoopla about a memo from a teacher dashed off in minutes as for a bound book in a school library.
And so it went in birth order. . .
We celebrated Patrick’s printed book “My Life as a Pencil”
And Curtis’ recognition for academic achievement among 5th graders in the District
Jenna’s gift for noticing trash on the playground and stopping to pick it up at recess
And Ian’s quality of charity and compassion
As long as the pixels and electrons hold together on this website, today’s post will be a family record for the Daltons and the Beamans for years to come. Just as importantly, I pass this celebration along as a template to commemorate all sorts of happy occasions among your own friends and family members, including nieces and nephews.
Back to the celebration: I don’t really think my grand-kids paid much attention when I read them the inscription on the back of the plate. They knew cupcakes were coming! Yet the Old Testament writer Zephaniah prophesied the power of praise . . .
In my Mennonite upbringing in the 1950s and 60s, honor given to a family member would probably be shyly appreciated but not expressed openly. Why? Because recognition of this sort smacked of pride, the worst sin of all. After my high school graduation with honors, my parents barely acknowledged all the recognition I received. During my Eastern Mennonite College graduation ceremony, not a word was spoken about my ranking in the class. Such practices were soon to change though. I was near the end of the Old Guard.
It is definitely not psychologically sound to overlook the accomplishments of the deserving and according to Zephaniah, it is certainly not biblical either.
* * *
As you read this post, did a name or two pop into mind, someone deserving of a plate of accomplishment? It’s your turn to tell!
His yellow tag says: Cheeno Duncan – Host Family: Ray & Ruth Longenecker
How would you feel if you were an 8 or 10-year-old from New York City and after a 3-hour train ride landed you in the farm pastures of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, lush but unfamiliar? Cheeno and Roxanne Duncan were part of the Fresh Air program designed to give urban children summer vacations away from their hot tenement building apartments.
My parents, always alert for ways to serve God through their church, Bossler Mennonite, offered a home to two of these children in 2-3 consecutive years in the early 1960s. A side benefit would be playmates for my 10-year-old brother Mark, who was 7 years younger than his closest sibling, my sister Jean. And for the first time, the whole family would be brought in close contact with children of a skin color and culture different from our own.
These two tales about Roxann and Cheeno come verbatim from letters my mother sent to me while I was enjoying a 5-week cross country road trip. One was addressed to Grants Pass, Oregon, delivered, and another addressed simply to Los Angeles, California, no street address, from where it was “returned to sender, unclaimed.”
TALE # 1 Crying
July 27, 1964 Written in my mother’s handwriting, unedited:
Good morning Marian It is all but 8:30, quiet peaceful around here as yet. Sat. night Roxann decided she has homesick. Wasn’t to long till Cheeno saw her crying. Mark came down and said Mommie now they are both crying. So I went up into the bed room. There they were, two sets of tears. I asked Cheeno why are you crying. He said because she is crying. Then I said well now I will cry because you are crying. So I tried to start pretending [to cry]. Roxann had to laugh. It didn’t last to long. But they decided they would feel better if they slept in one bed. So I left them.
TALE # 2 Leaving
August 4, 1964
Dear Miss. Marian Well we took the Duncans to the train station today. We were about 2 blocks away from the station Roxann said we don’t have our yellow tags on. I rushed in quickly and explained the situation. He said they must have tags on. But we can make some others. Well that was finally straightened out.
But oh horrors what could be next. Cheeno picks up his lunch bags and lets it fall to hard on the cement. There goes a broken jar with root beer all over the bag and the floor. I quickly got some Kleenex but not quiet enough. Ruthie [my Aunt] goes to the car and comes back with an old pair of her silk “panties” Oh she said we don’t even have paper to put them in. she had taken the broken jar and paper bag to the car already. There we were left holding some-thing we didn’t care to be seen with. Luckly we did see a trash can. Ruthie laughed and said if any body finds or see’s this they will think she just took off her ____??____
* * *
The program, originating in 1877, is flourishing to this day. See more about the Fresh Air Fund here.
There are many ways to experience independence and freedom. Here’s one example. You can think of some others as you reflect on this past holiday weekend. Hope you had a Happy Fourth!