Bobbie Wayne's Blog

Short writings by Bobbie Wayne, writer, musician and visual artist. Her stories have appeared in The Ravens Perch, Intrinsick, SLAB, Blueline Magazine, and Colere literary journal.

Younger Than We Think

We are a young country; our history is very short. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising to know people who are descendants of well-acknowledged Americans. I, for example, have a close friend whose ancestor was Rebecca Nurse, one of the innocent nineteen people hanged in the Salem witch trials. Rebecca’s farm is just miles from where I live and is still maintained.

Another good friend of mine is an extremely talented artist, whom I met when we both studied at a Boston atelier. She is a descendant of Ben Franklin’s. There are many people living in the small coastal towns of Massachusetts, where families have stayed for generations; often in the same house. My town is full of people whose families were extremely important during the Revolution. 

Although one of the things Americans do best and most frequently is move, our country is peopled with the descendants of Civil War generals, Native American tribal chiefs, cowboys, outlaws, politicians, civil rights leaders and famous suffragists. Even one of my doctors is related to Wyatt Earp.

It’s strange to realize what a short time ago these famous and infamous ancestors lived. For example, my college roommate’s dad fought in World War I. He was the oldest father of anyone in the class of 1969. The last authenticated Civil War veteran died at the age of 109 on August 2, 1956. When that person was young, he knew veterans of the Revolutionary War.

Like all countries, America needs to pay attention to those who came before us. Too little time is ever spent by the average American in considering what we and our ancestors got right and what needs to be changed. It has only been 248 years since we declared our independence from Britain. And unlike most older countries, our citizens come from everywhere else on the globe, as well as those of us who were here before Europeans. We have the collective wisdom of the world right here in our DNA. We can profit from the successes and failures of our forebears if we are willing to learn from them, rather than repeat the same mistakes they made.

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Our Beautiful Mess

My neighbor’s bush (the one that has overgrown and shades my grape arbor) has a wonderful jasmine fragrance at this time of year. Its long branches are covered with pink blossoms and the bush itself is about twenty-five feet tall. It looks like a big shaggy pink dog or a Cindi Lauper wig with branches sticking out every which way. For a week or so it will continue to perfume the air until all those little flowers fall off and start bushes of their own in my yard. They have to be pulled up by hand, which means hours of back-breaking work.

The previous owner kept his bushes neatly trimmed. This particular bush stood five foot tall, maximum; I never even noticed it. But because of his fastidious clipping every spring, it never blossomed. We were all deprived of its marvelous fragrance.

I confess, as a Long Island girl, brought up in America’s original suburbs, I can get pretty anal about lawns and gardens. I love arboretums, English cottage gardens, and even formal gardens. Yet, I am aware that imposing our artificial environment upon nature is one of the reasons our beautiful natural world is in such a mess.

Long Island is a barrier beach. Prior to the 19th c. the southern coast teemed with marsh and sea life; the rocky forested northern coast was home to thousands of species. The groundwater (in some areas only six feet below the surface) was sweet and clear. Streams, ponds and rivers were abundant. But soon, farms began covering the fertile soil. By the dawn of the 20th c., large industrial farms began using pesticides and artificial fertilizers. The crush of eager people moving to brand-new developments that took over the farmland following WWII began carving up the land into small, personal yards. Trees disappeared and pesticides like DDT were liberally used to control the clouds of mosquitoes and Japanese beetles that began to proliferate, having few natural enemies. Bird populations decreased and wildlife disappeared.

We kids followed the fogging trucks spraying DDT, delighted to be playing “in the clouds.” By the 1970’s, researchers determined that my own county, Nassau, had the highest rate of breast cancer in America. The groundwater is full of toxic chemicals people innocently used to create beautiful flowerbeds and perfect lawns.

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Invasive Species


When we bought our house, it its grounds had been neglected and the property overrun with  weeds. There was neither grass nor gardens…, just weeds. I’m not up on my weeds, so I can’t tell you their names. The front yard, however, was mostly crabgrass and some type of weed that grows in cow pastures, killing off all the grass. The back yard, especially on our hill side was covered with little creeping weeds that had to be pulled out individually by hand, which took a whole summer to do. The lower portion had several types of weeds; some small with roots that connect, others, tall and thick. We had some help from a landscaper, but we didn’t like putting down weed-killer, because, who knows what damage it could inflict on the wildlife and the environment. So it was several year of hand-digging, re-seeding, moving plots of grass in and, in general, busting my chops.

I hit on the idea of seeding the yard with white clover, which is actually a legume, not a grass. It gives back nutrients to the soil. But since our new neighbors have moved in, we’ve had to spray for crabgrass and ticks that live in tall weeds. Now that the yard is healthy enough to resist being taken over by the weeds, we have found a company that uses no weed killers, but rather uses organic fertilizers geared to encourage the growth of grass and clover. We’re going to switch to them. 

We have a young couple next door who have let their yard become what ours was when we first moved in. Right now, it’s full of dandelions, crabgrass and lots of broadleaf weeds, all of which go to seed and create problems for the houses nearby. I saw the husband digging in his front yard; he was planting individual plants in arbitrary places amongst the weeds. But I complimented him anyhow, on the plants he was installing because his aesthetics aren’t necessarily the same as mine. He was obviously trying to improve the looks of his place and that’s a nice thing to do when you live in a neighborhood. He said, “Yeah, I really hate grass.” I thought about it later; how artificial grass is and how beautiful this area must have been a few centuries ago.

