You Don’t Have to Take My Word for It

Happy 2019 to all. 2018 was a rough one for me, so I feel kind of shell shocked as I face a new year. Sometimes all you can do is put one foot in front of the other, and that’s what I will do for now.

To cheer myself up, I’ll tell you about seeing one of my favorite celebrities a couple of months ago. Hint: “You don’t have to take my word for it.”

Yes, LeVar Burton, for those of you who did not watch Reading Rainbow religiously. My father and I also watched him religiously in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When I learned he was coming to Boston, I bought a ticket to his show even though I had no idea what he would be talking about or doing. I didn’t know about his popular podcast until I asked Google what the show would be about.

So what he does in his live shows is pick a local author and read the author’s short story, with musical accompaniment. Then he invites the author on stage and they do a Q & A and take questions from the audience.

For the Boston show, he read a short story by Ken Liu. It was a sci-fi/fantasy story, so at first I was unenthused because I don’t read that genre of literature. But, of course, it did not take long for me to fall under LeVar’s spell.

The Q & A was great because both LeVar and Ken were charming and witty as hell. If you are a fan of LeVar Burton or a fan of literature, I highly recommend his live show and podcast. Seeing him in person was one of the highlights of my year!

Stride Toward Freedom

After seeing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter Bernice speak a few months ago, I decided it was time to start reading MLK’s books. I have always loved his famous quotes, so I knew I would love any of his books.

I started with Strive Toward Freedom, his account of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and 1956. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to. I didn’t think it was possible for me to revere him more than I did…well, I do now, after reading in detail what he and his colleagues accomplished and lived through during the boycott.

Courtesy of wikipedia.org

He and his wife, Coretta, met while they were both studying in Boston. He had job offers in the North after graduation, but he and Coretta decided they would be of more service in their native South. He became pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama, and immediately got involved in several civic groups to tackle segregation.

The arrest of Rosa Parks sparked the bus boycott. MLK and his colleagues decided it was time “to refuse to cooperate with an evil system.” First they convinced black taxi drivers to charge the bus fare on their routes. When they were told about a law that limited taxis to a minimum fare, they mobilized 300 volunteer drivers and set up an entire system of pick-up and drop-off points around the city.

They hired staff to oversee the car pool and had community meetings regularly to keep people informed. At these meetings, MLK and his colleagues stressed the importance of non-violent resistance. He and his colleagues met with city officials to talk about their demands: courteous service, seating first come, first served, and hiring of black drivers for routes in black neighborhoods.

The city wasn’t having any of it, so it started arresting people, including MLK, and declared boycotting to be illegal. MLK and his colleagues received threatening phone calls and letters day and night. MLK’s house was bombed.

I won’t explain any further because I want you to have some surprises when you read the book. But, in short, it was an uphill battle for blacks but they prevailed. As November 6 approaches, I will leave you with some quotes from the book’s conclusion:

“In short, this crisis has the potential for democracy’s fulfillment or fascism’s triumph; for social progress or retrogression.”

“This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for rigorous and positive action.”

Western New York History Lessons

I had never heard of Arch Merrill until I found his books at my dad’s house. Merrill worked at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper for years and also wrote numerous books about the history and folklore of Western New York.

I read his book Tomahawks and Old Lace recently and really enjoyed it. His writing style is that of a chatty neighbor who lives to tell a good story.

Even though I grew up in Western New York, I don’t think I learned much about its history and folklore. Or if I did, it went in one ear and out the other.

Just a few interesting stories he told in this book:

“The White Woman of the Genesee”

Sam Patch

Mary Jane Holmes (“The name means nothing to you? Then there’s no gray in your hair.”)

George “Dutch” Anderson

I plan to read A River Ramble next, which is about his journey walking the length of the Genesee River.

Gloria Steinem’s Life on the Road

I decided that I should read some of Gloria Steinem‘s work after seeing her speak at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in December. I virtually knew nothing about her except for the fact that she is a feminist and an amazing human being, so I really enjoyed reading My Life on the Road. The book title called to me because sometimes I wish that more of my life was spent “on the road.”

Reading this soon after my dad died, I was startled to find that the first chapter is about her father and her odd childhood. Her father was such a nomad that Gloria did not attend school as a child. On page 17, she explains that he was in a car accident and she didn’t make it to the hospital before he died. It brought me comfort to know that I was not the only person on the Earth who was not with my father as he drew his last breath. I ached for her and myself as I read, “I will never stop wishing I had been with him.”

It was fascinating to read about her experiences as a freelance journalist and organizer. She talks about how her life changed because of her participation in the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston—an event I had never heard of. She talks about speaking on campuses and in churches and at conferences. One experience she has is more eye-opening than the other.

She ends the book by talking about how she finally found a balance in life after decades of being on the road. She writes, “I can go on the road—because I can come home. I come home—because I’m free to leave.” A beautiful way to live.

 

Gloria and Dan

I saw two 20th-century icons speak recently: Gloria Steinem and Dan Rather.

Gloria was a keynote speaker at the opening night of the Massachusetts Conference for Women. I hadn’t  attended the conference before, so the opening night was a good overview of the event. The exhibit hall was impressive: areas for career resources, nonprofits, female business owners selling their products, and multiple authors available for book signings. There were other keynote speakers that evening as well, but my friend and I only tuned in for Gloria.

I wish I could pass on some nuggets of her wisdom, but since my dad’s sudden death, most of my day-to-day thoughts and memories are crowded out by my thoughts and memories of him. I do recall that she was fierce, real, and optimistic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dan is touring with his recently published book with Elliot Kirschner, What Unites Us. Again, I don’t remember a word he said, but he was also fierce, real, and optimistic. I saw him speak on the one-month anniversary of my dad’s passing, and I fell asleep that night wishing that I could tell my dad all about it, since he was a fan of 60 Minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m trying to get back in the saddle regarding the birthday list, but I’m taking it slow and will give myself an extra month or two to complete it. Bear with me, dear readers.