Big Hair, Blue Eye Shadow, and Cassette Mix Tapes

The artwork on the small wooden crate that holds my 45 rpm record collection.

In February when I was packing to move into our new house, I found my record collection of 45s in a wooden crate holder I bought at the long-defunct record store we used to go to called Record Bar.

For those of you who did not grow up during the heyday of vinyl records, 45 rpm (revolutions per minute) recordings were released by record companies from the 1950s through the 1980s. These 45s, as they were called, had two songs, an “a” side and a “b” side. The “a” side was the song the record company hoped would become a hit,  played in heavy rotation on the radio, and sell a lot of records; and the “b” side was a song thrown in as a bonus. Ever so occasionally the “b” side was a good song too, but not usually.

Not only do I still have my 45s from the late ’70s and ’80s, but I also have my LP (long-playing, 33-1/3 rpm) record collection, as well as the turntable I played them on. I do not remember some of these 45s at all. Maybe they were records once owned by friends or former boy friends, who knows. But some of these records are fantastic songs, feature amazing cover art on their protective sleeves, and are musical format that no longer exists.

From my experiences looking through 45s at vintage stores, beautiful artwork and lyrics must have began to appear on 45 rpm sleeves in the 1960s. Daddy had a large collection of 45s, but he kept none of the sleeves for his records. Instead he kept them in a set of specially sized albums.

Here I am with my beautiful son Justin, epoxied hair and blue eye shadow, probably 1986.

Most of my 45s were bought in the ’80s when I was a divorced, single parent, working full-time, and going to college part-time.

As a quick way to catch up on the latest songs, we watched MTV (music television) videos which were a huge part of making hits and selling records in the ’80s. The visuals of these mini movies, married with driving dance music, made Madonna queen of the decade, along with British New Wave bands, and American “big hair” metal and rock bands. Big hair was not just for rock bands, however, we 20-somethings wore our hair bouffed up pretty high. I had, what my former boss dismissively called, epoxied hair, along with blue eye shadow, of course. Snapshots of me from that decade show both. Throughout the 1980s, I bought my favorite records on 45s, recorded them on cassettes, and listened to them religiously as the soundtrack of my life.

Here is the transparent back sleeve of Prince’s gorgeous 1980s anthem “Purple Rain” with the purple, 45 rpm record showing through. Simple, but highly effective artwork.

The king of 1980s music was the provocative genius of a singer/songwriter/guitarist, Prince. His song Purple Rain, recorded with his band The Revolution, was one of the three monster hits released from the soundtrack album for his hit 1984 movie of the same name.

Although the song’s lyrics are simple on their face, Purple Rain’s music combined with Prince’s singular guitar solo, was an electrifying anthem that inspired those of us who were young in the ’80s to live life with passion and not to settle for lives devoid of meaning and community. Timeless, then, the song continues to resonate today.

The label for the 45 rpm recording for Prince’s “When Doves Cry”.

Also in my 45 collection is Prince’s other hit, When Doves Cry, which hit number one on the singles charts that year along with Let’s Go Crazy–which was frankly not my cup of tea. I preferred When Doves Cry and its sumptuous video which inspired not just the record-buying public, but so many musicians who followed in Prince’s wake.

The matching artwork on the label and the back cover of the 45 sleeve, are standout examples of the cover art that is lost in today’s culture of streaming and downloading music.

The back sleeve of Prince’s single “When Doves Cry” which was released before the movie “Purple Rain” in which it is featured.

When I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, we pored over the lyrics printed on record covers. I memorized the words, sang along with the music, and studied the list of musicians who played on each song.

Today song lyrics are available on the web, but the artwork and information contained in LP and 45 rpm liner notes are mostly not available to present-day music lovers, and much is lost without it. There are a few albums available on vinyl now, but not the majority. The music industry has never really recovered from the loss of its standard modus operandi of recording albums, releasing singles on 45s, and pushing radio play to score hits.

Also in 1984, British rock/New Wave group Talk Talk released their single It’s My Life that was also a big hit as a cover song for American ska group No Doubt in 2003. Although the lyrics are mostly about love, the song has always spoken to me about the freedom to live my life on my own terms, and not allow anyone else to define who I am. Hey, and it’s also a great song–both in the Talk Talk and No Doubt versions.

The back of the 45 sleeve accompanying Sting’s 1985 recording “Russians” which he co-wrote.

In 1985 British singer/songwriter/bassist Sting (real name: Gordon Sumner) co-wrote and released the song Russians. The recording has a gorgeous orchestral, wall-of-sound effect. Its powerful words are just as on-point today as they were during the Cold War era when the United States and the Soviet Union jockeyed for position as the world’s two superpowers. The last few stanzas of the song are especially timeless and true:

There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the president?
There’s no such thing as a winnable war,
It’s a lie we don’t believe anymore.
Mister Reagan says, “We will protect you.”
I don’t subscribe to this point of view.
Believe me when I say to you,
I hope the Russians love their children too

We share the same biology, regardless of ideology.
But what might save us, me and you,
Is if the Russians love their children too

Songwriters: GORDON SUMNER, SERGE PROKOFIEFF
© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

We do indeed share the same biology, no matter our beliefs or skin color. Sadly with nuclear proliferation today, we would need to add many more names to the number of countries, besides the U.S. and Russia, with nuclear weapons. And we continue to hope they love their children enough to allow them to grow up without the no-win-for-anyone outcome of nuclear war.