Our part of Marblehead sticks out into the ocean with Salem harbor on one side. It is very rock and hilly. Before the town was much larger than “Old Town,” an area along the water filled with large 17th and 18th c. mariners and merchants’ homes, our area was left wild and was used as an un-fenced part of Marblehead for grazing horses. I’ve looked at the meadows, fields and graveyards here, none of which are fussed with, other than being mowed, and they don’t have crabgrass or the types of weeds that take over once someone abandons their suburban lawn. 

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Like Rolling Stones

Don’t sit around complaining. If something bothers you, DO SOMETHING about it!

As an only child, I never learned to do regular things for myself. My grandmother lived with us and did the stuff I should have done like cleaning, cooking, washing, etc. Instead, I spent my time in my room, creating: art projects, sculptures, poems, stories, songs and plays. My parents found it easier to have someone else do the chores I did badly and reluctantly. I learned that someone else would take care of things.

Like many post-war 50’s parents, my folks didn’t want any more strife; they wanted a happy life. They weren’t political, and all our friends were white. Living on Long Island, my friends were Catholics and by Jr. High, Jews. There weren’t any people of color in our school. Most people we knew weren’t aware of Black history and didn’t understand the violence of the Civil Rights Movement. 

In high school, I had no interest in American history, viewing it as an endless succession of wars, and dates to memorize. Like many “middle Americans,” I held the infantile view that the Viet Nam war and the Civil Rights Movement were better left to people “gifted” in politics, the way I was gifted in the arts. Not until I got my first job as a music therapist in large, state-run psychiatric hospitals and state schools and hospitals for people with severe physical and intellectual disability, did I begin to learn the moral imperative that we all must speak up for those who have no voice. 

Living in NYC for a decade, throughout my thirties, trying to support myself first as an abstract artist, then as a singer/songwriter, I felt like the subject of Bob Dylan’s song, “ Like a Rolling Stone.”I often substituted coffee for two or more meals, and made a can of tuna, a head of rather wilted lettuce and an apple last for two night’s dinner. I worked as a waiter, an exercise instructor at Jack LaLanne’s Health Spas, a past-up artist, an illustrator, and a sign-painter and gilder. My friends and acquaintance came from everywhere in the world. I learned about the lives of others; soaked up their stories and learned how entitled my life had been and how unfair our country can be unless people speak up.

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Tending Our Gardens


Every spring, there is a small window within which I need to get all of my garden work finished. This is because I don’t tolerate heat, humidity or mosquitoes well. We have a 4”x16” flower garden out front, shrubs along the house front, a vegetable garden out back, a rose garden, a grape arbor and a pergola. A third of our back yard is a hill which I’ve turned into a rock garden. Dan dislikes gardening but helps me lug the 40lb. bags of compost, manure, etc. all over the property to the gardens. The rest is up to me. 

Naturally, I’m frantic to get everything weeded, planted and rit up, (a Pennsylvania expression meaning, set to rights). This year, I had an 18th c. concert to prepare for, have an up-coming 2 hr. background music gig for a tea at the Salem Athenaeum, Christmas shows to book and start rehearsing for, , a blog to write, my book to finish editing, and live stories to go over to perform at The Moth. Dan and I had to deal with a very frustrated Border Collie whose leg injury prevented her from getting enough exercise for 2 months. All of the above occurred during my gardening window.

In the 80’s, I wrote a song called, “Little Garden in the Springtime.” In it, the singer’s horror at the high prices of fruit and vegetables makes her decide to grow her own. The problem is that the singer’s mind is a lot like mine: it drives her crazy anticipating disasters that will befall her garden from voracious deer. So, with each verse, the singer buys more protection: a fence, a gate, netting…you get the idea. By the last verse, she is guarding the garden with a gun, while consoling herself with thoughts of all the money she’s saving by having a garden.

We all have a small window in which to enact that which we think is important. That window is called our lifespan. Each of us must choose how we fill our days and spend our time. Whether we spend it having fun, being with those we love, building for the future, helping others, scrolling on our computers, learning about the past, sitting on our couches, or working our asses off is totally up to us. But a good portion of America has become watchful, spending time and treasure guarding against “deer” who will probably never invade our gardens. 

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Tra-la, It's May!


It is May Day, May first, when young girls in light-colored dresses dance around those suspiciously phallic maypoles, modestly wrapping them with ribbons. This is also Beltane, the ancient Celtic festival celebrating the mating of the God and Goddess, in sacred union. Believing that this coupling blessed the land, insuring its fertility, the people, themselves slipped off to the fields to make the two-backed beast. 

Sap Green, Viridian, Cerulean Blue, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna…the words slide off the tongue like a spring sonnet. These were the names of the colors I squeezed onto my palette each spring as I painted outdoors. Thick viscous blobs of creamy colors made from pigments of the earth and water, the oils smelled of rich piney resins; even now the memory of that odor excites me. I always wanted to be the kind of painter that doesn’t have to analyze and plot what I paint: those who pick up big rich brush-fulls of color and lay it down. We are all that kind of painter as kids when we first finger-paint…pure id.

