Mama Lois

Yesterday a group of my good friends of several years and I attended the memorial service for a dearly beloved member of that particular circle of friends. Members of the group often referred to her as “Mama Lois” as she was, not only he oldest living member of the group, but the wisest.


For the last three years, Mama Lois lived in a senior community where she enjoyed the privacy of her own apartment, the comfort of her favorite cat, the devotion of a responsible son and the dedication of a group of long-time friends. The facility provided Mama with physical nourishment (food), spiritual and mental growth, a space to create (Mama was an artist) and medical care. Her family and friends managed to drive her to such things as entertainment (she loved the HD operas from the Met, classical music concerts and local film festivals) and dinner at favorite restaurants.


All of the above, helped Mama put on a good face. Until the last month of her life, Mama told entertaining tales of her impetuous youth and of the left-wing politics of her career days.   Underneath it all was quiet sadness as her beautiful daughter slowly sank into the later stages of Alzheimer’s, In answer to her prayers, Mama left this world before her favorite cat and her beautiful daughter.


Last evening, the group of friends with whom she dined as many Friday nights as possible, raised a glass in honor of the passing of its former oldest member. Much to my amazement, I am now the oldest member of the group! I only hope that when I leave this world, I leave a legacy equal to that of my predecessor. While you sleep in peace, Mama, let me find and share your catch of wisdom.

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An Emotional Response

I spent the last five days in the Berkshires with the Road Scholar’s super cultural program which included viewing the Berkshire Play House production of “Arsenic and Old Lace”, the Jacob’s Pillow productions of Dash and Camilla Browne’s linguistic dance about the games little Black girls play, and a visit to MoMa to view the installation of Nick Cave. Of course the program also included a rehearsal and two concerts at Tanglewood. The above accompanied by workshops given by professional critics, choreographers and musicians enlightened and delighted me.


For me one of the Tanglewood performances evoked the greatest emotional response. It had been at least a year since I listened to live classical music played by the best of the best, in this case, the Boston Symphony Orchestra featuring the Brahms Double Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra. The duet featured Gil Shaham on the violin and Alisa Weilerstein on the cello. The music was so powerful that it invoked memories of my beloved husband and I sitting close in many concert halls, sometimes holding hands, while enthralled by the pure sounds of the great musicians performing on stage. How blessed we were to enjoy and appreciate the wonderful talent shared by truly gifted musicians. May others by inspired and uplifted by such beauty.

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The Demise of Censorship in the West

Any on who is a fan of the Italian movie, Cinima Paradiso must remember the early scene where the half asleep priest tries to caver the movie screen during “torrid” love making by the actors. The reaction of the movie Italian movie patrons at this attempt of censor ship was a bit more vocal than the reaction of American Catholics to the Legion of Decency. Nevertheless, the ultimate result was the same, i.e., the demise of any kind of censorship.


Little by little, the influence of religious institutions in the West has all but disappeared. In fact, the other day while reading a secular newspaper, I was surprised to read that the Vatican is calling the American Catholic Church too political. I believe the Vatican was referring to the fact that our most recent presidential elections put a man in the White House who appears to be against protecting the environment and who is enacting decrees against immigration and/or political sanctuary for persons displaced by war. If I am reading this correctly, those of us practicing Catholics who vote for environmental protection and equal justice of all citizens no longer need to feel just a bit embarrassed about not voting for anti-abortion candidates. In truth, I’m not sure of where all of this is heading.


I do know that free will and following one’s conscience are two old standbys that are anchored in my heart and soul. The best that I can do is to inform myself with the truth of any religious ideology or political platform in order to act humbly and justly in any given situation

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Last Sunday, Gloria and I took a ride to Mt. Cuba, Delaware. It was the first time that either of us drove out of state together. Let me introduce you to Gloria. Gloria is my name for my GPS. Her permanent residence is under the dash board of my car. I’m ashamed to say that it has taken us at least two years before we have become familiar enough to trust each other. In fact, we still are not the best of friends; but, that is my fault. When I turn her on before a new trip, I always have either a set of printed directions or a map on the seat beside me. Sometimes, I even have an old map that I picked up from some by-gone era vacation. However, Gloria is most forgiving. She never complains about a thing!


No matter how many wrong buttons I push or how many wrong turns I make, Gloria, unlike myself, responds in a calm, cool, nonjudgemental voice in attempts to correct my errant behavior. Gloria is a rock!


At my age, a friend like Gloria is appreciated more and more. Unfortunately, many of my friends cannot travel to places like Mt. Cuba because the uneven ground and the up hill walking are too challenging. I must depend on Gloria’s guidance, if I hope to travel to new places that are handicapped unfriendly. The day may come when I can only sit in the passenger seat and stare at Gloria’s blank screen. But, I will have memories, and so will Gloria.

