On The Blackwater

Musing on retirement, writing, puppies, and whatever else strikes my fancy

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Spending my life in 20-year increments: DC, Calif, Maine, & now in the BlueRidge Mountains of VA, where my YoChon, Sadie Mae, has started to blog...

Monday, January 28, 2008

After a very busy week it was time to calm down

I've learned to conserve energy, to say: I'm sorry, I cannot do whatever needs to be done, I need to take care of myself. Recognizing the signs is one thing, but firmly acting on my own behalf is foreign to me.

Years of putting others first, husband, children, friends, other family, even the dogs!--means my own self came last. "Oh, that's OK, I don't mind," when I was really thinking inside, Hey, I was here first, when do I get MY turn?

Right now, I'm in the midst of a small budget crunch. Nothing serious, but unexpected small medical expenses, huge dental costs (when did dentists begin charging such large amounts?...I guess when my insurance changed and now I have to pay those costs out of pocket.) Other surprises cropped up, but I won't whine about them because so many others have it much, much worse than I.

My house is snug and warm, there's more than enough food in the fridge and freezer, I am so fortunate to continue to have good health and ever-increasing energy. Even my brain is working better, although some would challenge that comment. And I have so many good, dear friends, people I enjoy being around, friends who laugh out loud at just how ridiculous the world can be. Even though my son lives all the way out in Montana, and my daughter is 22 hours by car up north, we are close to each other. I love that cellphones enable me to call and chat away, and that e-mail can reach my son who is traveling all over the place in his new job.

Life is good, and my attitude IS gratitude.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Reading for Holocaust Class

Our assignment was not difficult; just to journal about what was new to us from the two lectures on Tuesday, one from a Religious standpoint and the other from a Psychological base. I learned that the hate and bias towards Jewish people went much farther back than I knew. When Jesus was crucified, it was said that the Jews had done that, when actually it was the Romans. And, of course, Jesus was Jewish.

Psychologically, we explored the fear-generated concept that majority/minority was not about numbers but was about POWER. I had expected to hear more about the psychological makeup of Hitler himself.

After journaling, I decided to refresh my memory about Hitler's family, childhood, his life before and after he rose to his evil power. Thank heavens for the internet! I was able to read a great deal about him, that his grandfather was illegitimate and was in all probability the son of a member of a Jewish family his mother worked for. Hitler's father was a cruel and difficult man; his Mother spoiled Hitler in trying to counteract his father's harshness. Even though Hitler's education ended at age 16, he read a great deal and became obsessed with power. After his father died, Hitler decided he did not want to work for a living, and soon spent everything his father had left to him, becoming homeless and shabby, sleeping on benches and eating at soup kitchens.

This did not make him at all sympathetic to homeless or poor people; instead, he angrily blamed everything on Jewish or Gypsy or other groups.

Interestingly, he began growing powerful only when Germany's people were suffering from hard times. He would promise anything and everything just to get their support and vote, with no intention of following through with anything except his very own agenda. When Germany was doing well for a short period of time, Hitler had to sit back and wait. When America went into the Great Depression in 1929, and the rest of the world was hit as well, Hitler knew it was the time for him to make his outrageous promises. Businessmen and bankers pretty much thought he would save them from financial disaster.

Even the swastika and the colors of the flag it was displayed on were craftily designed to incite strong feelings. Hitler would always come a bit late to make a speech, so that by the time he entered, there would be a huge swell of excitement and noise. He would begin with a low voice, slow and steady, then build to a higher, faster tone and finally to an angry dramatic finish.

Everything, once he'd established the Nazi party, was carefully planned, from the young boys in their brown shirts, to groups of young women, and also housewives, every group meant to feel "special" to the ultimate goal of a unified Germany...unified in his mind meaning only Aryan. He had eye color charts designed to determine if a person had the "right" color blue eyes to qualify as Aryan. They were also judged by hair color (blonde) and height (tall). Of course, Hitler himself did not meet these standards.

While his father was alive, he refused permission for Adolf to study art, in particular architectural drawings, even though he showed a lot of potential. After his father died, Hitler was unable to pass the exams that would let him enter those schools in Vienna. It makes you wonder what might have happened had his father supported his art endeavors early on, early enough for him to have gotten the necessary instruction and training to continue on that path. Much of his anger seems to stem from his failure in realizing his dreams.

I'm glad I am taking this class; there is so much I just did not know, and the Holocaust itself is still ahead.