But something happens as we age; we become analytical. We stop going with our first impulses and sit back to consider our actions. This is a good thing in many ways. After all, we couldn’t function in a tribe without learning to defer gratification. We learn to balance our responses and desires with the rules of our particular group. We stop making messes with our food and resist making loud noises whenever we feel like it. Unlike those characters in the old musicals, we rarely break into a dance in a public space, such as a bank. Those of us who insist upon maintaining entirely different personalities, depending on whom we are with and our situation are mis-trusted by society. Unbeknown to us, we have locked away an important part of ourselves. “Oh, I’m no artist (writer, musician, dancer) we protest.”

Yet the womb of creation is “the mess.” We frown upon making messes, excusing ourselves for not doing something more purposeful, saying, “I’m just messing around.” Without messes, there is no discovery. The artist who picks up those brush-fulls of pure pigment has experienced the despair of over-working a good painting, losing the freshness and ending up with a dull brown mess. Composers banging in frustration on their piano suddenly hear a pattern of notes they made by accident; notes which suggest a new direction for their piece. A dancer mis-steps and discovers a new movement. Actors study their character, trying out gestures and expressions until they can discover the true essence the person they are portraying, the better to “become” the role. Writers and poets crumple paper after paper of writing gone wrong or stalled, tossing it to the floor. Then an idea forms out of the chaos and they search frantically through the papers for that one sentence that is the start of their new inspiration. These fortunate folk have never forgotten how to play.

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A Pre-gig Vignette

I walk into our family room wearing a 19th c. corset over my 18th c. camisole. Too late to remedy, I discovered that the 2” I’ve shrunk over the last several decades have caused the boning in my 18th c. stays (corset) to stick into my pelvic bones. I’m having new stays made, but for tonight’s gig, a fundraiser to save General John Glover’s house from demolition, I’m stuck wearing my 19th c. corset. I have just tied on my panniers, hoops which extend each hip 4” on each side, and am looking for my quilted petticoat. It goes under the 5 yards of embroidered silk skirt, and is quilted to prevent the hoops from showing under the silken overskirt.

I’m hurrying because we carry a lot to our 18th c. concerts: my harp and dulcimer, an antique harp stool, Dan’s mandolin and guitar and his folding stool, our colonial card table, lights and an extension chord, a large oaken basket holding pewter drinking vessels, set lists, tuners, extra strings and my harp key. We need to arrive early to set everything up and tune. 

Wearing my wig cap which holds my hair close to the scalp and makes me appear bald, I look pretty strange as I enter the family room. Liberty, our Border Collie, is lying on the rug. As soon as she sees me she jumps to her feet and begins vomiting in that energetic and thorough way that dogs have when they throw up. I watch her in stunned silence as she moves to the other side of the rug to finish vomiting. I don’t know what to do; I can’t grab her and haul her off the rug for fear of getting soiled. I’m also wearing white stockings and white satin embroidered 18th c. shoes.

“DAN!” I scream. Dan appears, wig-less, but otherwise in costume. He grabs some paper towels and attempts to clean up the mess.

“We don’t have time to deal with this right now, “ Dan says. “I’ll roll the carpet up and we can clean it tomorrow. Go finish dressing!”

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A Question of Taste

“What did you think of the concert?” our music professor asked Barb, Joel, Tom and me as we exited Oller Hall auditorium. We were four of the seven music majors at our small college. No one wanted to display their ignorance by saying something dumb, so we all turned to the person next to us. “As musicians, people will look to you in the future regarding music. You need to have educated opinions and be able to back them up,” said our professor.

I recalled this incident many times over the years, working as a therapist, an artist, a musician, a writer and a storyteller. I have opinions about the arts, our culture, the world, politics and lots of other things. Walking with Dan, I may point out how a person would look better if their hair were worn differently. I find myself doing the same thing with peoples’ dress, the colors they paint their homes, and even landscaping. As a former portrait and landscape painter, I studied what makes shapes pleasing. Don’t get me started on today’s Pop music; I was a Nashville songwriter for eight years. I have lots to say about the way people write and tell first person stories too.

One of my super senses is smell and it has made me an extremely picky eater. I can tell everyone what’s in their sauces at a good restaurant. I could have worked as a wine or coffee taster. This superpower has made me a pretty good cook…and a highly critical diner. Having a grandmother who was a professional seamstress taught me about “good” and “bad” material. Most of the clothes sold at big-box stores look cheaply made and badly designed. 

In other words, I have not just developed opinions; I am a taste chauvinist. 

When I am back home in New York I blend right in. New Yorkers have opinions on everything and they’re not shy about sharing them with each other, with strangers, on bathroom walls…When everyone around you is outre, no one sticks out.

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Joni Mitchell messaged me yesterday. Then my computer died. I doubt the two have any connection…but you never know. I had been scrolling through Facebook and saw Joni’s picture under a note reading: “I need to hear from all my active fans all over the world.”

What the hell…I said something like, “You’re not just stardust; you’re a blazing comet!” Immediately, I got a reply.

