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I wrote this a couple of years ago. Mom celebrated her 95th birthday earlier this year. May is the month when we pay tribute to our moms, so I thought it was worth re-posting.
My mother was the first born child of immigrants. She was born Alice Della but has been referred to by her nickname, “Del” for most of her life. Mom’s mother was from England and her father from Canada. Except for a few months during World War II when she and my father lived in Washington state and California, she has always lived in Rhode Island. Mom was the eldest of five kids the youngest of whom she was frequently responsible for babysitting. I always thought that her parenting skills were honed during those days when she was taking care of her little sister and brother.
Mom grew up during The Great Depression and, like many others, her family struggled financially. When she was 15, my mother quit school in order to take a job in her uncle’s mill. I’m not sure how she felt about that but, as an intelligent young woman, I suspect that she wasn’t happy about it. Yet, I’ve never heard her complain about having to quit her education in order to help support the family. She felt it was her duty and she did it.
Mom was raised a Catholic but for reasons about which I’ve never been quite clear decided to leave the Catholic church and began attending youth group meetings at a Methodist church where she met my father. Apparently, the pastor of the church, a Dr. Metzner (sic) was a charismatic man who had a great deal of influence on both my father and mother. I remember them both smiling in obvious enjoyment as they told my brother and I stories about the doctor and their adventures with the youth group. I believe he was the minister who married them.
Mom and dad met when they were 16 and it was apparently love at first sight. Except for the years when Dad was away during World War II, they were never apart. And they always seemed to enjoy one another’s company. Every morning that I can recall, Dad would stroll into the kitchen, bellow “Good morning, Alice Della!”, sweep Mom into his arms and give her an enthusiastic kiss. Her return kiss was just as enthusiastic. It was the kind of overt display of affection which provided a strong sense of security for an impressionable young boy like me.
Like any married couple, they’d sometimes quarrel or disagree often when Dad would take a detour down some unchartered route to see which way it might take us. Mom preferred the known to the unknown but I think that she secretly enjoyed Dad’s sense of adventure. Recently, Mom observed that they’d never had a fight. (Imagine how warped my perspective on married life was coming out of that environment!) .
As was normal in those days, Mom was a housewife. She didn’t even know how to drive. In fact, she didn’t get her driver’s license until she was in her 40s. However, when I was in elementary school, Mom became the first woman president of the Smithfield (RI) PTA. Smithfield was a small New England town and that was a big deal. My father was well-known in town because of his business activities and members hips in the Lions Club and Volunteer Fire Department but it also made me proud when I saw the respect with which teachers, school principals, and prominent members of the community treated her. My mother is not an ambitious person so I suspect that she was nominated for the PTA presidency by people who wanted someone in the position whose opinions they respected and integrity they trusted.
One prominent memory from my younger days is Saturday nights at our house. As the big sister and surrogate parent, Mom always hosted her younger siblings and their families on Saturday nights. Invariably, we males would congregate in the living room to watch TV and banter with occasional conversation. But I can still see all the women gathered around the dining room table to get my mother’s opinion. It’s not that she sought to impose her opinions on them but that they seemed to value her insights and advice. My observation was that they always thought of my mother as well-grounded and a source of common sense. They trusted her opinion.
Dad died just after Thanksgiving in 2006. After all their years together, it’s hard for her to not have Dad but she’s adapted well and has realized how self-sufficient she really is. With age have come some challenges but she is still surprisingly alert and present. Since I take after my mother and her side of the family, I find this especially encouraging!
I know that everybody feels this way about their mother but my Mom is a very special lady. I’m proud to be her son and especially pleased that I was able to bring a granddaughter into her life.
“In the mid-1880s,…growth of colossal corporations in the aftermath of the Civil War had produced immense, consolidated wealth for business owners, but the lives of the working people…had become increasingly difficult.” In her book, The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin quotes one of Teddy Roosevelt’s political rivals as observing: “We plow new fields, …open new mines,…found new cities…we add knowledge and utilize invention after invention. (Yet) it becomes no easier for the masses of our people to make a living. On the contrary, it is becoming harder.”
Although America’s unemployment rate has been dropping, long term unemployment remains a major issue. It’s estimated that over a million Baby Boomers are members of the long term unemployed cohort.
More than 15% percent of the approximately thirty-six million Baby Boomers born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1954 are expected to live active, healthy lives into their 90s. Since retirement savings for many of those Boomers were severely diminished during the recent financial crisis, many of them will need to continue working at jobs which are both psychically and financially rewarding well past the traditional 65 year old retirement age. Meanwhile, American businesses including the legal and medical professions are reducing their labor forces through the use of automation and robotics.
To remain a successful capitalist economy, America needs consumers for the goods and services it produces. Although many of American industries’ customers may come from outside of the United States, it will also be necessary for Americans to consume local goods and services. To do so, they will require sufficient incomes.
As columnist Tom Friedman points out, the US needs to rethink its social contracts because labor is important to a person’s identity and dignity as well as to societal stability.
