Hope for the Future

The ancestors are smiling.

The travel log is taking the day off so I can write about the morning I spent with Professor Jesse Nasta’s class in African American Women’s History. It was a privilege to contribute to the discussion of where we came from, beginning in the seventeenth century – and perhaps examine where we are headed.

As part of the study of the World War II and post-war eras, the class read Ann Petry’s “The Bones of Louella Brown” and the opening pages of At Home Inside.

I hope the students gained a better understanding of her work and of the family who produced her. I came away with a deep appreciation of how engaged and inquiring they were – before 9 a.m. on the day they were scheduled to leave for Thanksgiving.  It was a true honor.

Over the last weeks I’ve been talking about three folks under age 35 who give me hope that the world will be in good hands when we aging folks are no longer around. (Jesse is one of them).  After today I have a dozen more to add to that list.

Even though the class ends this semester, I have the feeling that their quest for knowledge will continue and that they will make significant contributions to society.

Thank you, Jesse, for inviting me to share my family’s story. You have given me a gift of untold worth.

Leaving Hawaii

We departed at about 5 p.m. on October 27 and arrived at in Japan at 8 p.m. or so on October 28. It took almost until we left and the help of English language newspapers to figure out what day it was, though I did manage to remember that the time difference to the East Coast was 11 hours.

Mark gave us advice that improved on the gas buddy prices, which were still at least $0.60 more per gallon than in Connecticut.

We had a messy check-in because of bomb-sniffing dogs performing maneuvers, thus shutting one of the two TSA stations. Eventually we settled in the Japan Airlines Lounge where we caught the end of breakfast, which included some excellent fruit and a croissant, along with lunch options of soup.

I bought copies of Swing Time by Zadie Smith and Song of the Lion by Tony Hillerman’s daughter, Anne. Once again I followed my practice of choosing books about places at complete odds with my surroundings. Previous excursions included reading Angela’s Ashes on the beach in Hawaii and getting furious with The Feminine Mystique in Mexico.

The flight proved ideal – what air travel should be with a smooth takeoff and landing, no turbulence, and gracious crew members who acted as though they really cared and didn’t yak at the passengers. JAL should hold training sessions for American carriers.

Our seats featured individual pods that reclined into beds. Amenities included a blanket, pillow, slippers, a robe made for someone about half my size, a moisture mask, earplugs that didn’t work to drown out the crying baby, and headphones.

They served little glasses of champagne before takeoff and then brought hot towels to wash our hands. My vegan meal had small helpings of a peas, carrots, and beans dish with just the right amount of flavor, white rice with cashews, tofu with mushrooms in a slightly spicy sauce, salad that had been frozen from which I moused a few slices of tomato and cucumber but left the lettuce covered with ice crystals, and a mélange of cantaloupe, a half strawberry, a slice of orange, and a couple of dreadful grapes. Dessert was a slice of papaya with a lime wedge.

I didn’t think I slept, but it seemed we landed much sooner than expected.

North Shore

Turtle Bay

On our last full day in Hawaii, Kathryn and I headed to the wilder north side of Oahu. The weather continued overcast, and the Pacific Ocean was sending plumes and spray across the beaches and rocks. Some of the parking lots had police tape around them to discourage access to the beaches.

Having left without eating breakfast we stopped at a place called The Spot, which was a series of trailers and shacks, one of which had souvenirs, tie-dye clothes, and hippie style jewelry.

When we arrived the young clerks were telling two guys who wanted to snorkel that they’d have to go to the western side of the point to avoid rough seas. The breakfast tacos with veggies filled us up, and the chickens looking for handouts drove us away.

Turtle Bay has become a private enclave – a pool surrounded by reclining white people being waited on by brown people. We learned from Mark that anyone may walk onto and use any beach on the islands. For the most part, though, the area offered rocks and a serious undertow. A couple of impressive blowholes erupted from the lava.

We drove back down to Kahuku where we found a somewhat sheltered area. Kathryn tried to rescue a crab that had stranded on the beach. It kept flipping onto its back and hadn’t made it back to sea by the time we left. We both got soaked to the knees by a rogue wave.

A misadventure at a roadside stand offering “cold coconuts.” The woman cut them with a machete that left blue discolorations. Plus they weren’t cold. We survived.

We took Mark to dinner at Hau Tree Lanai where we had hoped to view a sunset. Alas, the clouds hung on so we got just a tease – but a great view of the ocean with a few people braving the surf. In the middle distance lay a freighter that ran aground a couple of weeks before and is still awaiting removal.

We dined on the best fruits of the sea: crab cake appetizer, mahi in beurre blanc, salmon with a soy-ginger sauce. And we received magnificent service in an elegant setting.

On the return trip we talked about where Mother had lived when she taught at the University of Hawaii. I couldn’t remember the name, but as soon as Mark mentioned the Marco Polo I recognized the name. He said it had burned, that four people died, and some people are not back in their apartments.  It upset me and still does. She lived on the 32nd floor of that beautiful structure with the breezes wafting through the open air entry.  All I could think was – I’m so glad she wasn’t there when it happened.

Honolulu Exploring

The view from the lanai at Mark’s.

Our first full day offered cloudy weather, along with good coffee and a short walk, More coffee (tea for me) at Starbucks because of the opportunity to use the internet, followed by  a bit of shopping.

Not happy to see the name Bingham Street during our evening drive.  That family could be considered a destroyer of worlds. On our way to dinner we walked through the courtyard of Mark’s church where a group had convened to put the final touches on a mega fundraiser. As the chairperson of the silent auction portion of the event, Mark was busy for a good part of our visit.

The star of the location is a banyan tree so large it would take ten or more people to circle the trunk. It dominated the grounds around the church and could provide shelter except in the worst rain storms. It looked truly magical in the daylight bright moon glow.