     “You seem to be a great fan of mine. Where are you from?” 

Weird, right? I typed, “Native New Yorker.” Again, I got an instant reply.

     “I always make sure I squeeze out time from my busy schedule to appreciate my fans  cause they make me who I am today.” OK, could the possibility exist that Joni Mitchell actually chats online with her fans? I respond, saying that we have some strange coincidences: Our given names are both Roberta Joan, she contracted polio and I was a “Polio Pioneer,” one of the huge group of kids on which the Salk vaccine for polio was tested and proved to work. We both had Ukuleles for our first instruments, and both became artist/musicians who went back and forth from one career to the other. I bought a mountain dulcimer a few years before hearing of Joni Mitchell and her music, some of which she played on a mountain dulcimer. And we both had suffered from a mysterious virus.

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You're Not Listening

I have had three sinus surgeries over the past years: two were to try to fix my septum and my abnormal sinus cavities. One was too small and the other had an extra wall in it which needed to be removed. The third surgery occurred after I broke my nose when I was running while trying to get my camera out from under my backpack. The toe of my boot hit a small asphalt curb. With my hands over my head, tangled in the camera strap, I took the full hit on my face when I fell. My nose was plastered against my cheek so that I resembled an Egyptian hieroglyph. I fell so hard that my nasal bone cracked in-between my brows. Needless to say, I re-deviated the septum which had been surgically repaired and had to have both nasal surgery and plastic surgery to remove all the asphalt in the wound. 

People with abnormal sinuses or sinuses which have been scarred from surgeries have special difficulties when it comes to head colds. Most folks’ colds last a couple of weeks. When I get a head cold, I almost immediately develop a sinus infection which lasts much longer than the life of the average cold virus. My colds, left to themselves, can last two to three months. An otolaryngologist explained it to me: “You have lots of scar tissue in your sinuses from surgeries and injury. When a cold virus attacks you, your sinuses swell shut, providing a nice little condominium for bacteria to grow. Some people have more bacteria in this area than others, too.” The solution has always been a prescription for antibiotics. Once that kills the infection, I get better.

As everyone knows, we don’t have a cure for the cold virus. Yet, people were treated with antibiotics which have no effect on colds for many years. Antibiotics have been abused for so long that they have lost their effectiveness in certain cases. Consequently, doctors were advised not to prescribe them for colds. My husband and I had a doctor whom we liked a lot. She was thorough, knowledgeable and kind. In the past, she wrote me prescriptions on several occasions when I got sinus infections. But once the AMA began telling people that antibiotics were useless in treating colds, my doctor refused to give them to me. I caught a devil of a cold that year and was obliged to go three times to her office (an hour away) to beg for treatment. This “cold” lasted three months, kept both my husband and I from sleeping and resulted in my becoming run-down. I could barely breathe, had constant sinus pain and didn’t know where to turn. I brought her articles about people prone to bacterial sinus infections. We argued until I realized, “ my doctor is not listening to me.”

Eventually, I couldn’t hear out of my right ear. I visited Mass Eye & Ear Hospital and explained that I’d had an infection for three months that my doctor insisted was just a cold. They said I had a massive infection in my eustachian tube. I was put on an Antibiotic and Prednisone for a month, which finally killed the infection, but had significant hearing loss from that episode. I now have a letter from my otolaryngologist on file at the office of my new Primary physician, explaining that if a cold lasts longer than several weeks or if I have symptoms indicating I have developed a bacterial infection, I am to be treated with antibiotics.

I am a musician and my hearing is extremely important to me. Had my doctor listened to me and investigated further, rather than stubbornly taking a stand, I would have avoided a lot of pain and anxiety and would still have total hearing in my right ear. If you are seeing someone for help and you feel they aren’t listening to you, move on! Don’t try to “be nice” or worry about hurt feelings. Tell them you don’t feel as though they are paying attention to you, so you are going to find someone who will. Most doctors really want to help their patients; but doctors, too, can be stubborn just like the rest of us. Make sure you stand up for yourself.

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Internal Structure

A bridge fell in Baltimore this week. Hit by a container ship, the Francis Scott Key Bridge, built in 1972, collapsed like a pile of pick-up sticks, taking the lives of five construction workers. The quick action of other workers who stopped cars from entering the bridge just in time saved lives. I was attending Maryland Institute of Art in 1972, and may have travelled over that bridge myself. 

In 1973, a portion of the West Side Highway collapsed near 14th street under the weight of a truck carrying 60,000 pounds of asphalt. Four years later, I moved to a loft within walking distance of the collapse. I walked up the remainder of the road, which simply came to an end mid-air. Standing on what was left of the highway at the end of the asphalt with the Hudson flowing along to my left, I watched runners and bikers making use of the remaining highway as a safe path. 

Moving to Massachusetts in 2000, I watched the news in 2006 after the ceiling of the D Street portal of the Interstate 90 connector tunnel collapsed. I’ve always had a fear of falling as well as a fear of being trapped underground. The last two instances are examples of infrastructure which hasn’t been kept up. One could argue that no bridge could withstand being hit by such a large container ship and remain standing. But why then are container ships allowed to be large and heavy enough to become a threat to the bridges they must pass under?

