Wednesday, February 20, 2019

HAUNTED

HAUNTED
NORMA TUCKER

Was it me? I’m not sure, or was it someone else? I vaguely remember the parties. I do remember the black face. I keep questioning. I don’t remember it being me. I do remember it being. 

What was it that made us do it? What did it represent: Amos and Andy, Al Jolson singing “Mammy.” A member of a minstrel show with banjo. Was it de-facing? Was it intentionally demeaning? My memory is not of shoe polish, but of using burnt cork to blacken one’s face leaving open bulging eyes. Sometimes blue or green or hazel. I ask myself now. If I can’t remember exactly, should I accept the governor’s quandary of his not remembering?

I started questioning my behavior in all those years before the King marches and the riots. I recall the riot barricades in my neighborhood across from Pimlico racetrack. We could not get beyond. I rode my bike to the demarcation and watched as cars were diverted.

I remembered Pennsylvania Train Station in Baltimore with bathrooms across from each other, benches in between these signs – White, Colored. That’s what we called people not white – colored or Negro. Pennsylvania Avenue at North denoted the split - White – North. Colored -South - more or less. The schools I attended were all segregated, even into my early college years. I grew up in an all white neighborhood- Italians and Jews.

How could I as a Jew disparage or imitate? But I did. There were neighborhoods with restrictive covenants. Falls Road was the dividing line. No Jews or Colored even at swimming pools. I remember my first year of college going with friends to a local swimming hole greeted by the sign “No Colored, No Jews, No dogs! My roommate and I were the only Jews in the all girls dormitory. We did go swimming that day and others. We could pass. We were white.  

As I was, so called, “breast beating,” examining my conscience, behavior, and history after that week of racist disclosure by high level state political leaders. My son consoled me.
“But Mom, you’re talking about your life in the 50’s and early 60’s. Not the 80’s.” 

Do the years or the decades make a difference in the lives of young people who grew up in segregated times or after, with bold, historic stories of Confederate valor? We cried to “Gone With the Wind.” 

My home in Maryland, by geography, was below the Mason-Dixon line that measured and divided the Northern and Southern States – the Confederacy and the Union. Its people were divided in loyalty to these two entities. A century later our prejudices were still not discouraged nor our acceptance of lesser and the myth of separate and equal, or was it separate but equal?

Did I smear burnt cork all over my face and hands? Did the black come off when I bobbed for apples? ? Was it me? Who was it?





Wednesday, August 22, 2018



I’ve taken too long a hiatus from posting. These are troubled times. I hope to return to more frequent posting. 

INTRO – The prompt at the Tuesday morning meeting of my writing group was “abundance.”  We, the five of us who attended that morning, looked quizzically at each other, grew quiet, and soon began writing. Here’s my 20-minute response. I admit to a few light edits since that morning writing of August 7, 2018



            There is no stoplight. No ends. Or elusive ends at best. When will the fires in California go out? What will it take to extinguish flames and rebuild homes and restore the forests that provide shade and respite - challenging hiking trails, and the sight and sound of birds and brooks? It will take an abundance of resources that are continually dwindling - scarce water due to drought, charred timber, dwindling finances.

What will it take to stop ranting “tweets,” the abundance of falsehoods and accusations that distort our society? What will be the effect of the repeal of regulations to protect our fragile lives and lands, our rivers and oceans once full of treasures, plant and animal?  What will it take to stop the forage of our national monuments and protected lands born of the vagaries of nature, geology, and earlier civilizations? That we behold in awe.

There is an abundance of wreckage around us, maybe not here and now, but there, somewhere else, and soon to us. Wreckage with no limits as natural barriers are destroyed. Devastating rains and floods, wildfires, and rising ocean waters filled with human debris choking flora and fauna. A grieving mother whale occupied the news for days, She in the polluted waters for days holding her dead baby loathe to let go,. 

What will it take to halt the grief of loss personified by this stricken mother whale? What will it take to halt development on eroding lands that kill our dedicated firefighters? What will it take to end the grief, of parents, the loss and abuse of their children separated and cruelly confined?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

PREJUDICE


I called my local hardware store early that chilly morning. I enjoy shopping in person at this particular store. But before heading out on this gray, damp day, I wanted to be sure what I was looking for was still in stock. I needed a portable heater. It was May, and the damp cold weather had continued for days. I was freezing, dressed in heavy sweats, and swathed in my winter quilt at night. The heat had been turned off in the high-rise building where I live. We’re a development built in the early seventies meaning we have a two-pipe heating and air conditioning system, not four, which, also, means it’s either heat or air conditioning. Once the heat is turned off and the air conditioning turned on, or vice-versa, we’re stuck. It would take days of draining pipes to reverse.

It was seven in the morning when I called. I knew the store would be open. It caters to painters and building contractors who come early to load their trucks with supplies. A man answered the phone with a firm assured voice. He sounded like his name would be something like Rob White.
“Yes, we have a few heaters left,” he said
“How much,” I asked
Between 40 and 80,” he replied
“I’ll be right there.”
Once I arrived, I asked at the Help Desk for the number of the aisle where I could find the heaters.
“Aisle sixteen on the left.”