American band The Motels, originally from Berkeley, CA, released this hit single in 1982 on Capitol Records.

In 1982 the American New Wave group The Motels reached number 9 on the Billboard hits chart with their song Only the Lonely. Written by lead singer Martha Davis, the song had heavy radio rotation and spoke to me when I was a single striver. The 45 sleeve for the single features gorgeous art on the front as well as the back.

The reverse artwork on the 45 rpm single recording of “Only the Lonely” by The Motels.

This song perfectly evokes the 1980s decade as I lived it: a time of flux and transition, with more than a bit of backlash to the gains that women and minorities had achieved in the two decades that came before.

We had no Vietnam War to protest, and we did not stare at our navels in the way 1970s-era young people are accused. We tried to express ourselves with our clothes and, embarrassing to us now, our hairstyles, but we also fought to earn our independence in a similar way. And, as at anytime, that road can be a lonely one.

Only the Lonely

We walked the loneliest mile
We smile without any style
We kiss all together wrong
No intention

We lie about each other’s drinks
We live without each other
Thinking what anyone would do
Without me and you

It’s like I told you
Only the lonely can play

So hold on here we go
Hold on to nothin’ we know
I feel so lonely
Way up here

You mention the time we were together
So long ago well I don’t remember
All I know is it makes me feel good now

It’s like I told you only the lonely can play
Only the lonely only the lonely can play

Only the lonely only the lonely can play
It’s like I told you only the lonely can play
Only the lonely
Only the lonely can play

Songwriter: Martha Davis

The cover art on the 45 sleeve of the Christmas 1984 recording “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, a collaborative effort by top musicians to aid famine relief in Ethiopia.

In 1984 a group of British, American, and Irish musicians, called “the cream of the pop music talent” on the 45 sleeve’s reverse side, included Sting, Phil Collins, Paul McCartney, U2, and Wham. The musicians  collaborated on a song called Do They Know It’s Christmas? and released it under the name Band Aid just before the ’84 holiday season.

The recording’s proceeds (including merchandising, performance, and record sales) were donated to famine relief efforts  to help the starving people of Ethiopia. The artwork was as memorable as the effort was well known and highly effective, selling 2 million copies and raising $24 million. The song no doubt saved many lives and eased the suffering of thousands of destitute Ethiopians, and it was the beginning of a number of charitable recording collaborations in the following decades.

On its 45 sleeve cover, British singer/songwriter Bryan Ferry’s “Slave to Love” effortlessly captures the song’s mood and sensuality.

One of my favorite love songs of the 1980s was beautifully seductive Slave to Love, written and sung by British singer/songwriter Bryan Ferry. The video that accompanied its release in 1985 was a perfect accompaniment to the song.

Tell her I’ll be waiting in the usual place
With the tired and weary, and there’s no escape
To need a woman you’ve got to know
How the strong get weak and the rich get poor

Slave to love, oh, slave to love
You’re running with me, but don’t touch the ground
We’re the restless hearted not the chained and bound
The sky is burning a sea of flame
Though your world is changing I will be the same

[Chorus]
Slave to love, oh, slave to love
Slave to love, and I can’t escape
I’m a slave to love

Can you help me
The storm is breaking, or so it seems
We’re too young to reason, too grown up to dream
Now spring is turning your face to mine
I can hear your laughter, I can see your smile

[Chorus x3]

Songwriter: BRYAN FERRY
© EMI Music Publishing, BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LL

The cover of Bronski Beat’s 45 rpm recording of the song the trio wrote together and called “Smalltown Boy”.

In 1984, the British band Bronski Beat–with vocals by their lead singer, the divine vocalist Jimmy Somerville–released their recording “Smalltown Boy”.

Written by the three members of the band, the song can be easily understood by anyone who feels they are not completely understood or accepted in their family, hometown, high school, or by the people they grew up with. This song perfectly encapsulates the isolation of feeling unwanted, being an outsider, and seeking a place to be yourself and to truly call home. I spent a good deal of my early years and quite a bit of my life relating to this song.

Smalltown Boy

You leave in the morning with everything you own in a little black case
Alone on a platform, the wind and the rain on a sad and lonely face

Mother will never understand why you had to leave
But the answers you seek will never be found at home
The love that you need will never be found at home

Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away

Pushed around and kicked around, always a lonely boy
You were the one that they’d talk about around town as they put you down

And as hard as they would try they’d hurt to make you cry
But you never cried to them, just to your soul
No, you never cried to them, just to your soul

Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away (crying to your soul)
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away (crying to your soul)
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away (crying to your soul)
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away

Cry, boy, cry
Cry, boy, cry
Cry, boy, cry, boy, cry
Cry, boy, cry, boy, cry

Cry, boy, cry, boy, cry
Cry, boy, cry, boy, cry
Cry, boy, cry, boy, cry
Cry, boy, cry, boy, cry

You leave in the morning with everything you own in a little black case
Alone on a platform, the wind and the rain on a sad and lonely face

Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away

Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away

Songwriters: James William Somerville, Larry Steinbachek, Steve Bronski

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.,Universal Music Publishing Group,BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

I simply love this song!

My current favorite song from my 45 collection is the one I sing now to my 7 month-old grandson: Welcome to Heartlight.

When I sing Heartlight to my grandson, he watches me intently, then beams, and starts bobbing up and down while holding onto the side of his playpen. He is completely irresistible!