Transporting bigger and bigger loads in order to make more money in less time has become a factor. A lack of national standards for workmanship and inadequate regulatory requirements were blamed for the ceiling’s collapse. We Americans hate paying taxes that support infrastructure. I live in a fairly affluent area outside of Boston. The roads are in such bad shape that I have to wear a soft cervical collar when I drive anywhere. 

Priorities…America has ignored at our own peril the lack of safe and affordable travel, both in automobiles as well as railroad and airplane. We chose to advance travel by car at the expense of public transportation, and have not kept up with the rest of the world. We have no high-speed trains, our cities are snarled by too many vehicles and air travel is a nightmare. Having put all of our investments in interstates rather than trains, we now complain about paying for their maintenance. 

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Last week at The Moth story slam in Boston, I told a live story about a “gig from hell” Dan and I performed in 1988 and got a great response. Later, some young women in the ladies room asked where they could hear my music. Since Dan and I have not been doing the club scene for quite a while, I explained that we were playing popular music of the 18th c. in historic sites these days. Then, on a whim, I asked if they knew who General John Glover was…blank stares all around. I said, “He is the main reason we all are not speaking with a British accent.”

Glover was a successful merchant and mariner in Marblehead, who, at George Washington’s request, leased his schooner, Hannah, to the government in 1775. He and his crew of privateers, along with four other Marblehead schooners, captured British vessels that were supplying British troops in Boston. Glover and his multi-racial, multi-cultural crew of “Marbleheaders,” went on to save Washington’s army on three occasions.

The Marbleheaders ferried 9,000 men, horses, oxen and cannon across the treacherous East River from Long Island at night in a fog bank, allowing them to escape capture by the British. Glover’s regiment of 750 men also delayed a British force of 4,000 troops while Washington’s army escaped at Pell’s Point (now the Bronx). Most famously, on Christmas eve 1776, Glover’s regiment ferried 2,400 soldiers, horses, oxen and artillery across the frozen, fast-flowing Delaware river in a blizzard. They marched nine miles to the garrison at Trenton which they captured, taking 900 Hession prisoners. They then marched back to the river and re-crossed it. Many were barefooted and without coats or blankets. Several men froze to death, but this action gave Washington a much-needed victory, raising the morale of the colonists and shocking Britain.

Glover sacrificed his considerable fortune, his health and the well-being of his large family for the sake of America. There are five Glover homes  a mile from my house: John’s original house and those of his four brothers. When her returned from the war, he purchased a farmhouse on the Marblehead/Swampscott border. He continued to serve his country until his death

So why the history lesson?John Glover’s farmhouse is under threat of demolition. The land surrounding it has been sold off to shopping centers, a gas station and car wash. The house has been used as a restaurant but now goes unnoticed, quietly falling apart. There is an effort underway to save and restore it; possibly relocating it.

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What is the problem troubling Americans, across racial, religious, class, political, ethnicity and age lines? If you answered, “a lack of child-care options,” you would be correct. In the late 1960’s, Americans began to require more than a single income for a variety of reasons, both economic and social. If you have no idea why, look it up; there is plenty of information out there.

In 2020, the medical journal, The Lancet, published a report in which 180 countries were ranked based upon how their children flourished. An index was created by The Lancet, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization, which listed Norway as the leading country for child health and well-being, followed by South Korea, The Netherlands, France and Ireland. The US ranked amongst the ten lowest scores.

Just a few generations ago, families stayed put, with fathers, mothers, grandparents and kids often spending their lives growing up in towns their ancestors inhabited. There were many hands to pitch in when it came to raising children. According to the PEW Research Center, 45% of Americans live an hour or more drive from other family members. That means nearly half of families are living too far apart to be a primary source of childcare. This leaves people with small kids few choices: They can spend up to $6,000/mo. on quality childcare. They can hire someone to watch their kids while they are working, who may or may not have childcare experience or training. They can take their child to a neighbor or grandparent who agrees to watch them. But we have no national program with certified child-care workers that is affordable to all.

Some Americans say, “Why should I pay taxes for someone with kids to get free daycare? My kids are grown.” Others say, “Women should be staying home with their kids. Then they wouldn’t have the problem.” Some people are choosing not to have kids because they can’t afford to. Children are like little sponges; they learn rapidly and develop social, communication and learning skills best at certain ages. They learn compassion, confidence, and curiosity, skills that will determine whether or not they will have successful futures, in these formative years. These children will go on to become good citizens who care about the future of our country and their fellow humans…or not. Investing in ALL of our kids means investing in every American’s future.

If other countries have discovered ways to establish and fund first-rate care for all their children, we Americans need to take a look at why these countries are succeeding. This means doing a little research; perhaps gathering a group of people working in early childhood education, teachers, nurses, psychologists, who can meet with representatives from countries whose child-care programs are ranked highest. 

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The Accidental Parishoner

I was a member of St. Bart’s Episcopal Church on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Situated a street away from the Waldorf-Astoria, the church was gorgeous and spectacular. Its location attracted some very well-heeled parishioners (of which I was not one) as well as Broadway performers. At first, I was only there because my boyfriend, Dick, was in the paid choir. It took me nearly a year to discover that he was a Lothario and I began attending the church to keep an eye on him. (God works in mysterious ways, I guess!) I found the sermons were riveting; often speaking to problems I’d been having that week.