We dined at a small Greek restaurant where the hummus, falafel, etc. excelled. The service faltered, though, because the young man saw himself as a writer, not a waiter, hence his lack of knowledge of the menu.

The highlight of the day featured a collection of covers from Time that Mark’s mother started and he continued.  Interesting to see that the image of Hitler included the swastika but that was in the 1930s. These covers could form the basis for a world history course that would engage rather than repel students.

Travels Begin

Had forgotten the declaration on entering Hawaii. At least no one sprayed the plane this time.

Blog went on hiatus because I took the trip of a lifetime and am ever so glad.

The voyage had an inauspicious beginning that rivaled the 2005 stranding over night in Charlotte, N.C. because of an ice storm. This time the plane from Bradley to Dallas left two hours late because of a flat tire. The delay caused me to miss the connection to Honolulu as well as a rebooked flight because there was one customer service rep who spent 35 minutes with a single passenger. A second rep strolled in from lunch and copped an attitude because the people at the gate didn’t rebook me. American Airlines should consider renaming customer service to “customer disservice.”

Eventually AA sent me to San Francisco and then via United Airlines to Honolulu where I arrived at 7 p.m. (1 a.m. according to my body clock) instead of 3 p.m. For unexplained reasons, my luggage showed up.

Indicator that the East Coast U.S. has evolved in ways other places have not: No one has asked me directly or in code “What race/ethnicity are you?” in years. Two people did it between Dallas and Honolulu. The first one started with, “Where are you headed?” and replied “Oh, that must be home” when I said Honolulu. He was a pilot who said, “God bless you” after I said no.

The second was a young woman aboard the S.F./Honolulu flight. She said, “If you don’t mind my asking, what race are you?” I almost said I did mind but instead asked her. Her parents are from India, and she was born in San Diego and travels the S.F./Honolulu route twice a month on business, stands up and wears compression stockings while drinking copious amounts of white wine.

My dear friend and host in Honolulu Mark Wilson greeted me with a lei. He was accompanied by Cousin Kathryn Golden, my travel companion for the next leg of the voyage who had arrived on time. The rain poured down as it can only in the tropics. A thunderstorm with ferocious winds blew the plastic coffee filter off the kitchen counter and upended a chair on the lanai.

The general idea was that the typhoon in Japan had blown across the Pacific. I was too exhausted to care.

Blame any typos or other errors in this and further entries on the fact that my body is in Connecticut, but my mind and spirit are still over the Pacific or maybe in California.

Join Us

The veterans’ writing group at Russell Library has a special feature this month in recognition of the one hundredth anniversary of the American entrance into World War I.

For the next three weeks we will be responding to prompts based around the war and its impact here and abroad. Members of the public are invited to join us.

When: October 12, 19, and 26 at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Meeting Room 2, Russell Library, 123 Broad Street, Middletown.

Questions? Call 860-347-2528.

We hope you can join us.

More Ruin

It’s been a long slog through multiple projects. I’m training for my next speech. In the meantime here are more book titles ruined with one letter.

  • The Bothers Karamazov
  • All the Residents’ Men
  • Huckleberry Fink
  • Tom Lawyer
  • Lady Chatterly’s Liver
  • Withering Heights
  • Gone with the Wing
  • Gone with the Wink
  • Prude and Prejudice
  • Pense and Sensibility
  • My Air Lady
  • Leaves of Grasp
  • Eaves of Grass
  • Leaves of Gross
  • Little Omen

Hall of Fame

Come join me Monday (October 2) at 6:30 p.m. at the Acton Public Library in Old Saybrook. The Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame  traveling exhibit will be on display. My lecture will pay tribute to my mother and the women (and men) who shaped her. That list includes her mother, her grandmother, two aunts. Also her father, uncles, and people who encouraged the family.

You’ll be the first to learn about new publications in the Ann Petry canon. And you’ll see  a video sample from the documentary in progress.


What I’m Listening to Now (The Civil War and Reconstruction)

The Freedmen’s Union Industrial School, Richmond, Virginia

On the most recent of my frequent trips to the dentist, Dr. Z. mentioned about the podcast of David Blight’s Yale lectures. Dr. Z is a Civil War fanatic (“buff” doesn’t half describe him). Besides serving as a re-enactor, he collects letters, photographs, weapons, uniforms, etc. He and Dione Longley poured all that and more into the magnificent Heroes for All Time: Connecticut Civil War Soldiers Tell Their Stories. On Monday, Dr. Z. said he goes to hear Professor Blight speak at every opportunity.

I had heard the professor and had read Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory but had no idea that I could revisit its genius and expand my horizons with the podcast – and the works mentioned in the syllabus. So instead of working, I listened to the introductory ’cast.

The rewards are immediate. Blight casts a wide net with the overview – broad perspectives, the voices of politicians and poets and novelists. I’m anticipating a revisit to Walt Whitman’s Civil War poetry and a new acquaintance with Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches about her time as a nurse.

Like all good teachers, he’s funny – and reminded me that his main audience was undergraduates who have to be told not to be obvious if they choose to read The Yale Daily News instead of paying attention in class.

He also raised a dismaying point. He had mentioned Appomattox several times during an earlier lecture. He asked for questions at the end. The first one: “What’s Appomattox?” He did not feel the need to explain to the Yale history class.

He eased in to the subject matter with a quote from Herodotus, author of History, the first written historical narrative. It covered the wars between the ancient Greeks and the Persians. After one of his colleagues mentioned it in a talk, he received a call from a journalist at a weekly magazine. She asked about the book and the author. Then she asked, “Do you have his phone number?”

The only down side of The Civil War and Reconstruction is that it has already interfered with work projects. At least I can justify the time by saying that it’s important research for the film.