Kenny Loggins was inspired to write this song by the writings of students who attended a school in Southern California called Heartlight.

Also in my 45 crate are the powerful rocking Love Is a Battlefield by Pat Benatar, The Right Thing by soulful Simply Red, Twilight World by Swing Out Sister, The Rose by Bette Midler, the ethereal and magnificent Life in a Northern Town by The Dream Academy, ‘Til Tuesday’s Voices Carry, Dress Me Up by Madonna, Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over, Quarterflash’s Harden My Heart, and maybe 70 or so more.

Although 45 rpm singles are not the music vehicles of choice anymore, the 45s I listened to in the ’80s are just as transportive now as they were then. Love, growing up, loneliness, finding my voice, trying to make a difference–that was me in the 1980s–and that’s still me in the 21st Century. Great music is the best companion for traveling the adventure of life.

~ Anna – 5/31/2018

Posted in Autobiographical, Creativity, Joy (Joie de General), Love, Music, Op/Ed Thoughts, The Arts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Settling Down While Still Flapping Around

During my only graduate-level writing course at the University of Tennessee, Professor Jon Manchip White, an ex-patriate from Wales as well as from Hollywood where he spent his screenwriting days, advised us that we would-be writers should keep a commonplace book filled with ideas we could use to inspire our work.

Apparently a practice that originated in Early Modern Europe, commonplace books in the 21st century can be filled with quotations, snatches of movie dialogue, song lyrics, overheard conversations, lines from books, titles, phrases–anything we want to remember for future reference.

During our recent moving process, I realized the idiosyncratic way I had taken Dr. Manchip White’s advice, as I packed and unpacked 15-20 of my commonplace books. The first few pages of each journal was marked with my handwriting and then nothing in the pages thereafter.

Life certainly has a way of taking me away from my best intentions of writing more often and even from regularly writing in my commonplace book. Inspirations come at me nearly every day, and my husband and I talk about how great a blogpost this or that idea would make. Then instead of writing, I chase my tail through the halls of my life, filling up the trash containers, taking out the recycling, washing ever more clothes, and cleaning the never-ending pollen from my front porch rail.

When we were in London for my husband’s work in the 1990s, we took the Tube (the subway system) around the city. It occurred to me toay that’s the Tube is what my life looks like to me. I am watching as the light flashes by at each Tube station, then the dark of the Underground tunnel, followed by the light of another station, then the dark tunnels interchanging until we arrive at my destination station, and I race off to my next errand. Clock’s a-ticking.

As I dashed through life in 2011–the year I was not-so-graciously encouraged to leave my 30-year job at the University of Tennessee–my commonplace book noted sound advice from American writer Mark Twain (1835-1910) who advised in The American Claimant:

Drag your thoughts away from your troubles–by the ears, by the heels, or any other way, so you can manage it; it’s the healthiest thing a body can do.

In any time or place, excessive study of our own belly buttons–rolling in the mud of our own bailiwicks–is just a disaster for a sound mind and spirit. My sister and I ascribe to the keep moving doctrine. No matter the aching muscles or bones that remind us we are aging, staying busy has kept us sane. Oh, most of the time.

From These Amazing Shadows, a 2011 documentary featuring some of the best movie treasures, I noted that Librarian of Congress Dr. James H. Billington (born June 1, 1929) said:

Stories unite people; theories divide people.

Certainly life in America and throughout the world in 2018, has proven Dr. Billington’s notion that telling our stories reminds us of our shared humanity and has the hope of bringing us together. Pontificating, pointing fingers, telling other people how to live, seeking to control people who speak, look, or worship differently has led humankind to war followed by war, followed by war, followed by war.

A page from my 2011 commonplace book.

Except for halting the scourge of the Nazis during World War II, war has not, in the final analysis, solved anything. People die: young men in the flower of their bloom, medics and nurses attempting to staunch the wounds and patch up the holes in precious bodies, civilians, children, old men and women who can barely stand.

Certainly our nation’s own Civil War solved nothing as factionalism, racism, and division thrive today–one hundred and fifty-three years after the end of the war–and these forces grow like weeds throughout our land. War festers hatred as it takes root in generation after generation–as we see with the Middle East’s unending conflicts that have continued for thousands of years with seemingly no end in sight.

As Simon Schama said in The Story of the Jews, a five-part PBS documentary about the 3,000 year history of the Jewish people:

We tell our stories to survive.

Yes, we do tell our stories to survive and perhaps lay down the burden of carrying them alone. We tell our stories so we can communicate, connect, share wisdom, build community, touch others, and breathe hope into the idea that by sharing some of the worst indignities visited upon humans by other humans (genocide, child abuse and/or child sexual abuse, rape, murder, torture, racism, apartheid, slavery, and other degradations of the body, mind, and spirit) we will make it just a bit less likely that particular horror will happen again.

Here is my husband Kurt with our adorable 6-month-old grandson who we call Little Man because he is already such an amazing presence.

Personally I can only place one foot in front of another by turning my head from the many problems I can do nothing about and taking refuge in the everyday good I can do. As American author and illustrator E.L. (Elaine Lobl) Konigsburg (1930-2013) wrote:

Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place. But there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around.

The highest joy we can imagine is living in the presence of our 6-month-old grandson who himself lives gloriously in every new moment of his strange new world. He loves to touch faces, feel water on his body in his shower/bath in my kitchen sink, and taste yogurt and other foods for the first time. Watching him discover the world opens my eyes to hope as he shares his new-eyes world with us and we share our how-things-work-around-here world with him.