So after Dick moved to California (no, he hadn’t planned to tell me; he left a letter to his brother-in-law out where I would see it,) I had a long talk with the rector of the church and began attending. After a month, I joined the church. Going to St. Bart’s was my only lifeline. The sermons gave me the courage to look for work and a loft back in Manhattan. I was too intimidated to attend the 11:00 service, opting instead for the 9:00, attended by fewer people.

 It took a lot of self-persuasion for me to go to coffee hour after the service. I felt out of place with these uptown folks. I was an artist who had fled my downtown loft and run away to Brooklyn to avoid seeing Dick before he left. My friends were disgusted with me for allowing myself to be used by him for so long. Having just about ruined my career as an artist and with no real job skills, I felt as important as a squashed cabbage leaf.

A year prior, I had seen the actress Lillian Gish attending Easter service once when I was at church with Dick. She was in her 90’s and still beautiful. When she saw me staring, she nodded to me with a gracious little smile. Leontyne Price performed at St. Bart’s and the choir and their guests were invited to her reception afterwards. Another time Betty Buckley (who played the lead, Grisabella, in the 1982 Broadway production of Cats,) performed a concert at the church. The following Sunday she was behind me in a pew. At composer Samuel Barber’s memorial service in 1981, I sat directly behind Gian Carlo Menotti, (composer of Amahl and the Night Visitors and many other works) and his family. It was never your typical congregation. But the sermons kept drawing me back.

I knew I should be meeting new people, so I forced myself to attend coffee hour after the service. People usually chatted politely with their friends. I was too intimidated to introduce myself; instead,I busied myself stuffing pastries into my mouth, so I wouldn’t have to try to talk to any of them. Never much of a schmoozer, I had lost any confidence in myself I might have had. Then, telling myself I had tried being sociable, I would skulk out and begin my hour and a half walk and subway ride back to my apartment in Bay Ridge. I felt as if I were totally invisible.

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When I was a kid I was often bullied. This was partly because I was tall and skinny, but mostly because I was insecure. An only child, whose parents hadn’t taught me to defend myself, I was lead around by anyone who told me to do something. If I went to my parents, I risked being embarrassed by their over-reacting or they would blame me. “Why don’t you stand up to this person,” they would say. I was an anxious, nervous child who needed instruction on just HOW to stick up for myself. Growing up in a house with three adults where, “because I said so,” was what I heard if I argued, I regarded everyone I came in contact with as an authority figure. Had I felt I had the right to speak out or been taught what to say, perhaps I would not have been so cowardly and fearful.

My ability to defend myself and others has been dearly won during my life. I see many people who have not learned to say, “No,” or, “What you’re doing is wrong and it has to stop.” People know there may be consequences if they speak up. They fear becoming victims themselves, or like the younger me, think their opinion isn’t respected. Since Donald Trump’s presidency, I fear that bullying has become acceptable everyday behavior and that this is negatively impacting our democracy. 

Some of the people recently being threatened: poll workers, judges, the Colorado Supreme Court, teachers, librarians and members of school boards. Some have been harassed. Their families have been targeted. Just a day after learning that Alexei Navalny, a top critic of Vladimir Putin, had died under suspicious circumstances in the penal colony in which he was imprisoned, I read David French’s opinion piece in the February 18th issue of the NY Times in which he discusses MAGA threats on free speech. It is an eye-opening article which I hope you will investigate.

Before reading French’s article, I had not heard of “swatting.” This is something being done to intimidate those with whom one disagrees. It works like this: The police are called anonymously and told a violent crime is occurring at the chosen victim’s house. A swat team descends upon the house with heavy weapons, expecting a fight. This is not just traumatic to the person’s family, it is physically dangerous for everyone involved, including the officers.

We Americans need to familiarize ourselves with our nation’s modern-day bullies. Some of us say, “I had no idea________was going on or I would have_______.” Others use as an excuse the fact that they “don’t have enough information.” Cheating at school or at work, shoplifting, racist or sexist behavior towards others, and child, animal or partner abuse are just a few examples of things many of us witness but don’t report. People fear retaliation. America’s reputation for gun violence at home and abroad as well as our government’s impotence in its prevention frighten away would-be good Samaritans. 

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(This is a letter I sent to author, teacher and storyteller extraordinaire, Matt Dicks, after he said he could not blow bubbles. We have a bet: he thinks he can’t learn. I think I can teach him.)

Dear Matt,

So I can’t imagine being a kid and NOT blowing bubbles. I was a grand champ of East Meadow, being able to chew FIVE packs of Bazooka Bubble Gum at once and blow bubbles the size of beachballs. My mean little friend, Mary O’Leary (whose family was lace-curtain Irish) once popped a bubble I was blowing. It covered not just my face, but my bangs and the top of my head. Mary’s mother, who had the most Brooklynese accent you could imagine, thought of me as a bad influence for her daughter. This was probably because whenever I stayed for dinner, I would do something to cause Mary and her little brother Sean, to spit their milk out their noses. Once, it was by jiggling Jello on my spoon and then accidentally flipping it airborne and having it land on my nose. So when Mary burst my bubble all over my face, we dared not tell her mother. Instead, Mary tried to rub it off with a Kleenex. (Have you ever seen a “Wooly Bear” caterpillar?) The gum was so thick that when I breathed TWO bubbles came out where my nostrils should have been. Finally, her mother came in, screamed and grabbed me in a head-hold. She got the scratchiest wash cloth ever and proceeded to try to rub the gum off. I lost my eyebrows, most of my eyelashes and all of my dignity.