            I headed that direction and looked for a Rob White, someone I’m used to relying upon to guide me through my hardware shopping. These guys wear red vests (and they are usually guys, the women generally assigned to housewares or the paint selection areas) and give the same attention to those looking for a certain size screw or a special type of light bulb, as they do to shoppers interested in one of the big outdoor grills that line the sidewalk in front of the store entrance. They are all business, sure of their knowledge. I wonder how they learned so much. Were they once former builders, fixer uppers in their own homes, or naturally inquisitive about how things work. Do they learn on the job?

There was no Rob White around. I looked in the aisles on either side of sixteen. Then a red vested man came through the aisle hauling a large box. He stopped with his unwieldy box across from the heaters. His skin was brown. He had bad teeth, was tall and skinny. His English was heavily accented – East African, I thought. He wasn’t what I would call, a cheery, how can I help you kind of guy. Where was Rob White? I wanted a Rob to help me. And then I felt myself flood with shame. I can do this.

I asked questions about each model and wondered. Can he explain to me, a not so handy person, the differences, the advantages and disadvantages of each model?  Will I understand him? Does he understand me? I will, can do this. I must.

I hated myself for first hesitating, for being judgmental, shamed for the recognition of my prejudice. For my wrongful assumptions about his capability. He never smiled. He did not have the robust sound of Rob White. But the Rob Whites don’t smile much either. He opened the box of the model he thought would fit my needs.  
“I need a demonstration, how do all these buttons work,” I asked.
He demonstrated. I sometimes had to repeat or reword my questions. I warmed to his knowledge and smiled. He still did not smile. He repackaged the heater. I thanked him. I’m still recoiling from my initial reaction. I’m still righting myself.

           






Saturday, January 14, 2017

WHEN WE SANG

It was wartime. Everyone was patriotic, or that’s how I remember my childhood and my family. My father’s brother, Uncle Nathan was drafted. My father just missed the age requirement. Our neighbor, Sam Cohen was drafted but stayed stateside. My mother was a daytime Air Raid Warden. I remember the pale blue denim pantsuit she wore on patrol, her chunky mid-heel, lace-up black oxford shoes with short white fold down socks (ankle socks they called them then), her helmet. The sirens sounded, and she left home to patrol the neighborhood. She attended weekly classes to learn first aid treatment and practiced on my sister, Sally, and me. Her handbook lay open on the kitchen table, to be sure she was following the proper way to tend broken limbs. Sally and I were either complaining or giggling. 

During those years, our extended family gathered on a routine basis – most Saturdays at my maternal grandparents’ home in Baltimore on Pulaski Street. On Sundays, usually in the evening at our home on Columbus Drive - Pulaski and Columbus, prominent names of American history – Pulaski, a Polish military commander and American Revolutionary War hero. Columbus, who is attributed to have found the “New World,” our America.

We all had pianos. Uprights they were called. My Aunt Clara, my mother’s younger sister, was a concert pianist and a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory. Our living rooms were small in these two row houses where we all gathered. The upright piano in our home was against the wall behind which a staircase led to the second floor of two bedrooms and a den. The den housed a bookcase filled with a complete set of THE HARVARD CLASSICS and volumes of Book of the Month Club – where we sat together, and my mother read poems to us – Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha, The Children’s Hour, Evangeline.”  Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven and Annabel Lee.” Emerson’s “The Snow-Storm.”

But it was downstairs where the family gathered – our family of four, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mother’s side. Sally and I were given the job of passing out songbooks. Aunt Clara sat on the piano bench in front of the upright. She played. We sang. In unison.

We sang, “Over there. Over there.” “Those Caissons Go Rolling Along and Anchors Aweigh.” “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli. “Off we go into the wild blue yonder.” We sang, often off-key, with gusto. We sang “America the Beautiful.” And after - hot tea, iced in the summer, and home baked cookies. This was years before I took and failed at piano lessons.

And then early one August evening came news of the Japanese surrender. We kids celebrated by taking pots and pans and their covers from our kitchen cupboards and banged them together, as we marched up and down Columbus Drive. My mother was upset at the destruction of cookware she had protected so carefully during the years of metal (and other) shortages. A neighbor reminded her, “Now you can buy new ones.”



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Choose Me

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is looking for a new Chair. I read the names of those interested in THE WASHINGTON POST, those vying or being considered – men who’ve experienced winning and losing in the political arena, looking for a stepping stone to the grandeur that keeps eluding them. I am proposing a viable alternative.
“Throw out the bums.” (A line attributed to Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd president of the USA). Choose me!

Choose a University administrator, if not a Chancellor or President, someone close to that office. Choose me. I’m here, ready. I’ve worked with many Presidents during my career in higher education. Choose among our cohorts of talented, visionary leaders and managers who have guided our nation’s higher education institutions to academic excellence and financial strength through massive social, economic and technological change. Choose among those who expertly meld the needs and wants of a variety of fractious constituencies - constituencies with factions within and between their ranks.