Nothing says cozy to me so much as a cat nestled into a sunny spot taking a nap. Yet with nine lives to burn, a cat can be off in a flash chasing a mouse or outrunning a barking dog. Something about ying and yang. Balance. Settling down and still flapping around. Happiness creeps up on us when we least expect it, and we can’t really expect it to stay ’round forever. So savor the little things for all they are worth–and open your arms to the joyous little things in this world that make life gloriously worth the living.

~ Anna – 4/30/2018

 

Posted in Autobiographical, Childhood, Courage, Ideas, Wonder | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Blue Moon Easter Eve

I haven’t written a blogpost since January because the last two months have been a blur of  packing, downsizing, moving, and all the details that such a nightmarish task entails. At times we have wondered if we should have left well enough alone and stayed in a neighborhood where we never quite fit in, but where there was room for all the stuff we have accumulated over the past 15 years.

Goodwill could power a whole store with all the items we donated to them on a daily basis throughout February and March. The friendly women who helped us with our boxes at the drop-off door probably decided we were crazy to have so much stuff and to be ever-so-willing to get rid of some much of it. Freedom is less stuff to drag around through life–or at least that’s my motto.

Despite the exhaustion from the devastating effort of this move, our new home in the Old North Knox neighborhood of Knoxville is indeed a neighborhood. We have already been welcomed by our a host of our neighbors in a way we never were in our former, more suburban, home in the West Knoxville area. Here we have sidewalks, a park nearly across the street from our house, and a market as well as a whole host of businesses and restaurants within easy walking distance. We finally feel we are home.

However, there is no time for a long post so late on Easter Eve, so tonight I send you, my loyal blog followers, a photo of the metal, garden art goat that found a new look for the annual Easter Egg Sale at Stanley’s Greenhouse today. This goat reminds us that once in a blue moon (and yes, I read in today’s paper that a blue moon was visible sometime today–and there will not be another one till 2020) magical things can happen on Easter Eve. Such as? Feeling at home, as well as finding a pink Easter egg inexplicably placed between your horns.

The metal garden art goat (ceremoniously and unceremoniously) decked out for the annual Easter Egg Sale today at Stanley’s Greenhouse.

 

 

 

 

 

// Anna ~ 3/31/2018

 

 

 

Posted in Autobiographical, Backyard Nature, Happiness, Home, Knoxville, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Paper

Steven Spielberg’s latest movie “The Post” tells the story of how Richard Nixon tried to stop the New York Times and the Washington Post from telling the American people their leaders doubted the outcome of the Vietnam War from its beginnings.

Until I watched Steven Spielberg’s latest movie “The Post” last evening, I had never thought of the throughline that newspapers have had in my life.

When I was growing up, Daddy supplemented our income by working Saturday nights–through the night until the compilation work was done–at the Knoxville News-Sentinel putting ad circulars into the rest of the paper by hand.

Being a sports maniac, Daddy thrilled at seeing the Sunday sports page–with all the notable sportswriters of the time–on Saturday night before the papers were delivered on Sunday.

Daddy at my grandparents’ home in 1957.

When he was just out of high school, my son Justin started working at the News-Sentinel in distribution and worked there for 13 years–even after he began going to college.

He was a union representative during a difficult time at the paper when he and his fellow distribution employees worked without a contract. Such was the way of unions in the South: not as numerous or as powerful as those found in the North.

Lisa, a dear friend I grew up with, worked for the local Knoxville paper as a reporter. I envied her job because she wrote for a newspaper. The real deal. Putting words on paper, telling stories that were conveyed into people’s homes, changing opinions and lives.

Snow on the University of Tennessee campus in 1934.

After a few years at the paper, my friend switched jobs to work for the University of Tennessee’s liaison with papers across the state and nation, its Information Services office. I suppose working for a paper was not a good living wage for a woman starting out in the 1980s in Knoxville. And I’m quite sure it is the same now that the News Sentinel no longer has a hyphen in its name and is no longer a truly local paper either. It was subsumed a few years ago into the Gannett/USAToday corporate amalgam of papers that use USAToday stories and add in some local flavor, sports, and obituaries. The rates go up, and the papers get slimmer, and the Knoxville news too often doesn’t get told.

Knoxville lost its main alternative weekly newspaper twice. The highly popular Metro Pulse was purchased by the News-Sentinel organization, then canceled after a few years when Gannett bought the Sentinel. The subsequent upstart Knoxville Mercury newspaper, with editors and contributing writers from the Pulse, lasted a few years before it too bit the dust in a town that really could use some truly local reporting. My nephew’s amazing girl friend Paige wrote for the Metro Pulse, and my dear friend Stacey worked for the Mercury. I was devastated at the loss of both papers.

When you move in the Fort Sanders area of Knoxville, you can actually get carried away.
Photo: Knoxville Mercury

Without a local, independent paper, Knoxville is a small-town city without a voice. The stories covered by the Metro Pulse and then the Knoxville Mercury were the investigative stories that needed to be told to an audience that was eager to read it.

When our house in South Knoxville–that we had tried to sell for two years–needed to reach the attention of folks who might be interested in buying it, our real estate agent placed an ad in the Metro Pulse and sold our house in three weeks. Putting an ad in the News Sentinel would not have the same effect now–nor would it have 15 years ago.