I tried rectifying this kind of problem by inventing bubble gum-remover on a hot plate in my “play house.” My dad, who was not meant to be a carpenter, had built me this playhouse out of 4’x8’ sheets of plywood. Why he didn’t cut the sheets down to make it kid-size, I don’t know. The play-house was more like a toll booth or an out-house, as it was 8’ tall and 4’ wide. He installed, (for whatever reason I can’t imagine) an electrical outlet in the wall. So I used to use a hot plate and an old pot in which I would concoct “medicine” and bubble-gum remover. I remember finding all kinds of interesting drugs in my folk’s medicine cabinet; things like iodine, peroxide, cough medicine, rubbing alcohol, hemmhroid cream and mineral oil, which I would “liberate” in the interest of science when my parents were out of the house. I often caught the pot on fire, but, luckily, never managed to immolate myself. The bubble-gum remover I invented seemed to work somewhat, but in the interest of aesthetics, I decided to add blue food coloring to make it more appealing to customers. After trying it on myself, I walked around the neighborhood like a miniature Pictish warrior missing my eyebrows and eyelashes but having a marvelously blue face.

What do you mean you can’t blow bubbles, Matt? You just chew up a wad of bubble gum and, in the words of Lauren Bacall, “Put your lips together and blow.”

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Slipping Away

I read last week in the New York Times ( that the East Coast of the US is actually sinking. I try to stay away from negative news these days. I read enough to keep well-informed, but I try not to be the news junkie I used to be. And yet, there it was in the paper; a map showing the areas that are sinking fastest colored in deep red-orange. I’m a visual person, so it was too late to turn the page once I saw this.

Apparently, we have pumped too much ground water out of low-lying areas and, as a result, the ground is sinking. If you’ve ever dug holes in the sand near the water’s edge, you have seen this happen, not just to the hole, but the surrounding sand. This removing of water under soil and rocks is the same process that causes sinkholes. Growing up on the South Shore of Long Island, which is mostly at sea level, we kids were warned not to run over the cesspools buried in our yards (this was before we got sewer lines) because, every now and then, they would cave in.

Areas that were the deepest red-orange ranged from Massachusetts to Miami. Most major coastal cities, built right against the Atlantic, are in jeopardy. There are simply too many people needing to use groundwater in these areas. My home state of New York, and especially, Long Island are in deep trouble. Even inland areas, like the land west of the Chesapeake Bay are rapidly sinking. The barrier beaches and islands are all at risk.

When I was a child, I had an irrational fear of tidal waves. I still do, even though we live on rocky shelf in Massachusetts. Naturally, reading about the coast sinking, I tried to see what could be done to halt its progress. Will it only become worse as the population increases? According to Worldometer, the current population of the United States of America is 341,143,986 as of Saturday, February 17, 2024, based on elaboration of the latest United Nations data. That seems like a lot of people, but I read that the population rate of the US is historically low right now. So why the problem?

Part of it is that so many of us want to be in the same areas; often cities. The world’s current population is around 8 billion; eight times higher than it was in 1800…and it’s growing. Physics teaches us that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. (Waves are another matter.) We can only deduct from this that if humans go on breeding at the current rate, all these people will need their own space. Many of our coastal cities have addressed this problem by building upwards, stacking family upon family. If everyone is in their apartment or condo things work pretty well…not so much at rush hour, though, when the population isn’t stacked vertically. Most of my doctors are in Boston, which has some of the highest congestion, smallest, wiggliest streets, least amount of public parking and worst public transportation of many US Cities. We have a decreasing window of only a few hours where we can get in or out of the city in the 45 minutes it’s supposed to take us rather than spending hours in traffic jams. Boston is one of the cities on the map that shows it to be sinking.

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Liberty was born on Valentine’s Day seven years ago. She is a blue merle (black, white and grey markings) and has a distinct black heart on her left hip. She was the smallest of her litter and the last to be taken. Our breeder said she would be a “moderately active” Border Collie, which is an oxymoron. For the first year, she was the puppy from Hell; more like a Tasmanian Devil than a dog. She chewed everything she could get to: crate pads, leashes, seatbelts, furniture, the zipper of her crate cover, the linoleum in the kitchen and our 1895 pine floor boards. She demanded constant attention and tore our clothes, nipping us with her razor-sharp baby teeth when we tried to leave her screened in the kitchen.

In puppy classes and with trainers she learned each behavior on the first try, becoming bored while the other puppies struggled to understand what was required of them. When she was old enough to start Beginning Agility classes, we hoped it would settle her down. In these early classes, both puppy and the handler (me) were taught the basic commands and moves. Liberty learned everything immediately and nipped me whenever I messed up. Our trainer, Nick, kept a box of Band-aids just for me. 