Monday, January 21, 2008

New Neighbor's Castle

I haven't met her yet, the tall young divorced doctor's wife with 4 children who built this spectacular home up by all our mailboxes, but I did get some new pictures. I've been cutting and pasting them over in Word but they still move around on me! So let's see what I've managed to do (she said, hiding her eyes with her fingers):

OK, I think I got them in order, but let's see how they publish!
Learning, learning, learning here.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Old Memories Return

When Dr. Horn showed us a picture of one of the French boxcars that were crammed full of Jewish women and children, and some men as well, to be transported to Auschwitz, a memory came back to me from so many years ago. My Dad was stationed in France at the end of WWII, and he'd told me he was a member of the Forty and Eight by virtue of having traveled on one of the French boxcars so designated, as they were designed to haul forty men or eight horses. He never mentioned the use of those boxcars during the Holocaust; I doubt he knew of that horror until after he came back to the States.

I was 8 or 9 by the time he came home. Later, he would tell me stories about his time first as a typist/clerk and then as an MP. He said they would get so bored during many hours of night duty that one of them would go down to a local pub and start a mild ruckus. The bartender would call the MPs and they'd get to rush down to the pub and arrest the fellow, getting out of the stuffy office and into the cool night air, and getting a whiff of the nightlife.

I remember only too well the day he came home. My brother John and I had gone to the local movie theatre, an all-day adventure on a Saturday when you could watch a newsreel, a chapter in a serial, two feature movies, maybe even a stage show of the local dance studio kids, and cartoons--all this for twenty-five cents each. A nickel bought each of us a box of Jujubes. Our baby sister was at home; we all lived in a very large boardinghouse full of wives and children of men serving overseas, a place of lots of laughter and many, many tears.

At any rate, my brother and I rode our imaginary horses home from the movies and rushed into the house. Mother looked peculiar; her color was high, her eyes big and shiny. "He's home!" I hollered, "Daddy's home!" Sure enough, the door from the basement opened and there he was, grinning to beat the band, hugging me and then swinging me around with such joy. We heard a sound out in the hallway...my baby sister had heard me, and was bounding down the stairs. When she saw our Dad, she whooped and simply did a complete leap down the bottom half of those stairs! Daddy always said it frightened him, her complete trust that her Daddy would catch her. And of course he did.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Joining the Holocaust Class

Yes, I've taken the all-important next step of joining Dr. Marcia Horn's class on the Holocaust. Yesterday found me squeezed into a student desk in a Ferrum College classroom along with 21 other students and all but one member of the 10-member faculty who will teach this course. From Spanish to Music to Political Science to Psychology to History to Religion to Art to Humanities--there are two music teachers--as Dr. Horn's overview mentions, this multi-disciplinary course will explore the historical and social conditions leading up to the Holocaust, the resulting dehumanization and death, as well as the strategies for survival.

Again in Dr. Horn's words, the course will examine the post-war dangers of neo-Nazism, totalitarianism, racism, and intolerance in our own times. The course will also devote some attention to the mass murders in the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1987 and to modern examples of genocide. Students will be asking themselves difficult, often painful, questions about their own feelings on these subjects.

Required reading: Engel, David. The Holocaust: The third Reich and the Jews
Niewyk, Donald, ed. The Holocaust (3rd ed.)
Volavkova, Hana, ed. ...I Never Saw Another Butterfly
Wiesel, Elie. Night
Wiesenthal, Simon. The Sunflower
Yolen, Jane. Briar Rose

Tomorrow (Thursday, 17 Jan 08) will be our first actual class, provided the weather cooperates. Forecast is sleet and freezing rain. The class will be a discussion of Race, Racism and Ethnicity: Dehumanization, Rationalization: Posters, Mengele's experiments, U.S. sterilization/eugenics programs. (Dr. Susan Mead).

Why am I so drawn to this? So passionate to learn more, to visit the Holocaust Museum, to try to understand such evil events, to find out more about the Holocaust? Does it date from my reading The Diary of Ann Frank so many years ago, and realizing how much I resembled her at the same age, causing me to identify with her even more closely? Was it my father's enlisting in the US Army near the end of WWII and being posted in France, promising one day to take me there? (He was never able to fulfill that promise.)

When my father was dying, he told me he'd been adopted, that the grandmother I knew was his biological mother, but after his father died while building the Panama Canal, her second husband had formally adopted him when he was four years old. His adoptive father had a very German last name, which I suspect was behind my father's enlistment. I am certain he was discriminated against (we lived in Washington, DC) simply because of his last name, as I remember very well the insults that were directed at me as well.