As I watched “The Post” and saw its depiction of the craftsmen working with blocks of type to ink the paper, and the long line of newspapers flowing high above the pressroom, it reminded me of what my Daddy used to say about loving to see the presses run. The thrill of watching blocks of type, combine with ink and paper, get folded in half, and sent out “hot off the presses” containing the hopes and dreams and stories of the people of our city.

A 1956 bride photographed with her father–my mother and my grandfather.

And what stories: who died, who won the football game on Saturday, who was getting married, who had gotten a scholarship, the scandal when one of Tennessee’s governor went down in shame, the glory of all the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vol national championships. It was in the paper and we shared a community of information that is for the most part gone.

Sure the News Sentinel still has a sports page with local writers, that’s one of the few sections of the paper that actually still has a stable of writers. Because sports is, after all, what this town is really interested in. But we used to have more than that. Of course, the News Sentinel was never a muckraking paper and did not win many national awards. But it was our paper. And told our story.

General Eisenhower with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II.

Many people do not care about the downturn in the fortunes of daily newspapers because, well there is, after all, the Internet and broadcast television news. But thank heaven for the few papers who pay reporters to write the stories that hold the rich and powerful accountable because that is what is critical to the health of a democracy.

Even though we don’t really have a democracy, since twice in the past 20 years the choice of the majority of voters did not become President of our country. But at least we ascribe to democratic values, we defend democratic values at home and abroad, and we tell ourselves that we act on democratic principles–that the will of the people means something in this country.

In order for the will of the people to mean something, however, a free and independent press must hold the government (at all levels), corporations, businesses, banks, the rich, our politicians, and our leaders accountable. Because that is what our nation was based on, and that is what keeps us free in any real sense.

So, yes, I would have been proud to have worked for a newspaper and been one of those few women who rarely made it to the table where decisions were made, but were at least on the team of a real newspaper. I would have been honored to tell the stories of people from all walks of life.

Author Dorothy Allison’s autobiography Bastard Out of South Carolina was one of the books I read that really spoke to me as a writer, and as a child who grew up poor. I was lucky enough to meet her when she came to the University of Tennessee to talk to would-be writers in the university’s English department. She told us, “Tell your stories. That’s your gold. We want to hear your stories.”

She was right. And we must continue to tell our stories. We must find a way to tell our stories, even though the traditional ways to be heard have dwindled, and it is harder to hear and learn each other’s stories.

I suppose this blog is my attempt to continue telling my story. And my Daddy’s. Although he is gone, he is with me as long as I live–and for me he is still smiling at the wonder of it all: those papers on their conveyor belts, speeding on their way to all those homes where people will read them and together they will weave their common language of community and hope.

//Anna ~ 1/31/2018

 

Posted in Autobiographical, Courage, Knoxville, Op/Ed Thoughts, Screen, Women, Wonder, Work, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ode to Little Man

Lincoln, our 1-month-old Little Man.

I have a dark-eyed, adorable obsession: the Little Man who a month ago was born into our lives. Last year my son Justin married the love of his life Tracy. From their love, has come their son Lincoln, the already dignified and compelling presence we call Little Man because he is already so much his own person! And he was born with such large hands that he is still growing into them.

When I was a child, I used to swing on my grandparents’ backyard swing set and make up songs. I can’t remember a time that music has not played in my head when I am not dealing with all that life stuff that keeps me running about. So over the past few weeks I have made a lullaby for Little Man to the tune of the song Little Bird, Little Bird, written by Mitch Leigh in 1972 for the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. So here we go . . .

Little Man, Little Man
Don’t you wanna wake up?
Little Man, Little Man
We can have lots-a fun!

You can stare at me
With your big dark eyes
I can coo at you
Try to make you smile

Open up your arms
To the big wide world
Who’s more lucky
Than us!

Lincoln on the day of his birth.

The unadulterated force of my love for Lincoln and joy at his birth has been in sharp contrast to rest of the past year. Since I lost my dear father a year ago, and we gained an untenable leader for our country, I have been despondent about the present and the future.

I was born in the United States–in Tennessee, a historically poverty-stricken state, I’ll grant you–at a time when the country was riding high. When I was old enough to be aware of the world around me, America was about 25 years past saving the world from Nazism; World War II veterans were in their prime and led local, state, and national organizations; and we were proud of our place in the world.

Our high school chorus sang:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Little Man, a few weeks old, with his big hands.

Until today when I looked up the exact wording of this song, I did not realize the lyrics of this song were written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, a New York poet who was the daughter of Jewish immigrants. She wrote it to help raise money to properly exhibit the Statue of Liberty which was given to our country by France. This statue, formally called The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, was given by the French people out of friendship and to mark our countries’ shared commitment to democratic ideals.

When we received this extravagant gift, many Americans were less than thrilled about a monumental statue of a woman holding a torch which required an expensive pedestal in order to display it. Fundraising efforts were not going very well, so its leader asked Emma Lazarus, a 34-year-old New York poet, to write a poem to be auctioned–along with works by other popular artists of the time, such as Mark Twain and Walt Whitman–to secure enough money to exhibit Lady Liberty in a fitting manner.