In past blogs, I may have mentioned that I have a learning disability which makes it difficult to learn math, understand patterns, read maps, or tell time. When I type, I reverse letters very often and I mix up lefts and rights a lot. Having to race around a gymnasium filled with hurdles, tunnels and elevated walkways in a specific order using signals to cue my dog was a nightmare. At first, not only was I unable to remember what to do, I actually fell backwards over hurdles, forgot which direction to run and confused my front crosses with rear crosses. Both Nick and Liberty were disgusted with my inabilities. Liberty was not only the smartest dog in class; she was the fastest, which earned her the nickname, “The Blue Blur.”

After several years of weekly classes, private lessons, practice in our yard and, finally, competitions, Liberty advanced to the Master’s Level in AKC Agility. I have improve slightly, at least enough for Liberty to quit nipping me. Had she had a younger handler than I who wasn’t constantly getting injured or having surgeries, she would have made it to the top. But we live an hour and a half away from our training center. A day competing often means sitting around for six hours, waiting to do our two runs. 

Liberty is now seven and I am seventy-seven. Both of our remaining lifespans are shorter than I would like. Dan, Liberty and I take long walks every day. Liberty needs about four hours of active play and training every day. We continue going to Agility Class each week (where she is still the fastest dog). Dan and I both adore her. She sleeps in-between us every morning, pressed up against my back or curled against my stomach. Although she may not be competing any more, she is champion enough for us. She has taught Dan and me more than we ever taught her.

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Last week, the Cabot Theater in Beverly was showing a documentary along with a talk by the film’s star, Peggy King Jorde. The film, “A Story of Bones,” tells of the discovery of over 9,000 enslaved Africans’ graves on the island of Saint Helena; cruel evidence of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This is the island where Napoleon’s grave lies and is a huge draw for tourists. Annina van Neel, who arrives from Namibia to help construct an airport, is there when the graves are found. The movie relates her struggle to honor the history of these forgotten people. 

This is a subject familiar to me, having lived in Lower Manhattan for years in buildings near or atop the Colonial-era African slave burial grounds. Not only had these people’s lives been stolen from them; 19th century industrialists saw the land they were buried in as too valuable to waste and covered the graveyard with buildings. The bones had lain undisturbed until 1991, when construction behind City Hall began unearthing human remains.

By the time I heard about the discovery and its initial mis-handling, I was living in Nashville. I read with horror in 1992 that 390 burials had been removed with plans to dig up another 200. It was heart-breaking learning about the remains that were exhumed. The bones told tales of hard lives, violence, malnutrition and over-work. Africans, free or enslaved, were not allowed to be buried with their European enslavers. No one knew the graves were intact under streets, park area and buildings; everyone assumed they had been destroyed.

It is speculated that the burial ground covers seven acres and holds over 20,000 graves. Some of the remains were damaged in moving them. Public outcry led by the black community caused President George H. Bush to put a stop to the excavations and the exhumed remains were sent to Howard University, where a team of African-American archeologists took over the research. The bodies were re-buried in 2023 and a permanent memorial was built and dedicated in 2007.

I bought tickets for the documentary online, before realizing that admission was free for Seniors. Dan tried to fix the problem and we ended up with two more tickets. A phone call straightened things out, but our troubles weren’t over. Our dog began limping so we cancelled her agility class and went to the vet. We were told to keep her from running and jumping for a week. Having cancelled class, I worried that I would be “a day off” all week, which proved to be the case. We were inviting friends over for dinner on the weekend. Consulting my calendar, I saw that the documentary was at 7pm on Friday night. We arranged to host our friends on Saturday. 

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Of Life and Little Things

“Ok, here’s a test,” I say to Dan as I pad into the room that houses my recipe books. Wearing a man’s flannel robe and felt slippers I look frumpy and disheveled. “At what temperature do we cook shirred eggs? I’m thinking three twenty-five degrees.” I have been making shirred eggs for the last thirty years, but can never remember the oven temperature.

“Three hundred-seventy five,” Dan yells from the kitchen. Reaching up at the top shelf of cookbooks, I take down the hand-written recipe book that I made for Dan before we lived together. Page twenty-six is entitled, Shirred Eggs, and has a drawing of two eggs nestled in an oval casserole dish. I read, “ Set oven to three hundred-seventy-five degrees. Cook for sixteen to eighteen minutes.”

“You won,” I say as I set the oven temperature. Yawning, I melt two tablespoons of butter in a pan. Then, for good measure, I butter the sides of our small oval dishes, placing two slices of round Canadian bacon side-by-side in both dishes. Carefully, I crack an egg over each slice, pour melted butter on top and slide them carefully into the oven. Dan sets the timer. Not fully awake yet in our pre-coffee state, we lean against the counter and stare stupidly at the little yellow-stained glass window on the oven door as if it were a computer monitor.

When the timer rings, I carry each dish to the table, using potholders, and place each on a pewter plate. Dan carries a platter with toast and oranges. Speckles of browned butter bubble enticingly on the eggs. “Don’t burn yourself; they’re still very hot,” I warn Dan, who is already savoring a forkful of bacon and egg.

“Why can’t I ever remember the cooking temperature after all these years?” I complain in-between bites.

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