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Revolving Door

Three weeks ago, my adult son moved in with me for the third time. This revolving door to the parental home is a relatively new phenomenon of the last dozen years or so here in the US. Three major causes of this syndrome, I believe, are the dissolution of committed relationships such as marriage, job insecurity and the drug culture. My adult son has flirted with all of the above. The combined causes, not catastrophic in themselves, left him with a physically weakened heart, a depleted bank account and friendless. Where else can he turn?


The thought of sharing my three bed room, two bath apartment with another person gave me pause. However, my son is part of my life with my departed husband. And, sub-consciously, I chose to move into this apartment configuration in the event that my son might need a place to regroup. So far, things are going well,


Fortunately, my brain and body still function fairly well. I helped my son get disability assistance, which includes Medicare, an important help for a person with a weakened heart, diabetes, high cholesterol and manic/depression. I wrote up a rental agreement and a list of “living together” rules. Those rules include cleaning up after one’s self, keeping ones room and bath room orderly, leaving the apartment every day, getting a local job and being “nice” to this mother. Not only has my son complied, but also he does the dishes after meals and cooks at least once a week. Oh, yes, he does his own wash in the laundry on the first floor of the building. Also, he attends addiction prevention meetings once a week, along with therapy. All right, so I don’t have a daughter-in-law to go shopping with, nor a grand-baby to cuddle. But, in an age of relaxed morals and overdose deaths, I am content. Some days, I am down right happy!

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Using a Bridge

Having spent 38 years teaching in a traditional classroom, i.e., desks in rows, chalk board demonstrations, text books, homework, an occasional 16 millimeter documentary or film strip, I am mildly intrigued by white boards, power point, individual student lap tops, not to mention charter schools, home schooling and/or free electronic public education from K – 12. The latest educational phenomenon to peek my interest is the Bridge Project, a “for profit” educational program created and produced by two young Americans now being used in several African countries.


The Bridge Project provides a low cost alternative to public and/or private education. For a low fee, parents may send their children to a Bridge school where the classes are smaller and cleaner than public schools; where the teachers arrive on time; students wear uniforms; teachers use wifi to connect with a central curriculum from which each day the teacher teaches from a scripted lesson received on an electronic tablet. The lesson is often accompanied by flash cards. The students do not have electronic tablets nor text books. The students do have pencils and note books. They may take notes to help remember certain concepts. However, the primary method for student retention of information is oral repetition.


The technology is new, but the learning method of the teacher teaching and the pupils repeating is as old as the method used at the University of Salamanca, Spain nearly 1000 years ago. So far, this old method of teaching and learning seems to be working. Comparing test scores with students attending public schools indicate that students attending Bridge schools are more successful.


In the African countries where Bridge schools are available, parents, most of whom work at jobs such as cooks, bus drivers, police persons, nurses, etc. make sacrifices to insure that their children are accepted and remain in those schools. They are not concerned with such things as higher level thinking skills or art appreciation. Their vision for their progeny is that they are able to compete successfully in whatever fields are available to them upon graduation. The parents will provide cultural appreciation at home.


Personally, I like these parents. I hope that their children will not disappoint them.

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Most of us have had to be courageous at one time or another. Sometimes we deliberately build courage into our persona when faced with a difficult task as when we must tell an employee that his/her services are no longer needed. Or, sometimes courage floods up from somewhere when we come to the rescue of a small child who steps out into a busy street. Of course, there are those who live in the constant state of courage like soldiers, policepersons, fireperesons or EMTs. Then there are those who overcome death threats and/or smashed trade tools to do what he/she feels compelled to do. One such person is Letizia Battaglia.


In Sicily during the 70’s and 80’s, the Mafia threatened to take over the island. One photojournalist deliberately took pictures of the horror the Cosa Nostra left in its wake, Letizia Battaglia. Ms. Bataglia. Sometimes using an illegal police scanner, this intrepid photojournalist arrived to photograph what she called an, “Archive of Blood”. At a time when many of the poor of Sicily did not have access to television news, they saw the work of the mafia through photographs on the pages of the left leaning newspaper, L’Ora.


Those photographs, taken with great sensitivity, have become part of Italy’s cultural history. They transcend journalism to appear in museums and art books. What a transition from photos for a newspaper to cultural imprint to history!


Today, at 82, Ms. Battaglia admits to being afraid during that period of time, but she is still here. She still has the energy of her 20, 30 or 40 year old self. In fact, her latest project is to establish the first photography museum in Palermo, Sicily. Laughingly, Ms. Battaglia says, “Maybe I feel strong because today, I am my own master, and this gives me strength. Like Napoleon.”

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