Although she was reluctant to write a poem on demand, Lazarus contributed a sonnet to the effort. As for Mark Twain, he refused to contribute any of his work. Instead he sent a check with a letter enclosed proposing that a statue of the Biblical Adam would be more fitting and wrote:

What do we care for a statue of liberty when we’ve got the thing itself in its wildest sublimity? What you want of a monument is to keep you in mind of something you haven’t got—something you’ve lost. Very well; we haven’t lost liberty; we’ve lost Adam.

Another thing: What has liberty done for us? Nothing in particular that I know of. What have we done for her? Everything. We’ve given her a home, and a good home, too. . .

But suppose your statue represented her old, bent, clothed in rags, downcast, shame-faced, with the insults and humiliation of 6,000 years, imploring a crust and an hour’s rest for God’s sake at our back door?—come, now you’re shouting! That’s the aspect of her which we need to be reminded of, lest we forget it.

When I read Twain’s objections to the Statue of Liberty, it was not clear to me what aspect of Adam, the Biblical first man, Twain believed Americans had forgotten and needed to remember. According to Genesis, Adam and Eve lost their freedom to decide their own fate by disobeying God and were cast from their home, the Garden of Eden.

Perhaps Twain meant that a statue of Adam would be an apt reminder that we should safeguard our freedoms better than the first man reputed to have lost his. Although Lady Liberty has been a very effective inspiration to the world fpr the past century and a half, Twain’s admonition could be more relevant to our present-day situation than his own.

In any event, Twains’ alternative suggestion went unheeded, and Emma Lazarus’s sonnet, The New Colossus, was read at the Statue of Liberty’s 1883 exhibition.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she
With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’

The love of our lives.

Lady Liberty has welcomed millions of refugees to America which has been a sanctuary from oppression, a land of opportunity and second chances. Her welcome presence in the New York harbor has been a symbol to hope to  immigrants seeking a better life.

Like Lady Liberty, my grandson’s birth awakened a hope in me that I thought was gone. When I look into his eyes, I want to ensure he has a world where he can breathe freely, love who he wants, do what he wants, and realize his dreams. Despite the daily evidence to the contrary, Lincoln’s existence gives me hope.

Loving Little Man as I do makes me want to fight for his best future. It is no coincidence that a female figure was chosen to exemplify the ideals of democracy and freedom, even if females have not always been able to exercise those rights in this country. Now that women have the right to vote, we should use that right from an impulse of love, not an impulse borne from (and born out of) fear and hate. More than with our vote, we should also use our individual talents as well as our combined efforts to conserve and protect our environment; provide affordable health insurance for all, but especially for children; promote policies that favor the majority of people, not policies that favor only the wealthy and powerful; and support regulation and legislation to make education at every level more child-friendly and affordable without graduate-school education benefits being taxed as compensation.

I am not a glassy-eyed Pollyanna, but a realist who knows the odds are stacked heavily against us. But we must do what we can. Twice in the past two decades, our country has demonstrated that Americans do not, by definition, live in a democracy where the power of the people and the rule of the majority decide their leader. We can argue about many things, but the present rule by the minority over the will of the majority is our present-day reality. However, I am encouraged by the fact that America and her allies overcame the Nazis in World War II and put an end to the systematic death machine of the Holocaust. If we could overcome the seemingly unbeatable German juggernaut, perhaps we have a future beyond the chaos of our current governance.

May he have the chance for a bright future.

A few years after Emma Lazarus wrote her poem to help raise money for the Statue of Liberty, she died of cancer at the age of 38. Her obituary did not mention her contribution to the way the world viewed our country: as a symbol of hope and liberty. Although it wasn’t till 1903 that her poem was championed and her words were added to the Statue of Liberty, her work has inspired generations to emigrate to theis country that my grandson’s namesake, Abraham Lincoln, said was “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”.

Sometimes the best efforts can seem lost for years, but then they may unexpectedly resurface above the waves, and find safe harbor. May it be so–sooner rather than later–for the precious sweetheart we call Little Man, and all the other little women and men we hope will have a future in this world.

// Anna ~ 12/1/2017

 

 

 

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Daddy’s Ro-phorisms

My sister Lisa and me in the snow outside our first home, 1963

When I was growing up Daddy used to drive me crazy with his corny aphorisms for every situation.

We didn’t have the money to eat at the fancier restaurants such as Shoney’s–yes, we were indeed that poor. Mama and Daddy would occasionally take us through the McDonald’s drive-through where the odds of getting a plain hamburger for finicky me were pretty slim. About half the time my “plain” hamburger came with the icky mustard and ketchup abomination they slathered on those unsuspecting burgers!

Mama would say, “Wipe it off with your napkin.” And Daddy would chime in with, “Anna, you’ve got to take the sour with the sweet.” I didn’t want to take the sour with the sweet! I  wanted a plain hamburger on a plain bun without the nauseating condiments that made me want to throw up.

But making do was my family’s mantra. Don’t make waves. Don’t ask questions.

Doctors always knew best–even if we went to the quack doctor in our poor side of town who diagnosed my torn cartilage as water on the knee. I walked around on that swollen knee for months before the former nurse across the street said, “You’d better get that looked at by a knee specialist I know.” The orthopedic doc suggested surgery right away. Voila! I could walk.

My mantra was making it better. Whatever “it” was, I wanted to read about it, learn about it, ask questions about it, organize it, devise a better system for it, put a bow on it, and for sure not have disgusting condiments all over it. Let’s say my parents and I were not always the most smooth dance partners for a childhood pas de trois.