Choose me – A writer. A reader. Choose someone who reads, not only the tomes of “how to” and the reflections of historical eras and personalities, choose someone who reads essays, short stories and fiction, memoir, and other creative written and spoken forms. Choose someone who explores the light and dark places in the human psyche and experience. Choose someone who understands that telling the story of the miniscule is not only the story of self, but of the universe. Choose someone who can weave the tales of country and parties and peoples. Choose someone who weeps, who feels viscerally both joy and pain in the theater of film and stage and life.

Choose me, who persevered through bullying and misogyny at home and in the councils and boardrooms of commerce. Choose me of the quotidian. Choose among the many, like me, who worked the phone every day for three months to elect a city councilman Choose a me who while walking my dog in my new neighborhood met a candidate for state legislature and participated in his campaign. He lost that one, but came back to win another. Choose me who befriends. Choose from all the “me’s” with transferable expertise and accrued wisdom, the me’s who understand the groundwork to be done because we’ve done it. Choose among the me’s who are not teetering on this stepping stone to prepare for the next, but who will work to do no more or less than this - to lead a moral renaissance.








Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I WONDER IN CURSIVE

Preface 
I refer you to The WASHINGTON POST, July 27, 2016, page 1, far left column headline, “Don’t write epitaph for cursive  just yet”  By Joe Heim.
There have been other writers on thIS subject - the value of teaching and learning cursive writing. One of note was by Gene Weingarten, also a WASHINGTON POST writer that appeared in THE WASHINGTON POST MAGAZINE, October 28, 2012. 
 And to mine below first written of August 15, 2011- unpublished, rejected – prescient.

I WONDER IN CURSIVE   Norma S. Tucker,  8/15/11

I hear cursive writing is being tossed out of the curriculum in some schools. Not needed in a communication world of text messages, tweets, and e-mails. One only has to handwrite one’s name, and print lettering often will do. I used my internet browser to find out, is this really the case? Some say it is antiquated; schools should concentrate on typing skills. The alternative argument: learning cursive style is important to childhood brain development, refinement of fine motor skills, hand strength, and finger dexterity.

Writing personal notes and letters by hand is considered passé. I think of all the personal handwritten correspondence that has provided our society with insight into our lives as well as observations in the wild and on the spot historical accounts. I bemoan future generations who will miss the thrill of opening a mailbox to see a handwritten envelope - to recognize or question the distinctive handwriting, to ponder the nature of the message inside. But will there be mailboxes in the future like the one I open with a key in the lobby of my high rise, or those brass letter slots inserted in the front doors of town and suburban homes, or the mailboxes with flags perched on posts in front of rural homes? 

I try to move with the future, though it seems to me I don’t need much of it. My digital camera, desktop and laptop are probably considered vintage.  I text my grandchildren and grown children. I bought an e-reader, good for reading on the metro or waiting in a doctor’s office, if I’ve remembered to charge it. Easy to carry and no dirty hands from toting The Washington Post.  Now I read the paper at home where I wash my hands between sections while one or another of my electronic devices is under charge.

I like to write personal notes, to choose which note card to send to a particular person – plain buff, or a Native American proverb on the front, or an artist’s rendition. I select which pen to use, the blue Waterman my daughter gave me one Mother’s Day or a sterling silver Tiffany purse pen I gave to my mother and retrieved for myself after her death. I pause for a moment, think how to thank, or congratulate, or console.   

I learned cursive writing in second grade. Miss Prager passed out half-sheets of mimeographed papers with repeat patterns of two dark lines separated by a middle fine line. We used our sharpened pencils to fill the fine middle line to the bottom dark line with cursive small case a’s and c’s. Small l’s and h’s touched the top line, t’s and d’s slightly below; g’s and p’s went below the lower dark line to the next middle fine line. 

In Mrs. Sinclair’s fourth grade class, we were introduced to pen and ink. My parents bought me my first fountain pen, a red Esterbrook, and two bottles of blue-black ink-one for home, one for school.  

Some kids had trouble with cursive writing. I wonder, could that have been a predictor they would become physicians, a field in which practitioners are known for indecipherable handwriting. Does poor cursive handwriting indicate success in college organic chemistry, an undergraduate requirement for admittance to medical school?

I suppose handwriting analysis is a dying profession. At amusement parks and fairs, I lined up at the handwriting booth to wait my turn to have someone tell me about myself - what the distinctive shape, size, and slant of my writing revealed about my personality. I wonder, what will distinguish one’s individual style of printing?

The word, cursive, comes from a Latin root, flowing.  One letter flows into another to form words. Words flow into streams of thought, declarations, inquiry, fantasy, and opinion.  Ancient philosophers and scholars, Renaissance and Enlightenment luminaries, and American revolutionaries wrote our cherished texts in cursive. We queue at museums, libraries, and archives to view protected, precious documents written in cursive. If we don’t learn to write it, how will we learn to read it.  

For those like me who believe in the value of teaching cursive writing - for its place in childhood development, its individuality, personal touch, historical significance, its utility, and its flow, fear not. There are numerous on-line programs to teach, learn, and practice handwriting, cursive style. Some even include Miss Prager’s worksheets.