Whatever the reason, I know I will learn a great deal taking this class and visiting the museum. Perhaps I will learn more about myself.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sarah's Key discussion at Ferrum College

How wonderful to be in a room of 15-20 women, all readers, all excited and emotional about having read Tatiana de Rosnay's book, Sarah's Key. Even our discussion leader, Dr. Marcia Horn, had found SK to be a chilling and accurate historical account of the French collaboration, and of Vel' d' Hiv; she had only recently conducted an interview with a fellow who lost his parents to that tragic day in history.

Dr. Horn had many interesting observations, including the fact that those who hated Jews called every Jewish woman "Sarah." She also asked us to think about the moment when "the girl" became Sarah. Dr. Horn was interested in Tatiana's reasons for writing the book; I gave her Tatiana's Blog site address as she very much wants to contact her via e-mail.

Dr. Horn conducts a Holocaust study class along with 9 other instructors--one a psychologist, another one from another discipline, and so on through the various contributions, making her class an extremely diverse yet complete study. Included is a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, in February. I've wanted to visit that museum since it first started up, so I immediately signed up for the February 19th bus trip. I also may join her class, which meets every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon beginning the 15th of this month.

In March, she will have as a speaker the fellow whose parents were part of the Paris roundup; apparently, he survived only because he became ill and was taken to a hospital while his parents were taken to Auschwitz where they died. We talked a great deal about the prejudices and discrimination, the blatant anti-Semitism, that still exists today and how easy it seemed for Hitler to tap into those underlying currents in order to put his outrageous plans into effect. As she said, it wasn't one man, it was a whole German army of men, an entire French police force, those neighbors looking out their windows and cheering because the Jews were being taken away.

Our group today was still gathering around and talking about the book and about the Holocaust itself, at 3 pm. We had begun with a 12:30 sandwich lunch on the campus, during which time the conversation was passionate and involved.

Dr. Horn said she will be adding Sarah's Key to her course curriculum and will be recommending it to those other 9 instructors as well.

When I was asked to speak, I gave every credit to the Franklin County Library, who had featured Sarah's Key as a book to read, giving it a prominant place on top of a bookcase of new fiction. The cover caught my eye, I read the blurbs on the back, and I was off to the races. I'm just so glad everyone in today's group felt exactly as I had felt once they read it.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Excited about tomorrow~

Tomorrow, Wednesday 9 January, our Franklin County Library book club, the Eclectic Readers, will gather at Ferrum College for a presentation by Dr. Marcia Horn regarding Sarah's Key, written by Tatiana de Rosnay, certainly the Book of the Year for me, one that has stayed with me as I read it once in complete shock--how had I not known about this?--and went on to read it a second time.

Dr. Horn is not only Ferrum's resident expert on the Holocaust, she actually has a connection with the Vel' d' Hiv' in Paris in 1942. She, too, was blown away by Tatiana's book and found it a very chilling and accurate account of the French participation...collaboration, actually...in rounding up thousands of Jewish citizens in Paris, taking them to the Vel' d' Hiv' and then putting them on the trains to Auschwitz. Dr. Horn interviewed Nathan Kranowski when she was in France; his parents were rounded up and then murdered at Auschwitz. Kranowski will be speaking at Ferrum on March 25th.

Sarah's Key is an historically accurate account of the events in Paris on that infamous day in 1942, and draws the reader in as the fictionalized Sarah, a 10-year-old child, is taken with her mother to the Vel' d' Hiv. Sarah, unaware of the significance of the roundup, believes she will soon return to their apartment so she locks her 4-year-old little brother into their "safe" hiding place, a cupboard, giving him a teddy bear and a book, telling him she will be back to let him out.

Another part of the book concerns an American journalist living in Paris who in 2002 is researching the events of that day in 1942 for an article she is writing. The book's point-of-view continually shifts from Sarah's account to the writer's discoveries; it is quite easy to follow as the type changes as one goes from 1942 to 2002 and back again.

Tatiana's book has been translated into 17 languages and is an international best seller. It has been suggested to be as significant an account of the Holocaust as Sophie's Choice or even The Diary of Anne Frank. Once I began reading it, I simply could not put it down; others tell me they have had the same experience.

Tomorrow, our book club will meet at Ferrum College here in Virginia at 12:30 pm to grab a sandwich at Subway and then move to a nearby room for Dr. Marcia Horn's presentation. If you live nearby and can join us, please do so as this promises to be a fascinating event.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Thrilled about Barack Obama's win in Iowa!

So historic! I heard Roanoke was celebrating, and rightly so. I fully intend to leave politics out of this Blog, but am so impressed with Obama that I had to say SOMEthing. Like, it's about time.