Our second home with the big old trees in the front yard that Daddy hated because he hated raking leaves.

Daddy however was one to rail against the elements. With grim resolve, he’d say, “I’ve gotta go down and stoke the furnace.” From the pile of coal in our backyard, he’d take a goodly amount of coal in a bucket down to the furnace in our dirt-walled basement. If he was successful, the registers that brought heat into our house would spew forth warmth. If he was not successful, we were cold.

I’ve often said it, Daddy would have made a good king. He would have been a magnanimous monarch of a well-off country if there was a tidy bureaucracy to look out for all the details of his duchy. Justice and integrity would have ruled the day. But Daddy was not mechanical, he certainly could not fix anything, and he was so methodical with everything he attempted that he was left in the dust by the cut-corners, beer-and-pizza, salt-of-the earth men of his time and place.

But Daddy had his values, his aphorism, his theories, and his truths. Some of them were spot on, some less so. I find now I trot out more than a few of Daddy’s sayings to put the punctuation mark on life’s ups and downs.

We’ll cross that road when we come to it.

Jealousy. It’s jealousy. That’s the root of all evil.

This is dogwood winter, next we’ll have blackberry winter, and then whippoorwill winter.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Better late than never.

Beggars can’t be choosers.

You win some, you lose some.

You can’t beat a good team twice.

You can’t take it with you.

We don’t want to wear out our welcome.

Give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.

Live and learn.

Dad jimmit!

Dadgumit!

Time flies.

It’s as slow as Christmas.

That’s a pig in a poke.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Money isn’t everything.

Little things mean alot.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Practice makes perfect.

Two heads are better than one.

That’s the pot calling the kettle black.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Don’t go out with your head wet.

Get home before dark.

Did we turn the stove off?

Daddy being irrepressibly himself at a 1996 wedding reception.

Daddy was especially fond of asking about the stove being off–a sign of his obsessive-compulsive disorder, along with his taking an hour to shave. We used to have a hee-haw, my sister and me, shaking our heads about Daddy taking an hour to shave. Bless his soul. I miss him so.

My Daddy, Roy Rotha Allen, died a year ago on December 2, 2016. I think of him often. My husband Kurt and I enjoy quoting Daddy’s sayings to each other. I usually preface one of these wisdoms with “as Daddy used to say . . . ” Kurt calls them Daddy’s aphorisms, his Rotha-isms, or his Rophorisms.

Despite Daddy’s 10th-grade education, his mother dying when he was only 4 months old, and his being raised in a home full of neglect, alcoholism, and abuse, Daddy was the parent who taught me to laugh and live life with open-armed passion and joy. He taught me not to be afraid of living life to the fullest, to talk openly, to question, and to love without reserve. He taught me these things because I shared more than a bit of his genetic makeup, and I watched him live. He loved me without qualification and without trying to make renovations, as Mama tended to. He was proud of me and everything I accomplished. He was proud of my education and the jobs I earned that allowed me to make a difference in the world.

Daddy at Christmas 2000.

Mama gave me my energy, drive, and hardworking, never-say-die work ethic. But Daddy gave me the sweet love that sustained my soul during the times in life when I was in serious harm’s way. He LOVED me. And because he loved me, I knew in my bones how to love others. Loving myself and accepting myself with all my imperfections has been hard; I am my own worst critic. But Daddy saw only my shiny-faced good points, and he made me glad to be alive.

He still does. And as long as I live, he will always be with me. He is still my sweet, sweet, adorable, dearest Daddy.

//Anna ~ 11/30/2017

 

 

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Arriving at Last

The young dreamer, circa 1972.

In the fall of my senior year at South (Knoxville) High School, I was offered a full scholarship to Berea College, a small liberal arts college in Kentucky.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Berea was founded in 1855 by abolitionists who took their beliefs seriously enough to start the first interracial and coeducational college in the antebellum South. They expanded their mission through the years to offer poor Appalachian kids like me a free college education in exchange for working at the college.

Although my father was proud of my academic accomplishments in school, he made it clear he could not help me with my college education. He was not being unkind, just stating the obvious, since my family’s income was around $7000 in 1975. I knew I needed scholarships to attend school and was especially excited about a full scholarship to Berea where everyone would be a kid of limited-to-no means like me. Coming from a family where Daddy’s father was illiterate and Daddy did not graduate from high school, I was the first person in my family to seek a college education.

Accepting my diploma from high school in May 1975.

Making this whole Kentucky college education dream even more appealing to a naive, hopelessly romantic girl–who had grown up on a steady diet of old-time movie romance–I had met a young man from Kentucky that past summer. His father, the pastor of the Prestonsburg Baptist church, was a close friends of the pastor of our church in Knoxville. In the mid-1970s, Prestonsburg was a small town in Floyd County with one red light–a milestone over which there was great excitement and pride. There was even talk of a second one coming soon.

Our church youth group was invited to Prestonsburg to hold Vacation Bible School classes for the kids of coal-mining families. Just down the road from town, the hollers of nearby Johnson County hadn’t changed much since Loretta Lynn–the world-famous, country music singer-songwriter–grew up there in Van Lear, Ky., 30 years before.

