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.

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For Tea Lovers Only

A Japanese teahouse opened up in my neighborhood recently. I saw nitro green tea on the menu (a la nitro coffee) and thought that would be interesting to try for the birthday list.

Well, they were out of the nitro green tea the day that I went. I had been eyeing the pastries as I waited in line to order, so when denied the green tea, I said, “I’ll have a houjicha cookie then. What exactly is that?”

The cashier said it was a cookie made with tea leaves. “OK, sure,” I said. Since I love tea, how bad could it be?

Happy to report that it wasn’t bad. I would even order it again. But this is definitely a cookie for people who like tea. It’s basically like eating tea leaves but in a soft and slightly sweet form.

I also had an iced oolong tea, which was very good. I’ll keep trying for the nitro green tea and will also be trying a sweet bun that is in the shape of a turtle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My birthday is a couple of days away and I’m a little more than halfway through the birthday list. I gave myself an extension until the end of the summer to finish the list this year, since I’ve been busy trying to keep my shit together after my father died suddenly in December. Almost six months later, I’m feeling like one loses the ability to entirely keep one’s shit together after a parent dies. Maybe I’ll feel differently in another six months…

 

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.

 

Pursuing Justice from a Place of Love

 

 

 

 

 

 

A friend and I saw Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest child, Bernice, speak at the Boston Public Library as part of the Lowell Institute Lecture Series. Like her father, she is a minister, as well as being CEO of the King Center.

She inherited her father’s mesmerizing speaking skills. She started out by encouraging the audience to visit the new Legacy Museum and Memorial that just opened in Montgomery, Alabama. I had heard a little about the lynching memorial, but I made a promise to myself to really read about it and the museum. She then launched into her (and her father’s) philosophy of nonviolence to create social change.

A theme she repeated a few times was that justice must come from a place of love, not anger and retaliation. She quoted her father’s work and explained that when he had the idea for the bus boycott, his goal was not to shut down the bus company, but to infuse justice INTO the bus company.

I asked myself multiple times during her talk, “Is MLK Jr. rolling in his grave, knowing that 50 years later, we are still failing at combating racism?” His hope that his four children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin is still a hope and nowhere near a reality.

I haven’t read any of MLK Jr.’s books, but hearing her quote from them, I am eager to read them. I’ll start at the beginning, with Stride Toward Freedom.

Even though King barely knew her father (she was five years old when he was assassinated), she seems to share his passion for this crucial social justice work.

 

 

Wreckless Eric at Atwood’s

I went to Atwood’s Tavern for the first time the other night to grab dinner and see Wreckless Eric perform. Allen and I arrived about an hour and half before the show started and nabbed a table near the stage. I really liked the vibe there = low lighting, beautiful wood bar and paneling on the walls.

The food was very good. We shared mussels and I had a chicken sandwich and Allen had a crab cake sandwich. The potato salad side had a lot of herbs going on, which was shocking at first but then I learned to embrace it.

Allen has been listening to Wreckless Eric for decades but I didn’t know of him until Allen introduced me to his music months ago. Be warned, one of his biggest hits from the late ’70s, “The Whole Wide World,” has earworm potential.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eric played a great set. He’s a very talented musician, and he entertains the crowd with funny stories and quips. And he’s English so he had me at hello just because of that. After his show ended, he personally sold his CDs and signed records and memorabilia for the fans lined up to meet him. What a cool bloke.

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BirthdayJune 1st, 2015

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