I grew up during the lunch counter sit-ins, in Washington, DC and one time, at the age of 10 when we lived briefly in Columbia, SC, I frightened a poor elderly black woman when I tried to give her my seat on a bus. I was sitting near the front, and she of course KNEW she wasn't allowed to sit there. I was puzzled; my mother had taught me to give a seat to anyone old and frail. Her eyes opened wide, she was scared, as she backed away from me down towards the back of the bus. When I got home, I asked my Dad to explain to me what she was frightened about.

Now, finally, we are entering a day long overdue.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Bayou Cafe' is open now in Rocky Mount

Oh, yum! I dragged Dick down to the Bayou Cafe' despite his insistence that he didn't care for that kind of food. HA! He had a great time; got their BBQ ribs, Cajun fries, and (just a little bit spicy) collard greens. BC is located just around the corner on Rt 40 towards Ferrum, near the Farmers' Market and across from the dry cleaners.

It's a tiny place, and way too brightly lit up at night, with flourescent lights up in a high ceiling. But the food is fantastic, at least what we tried. I had the BBQ chicken plate with mac & cheese, and collard greens. The coffee is wonderful...Cafe' Du Monde with chicory...even the decaf is super.

They offer Po-Boys at lunch: Hot sausage, fried catfish, fried shrimp, soft shell crab in season, and oyster (10!) also in season. Bowls of red beans and rice, File Gumbo, Seafood Gumbo and plates of trout or croaker, shimp, etc. Also Andouille and Boudin...special sausages that just thrill my meatcutter husband and remind him of home. After all, the Acadians who fled into Canada also went to Louisiana, where Acadian was shortened to Cajun, so they eat much of the same foods.

Yolanda, the owner, is still working with her new stove so it'll do what she wants it to do. But she'd forgotten to turn on her OPEN sign, and when she did (nearly at closing time of 7 pm for Friday night) people just swarmed inside. I suspect she may have to stay open until 8 on Fridays. Which is a good thing!

Old New Orleans' blues played softly in the background. Our waitress was very sweet (and pretty as can be!) but lacked some basic training, which I'm sure will happen. Everyone working there was delightful, and eager to please.

Hours are: Tues-Thurs 11 am- 8 pm; Friday 11 am-7 pm, and Sunday 11 am-7 pm. Phone # is 540-489-1818. The lunch hour runs from 11 am until 2 pm; they also have take out. Now, if we can just get some kind of baffle/cover for those bright lights! The place needs just a little more atmosphere.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

How to Surprise Your Obtuse Spouse~

Well, finally was able to access my Blog again. And I did figure out how to turn off the flash on my new camera. But tonight's Blog is about being surprised~

Today was Old Faht's Day at Kroger, when they give us 5% off along with free coffee and donuts (or cookies or whatever the bakery has leftover) so Dick and I met up with Becky and John Mushko for a chat, a book loan of Sarah's Key to Becky, and hot coffee. We grabbed our buggies and wheeled around the store. Sadie Mae was outside in the PT, so we didn't take very long.

Got home, read the Roanoke Times, ate lunch, took my power nap. Getting up around 6:30 every morning sends me for my hour's rest.

After lunch, vacuumed (isn't this boring?) then checked my e-mail, read blogs, started the blackeyed peas and rice to go along with some huge shrimp Dick had bought to steam and spice, along with a nice wine.
Back to the computer. That's when I noticed a long white string hanging down from the very top of my desk. What's that? I looked up. There sat a beautiful white-on-white pitcher of pale pink lilies that I'd noticed in Kroger's cooler case this morning. There was a card with it...Happy New Year from Dick.

I ran out to find him and ask him how in the world he'd accomplished the surprise! Seems he'd waited until I was over in the dairy department, then he'd rushed to the flowers, selected the pitcher vase and paid for it there, then spirited it out to the trunk of the PT. He then helped me finish shopping and unloaded the buggie while I comforted a very happy-to-see-us Sadie Mae. He left the flowers in a box in the car, then brought them in while I slept. He put them up on the shelf here in my office. Where I did not see them. And did not see them. And still did not see them.

Finally, he thought of the string. Which I ultimately DID see!

I love surprises, and the pitcher vase was the prettiest I'd ever seen. Not one to buy myself pretty things, I'd admired it, mentioned it to Dick, and just moved right on by, never suspecting he would buy it for me.

You see, I married a man from New England, and they're not very impulsive, gift-giving fellows.

I'll try now to add a picture of the bouquet and pitcher ...let's see if I can do this. OK, now let's try the tree! Well, that was the picture I took during the daytime; whatever happened to the other one? Guess I'd better get that camera out again. Sorry, folks, I'm still learning here~