The young preacher’s son, Dell, was kind, attentive, also a rising senior in school, and was such a gentleman when we went to see a movie at the nearest theater in Paintsville. The West Virginia line was just 30 miles or so away. This was coal country where mining families lived in hollers (hollows) that went straight up the mountainsides. I was amazed that their front yards were mud, the houses where not much more than shacks, but there were usually several cars beside them–some on cinderblocks, but some quite pricey. What little money they had went toward wheels, either for bragging rights or perhaps to take you someplace you’d rather be.

Here I am in April 1975, just before I started college in June.

My Kentucky gentleman and I wrote each other when I went back home to Tennessee for my senior year. My parents even took me and my sister up to see him play quarterback in a football game that fall. He had been voted Mr. Prestonsburg High, was the quarterback of the football team, and was a Baptist preacher’s son–what more could a young Southern, religious, girl like me want?

I dated no one my senior year, didn’t go to my senior prom–not that it was a terrible hardship since I hadn’t gone to many dances during my years at South. Being considered a “brain” had made me dateless for most of my high school years anyway. Instead I wrote earnest letters and dreamed of a future with such a nice guy as Dell. I must have confided to one of the girls at church about my dreams of going to college in Kentucky and a future with Dell, because she told a friend of hers in Prestonsburg, who mentioned it to Dell, and I received a Dear Jane letter. Perhaps a long-distance relationship was too tenuous to build a future on–or maybe he found someone else.

My Irish Mamaw Jerushia Cunningham Henderlight at my college graduation in 1987.

The breakup with my Kentucky boy friend made attending Berea College seem more like a pipe dream. So when I won a one-year Knoxville PTSA scholarship in an essay-writing contest, I decided to attend the University of Tennessee in my hometown.

Meanwhile life has happened over the last four decades. Busy, busy, busy. I graduated from UT where I worked for 30 years, the majority of those years spent writing for the fund-raising arm of the university. Education had been my ticket to a better life for me and my children, and I felt so fortunate to have earned a spot on the team that was working to ensure that other kid’s educational dreams could come true.

At the university I met an extraordinary man, Kurt, and we married in 1995. Ironically he had earned his undergraduate degree at Transylvania University, a liberal arts college in Lexington, Ky. This year our nephew Zach began work on his master’s degree at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, so last month the planets aligned and we gleefully set out to visit Zach and his adorable girl friend Paige at their home there.

Inside one of the gorgeously appointed buildings at Berea College. Photo: Kurt Weiss

Only a short drive from Lexington was Berea, the college that had offered me a full scholarship beginning the fall of 1975. I could have gone there, worked alongside other poor kids like me, and gotten a first-class education without debt or tuition. Of course, being such a sensitive, homesick kinda girl as I was at 17, I would have needed the additional incentive and support of a boy friend down the road at Eastern Kentucky University who was in the engineering program–which at the time was what Dell said he wanted to do.

But just for a moment, it is sweet to imagine that I had been raised by parents who knew more about the ropes of higher education, and I had been able to chart my own course at Berea. I could have become a history teacher or an English teacher, and gone on to make seemingly dry subjects shine, inspiring a few of my students to dream they could be more than the lives they were born into.

The Historic Boone Tavern at Berea College, September 2017, photo by Kurt Weiss.

It did not happen that way for me. But last month, in September 2017, Kurt and I left Lexington, went to Berea, and stayed at the college’s historic Boone Tavern, We had a tour of the campus given by an undergraduate student  who loves the school so much that she hates to leave even for holiday visits with her family! We enjoyed lunch in the student-staffed coffee shop, bought student-crafted mugs in the student-ran bookstore, and scored an organic rosemary plant from the student-ran farms of Berea. The grounds were perfect, the buildings immaculate, and everyone seemed very happy to be there.

One of only seven work-colleges in the country, Berea gives their students the highest quality education (worth approximately $100,000) and is consistently ranked one of the best private liberal arts colleges in the country. Pretty remarkable for a college that started with the dream of promoting equality by making education available to men and women of all races. Yes, men and women of all races.

Love this tree that fits me perfectly! Photo: Kurt Weiss

There is more than one way to make a dream come true, and the road to fulfilling Berea’s full egalitarian, interracial mandate was littered with roadblocks–such as Kentucky’s law in 1904 forbidding the co-education of blacks and whites. But 46 years later, in 1950, Kentucky amended the law to allow co-education above the high school level, and Berea again accepted black students.

Soooo, I was not able to go to Berea in 1975, but 42 years later I arrived–a bit late for sure. But so excited to see the college for myself at last. The huge old trees dotting the campus were planted by students we were told, some of the buildings were built by students, and we watched as students mowed the college grounds. Talk about sweat equity. This is triumph of the spirit. Of course, not everyone who begins as a freshman makes it to graduation at Berea. Some students cannot keep up with the rigorous academic standards and work responsibilities. But for those who have the work ethic, determination, and heart, Berea is the train they can take to where they want to go which gives them more power over their lives. For that is what education does–gives you more power over your life.

I finally arrived at Berea College–a bit late, but so happy nonetheless!

Berea College was never able to make my dreams come true, but as an adult–with some occasionally disposable income–I can support Berea and help other ambitious young people of limited means to realize their hopes for a better life.

As the famous primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall recently said in an interview printed in the October 21, 2017, edition of The New York Times:

 

I meet so many incredible people doing amazing things, saving animals on the brink of extinction, restoring the forest, cleaning up a river. It’s knowing what can be done that gives people the courage to fight.

Here’s to having the courage to fight and make a difference! And here’s to finally arriving!

Anna// ~ 10/31/2017

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