For the country’s future well-being, political and business leaders need to focus not only on helping millennials who are entering the workforce but also on redeveloping the American economy to keep healthy Baby Boomers engaged in jobs which are both psychically and financially rewarding. The challenge will be to create opportunities to unite the natural resources of Boomer experience and expertise with the 21st century skill sets of Millennials.
Don’t get me wrong. I like football. I just don’t care about the NFL until post-season. The same is true for baseball. It wasn’t always this way.
I was raised in a small New England village with a great baseball field about 100 yards downhill from our back porch. Between the ages of 5 and 13 , during the daylight hours when I wasn’t in school, doing homework or participating in organized sports at another venue, that’s where you’d probably find me with the other guys from our neighborhood playing baseball in Spring and Summer or touch football in the Fall.
When I was growing up, New England didn’t have an NFL team and the Jets didn’t exist, so the New York Giants was my default team of choice.
In later years, I lived in Pittsburgh where I became a Steelers fan. But now, although, I’ve lived more than half of my life as a resident of New York State, I’m not emotionally committed to the Giants or the Jets. I may, at times, like certain NFL teams more than others but I’m not passionate about any of them. Although, during the Broncos/ Patriots game I was definitely rooting for New England. But, since the Patriots lost, I have no Superbowl preference.
I’m a fair weather fan.
Which is why the NFL season started for me earlier this month. Now that “the wheat is separated from the chaff”, “the cream has risen to the top”, or whichever metaphor you choose to use to describe the process which brought the contending teams to the playoffs, I’ve gotten interested.
So, I’m looking forward to the SuperBowl’s emotional ups & downs, and to watching some amazingly gifted athletes and their coaches perform under pressure. The commercials will be fun, too.
I’ll find watching them to be inspiring and educational….even if I’m just a lowly fair weather fan.
The centennial of the Civil War was being commemorated in 1962. Nelson Rockefeller was New York’s governor. Racism was matter-of-fact for most white American, whether overt or unconscious. So it took a certain amount of political courage for the Republican governor to select a controversial African-American like Martin Luther King, Jr. to deliver Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
No one had heard Dr. King’s speech for more than 50 years until last Fall when staff members of the New York State Museum in Albany discovered a long forgotten reel-to-reel tape.
You can listen to it here http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/mlk/index.html
I’ve been a fan of PBS’s updated version of the Sherlock Holmes series but I’m concerned that I’ll be disappointed with Season 3.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock has perfectly captured the main character’s charismatic, highly intelligent, extremely analytical, anti-social, and slightly annoying personality. The concentrated blue-eyed gaze,deep voice, and unkempt air of the unknown British actor made for compelling TV.
During the series second season, Cumberbatch had gained a bit more exposure to American audiences in supporting roles in the remake of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “War Horse” but those roles didn’t diminish Cumberbatch’s credibility in his primary role as Sherlock Holmes. I had no problem buying into the premise that Cumberbatch was Sherlock or that Martin Freeman was Dr. Watson. As a fan and viewer, I bought into the premise and identified the actors with their roles.
However, prior to Season 3′s debut things have changed.
Not only have appearances by Cumberbatch in prominent roles such as the lead in HBO’s “Parade’s End”, the latest Star Trek movie, and the voice of Smaug in The Hobbit become more frequent. But Martin Freeman’s role as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit films have also heightened his profile.
So, my concern is that as I watch Season 3, I’ll find it more difficult to become as emotionally involved in the series as I have during the previous two seasons because my objective, analytical brain will be reminding me about the actors’ other roles.
I’m hoping I’m wrong.
After watching the first two episodes of Season 3, I sensed a certain smugness which I found disappointing and off-putting. However, after reading Emily Nussbaum’s assessment in The New Yorker http://ow.ly/t6EQB , my attitude has been somewhat altered.
On Elvis Presley’s birthday in 1973, the general manager of WGLD-FM in Chicago, an Elvis fan, decided to change the format of the radio station from progressive album rock to pop oldies. He made this rather rash decision without consulting with the station’s corporate headquarters at Sonderling Broadcasting. The general manager’s name was…Charles Manson. (No, not THAT Charles Manson).
Meanwhile, I was living in Washington, DC where just after Christmas I had been relieved of my duties as a DJ at Sonderling’s WMOD-FM and collecting severance pay because of a Chicken Man joke. Allow me to explain.
While introducing a recorded commercial message for a sale on chicken at the Giant Foods chain voiced by the owner of the chain’s local advertising agency, the morning DJ had introduced the spot “And now, a word from Chicken Man”. The Chicken Man radio series which satirized the superhero genre was a favorite among young radio announcers at the time.
Unfortunately, an associate at the advertising agency who was monitoring WMOD-FM and heard the comment was unamused. She complained to the station’s local sales manager who then mentioned it to me. As it happened, I was unofficially in charge of the programming department while most of the other managers were out of town on business. I had also attended a holiday party on the previous evening at the home of the advertising exec who had voiced the spot.
Confused about why the agency would find the DJ’s comment offensive, I decided to contact the agency owner to get a better understanding of the problem so that management could address the situation upon their return. Luck wasn’t with me that day and the person who answered the phone was the young woman who’d made the original complaint. I attempted to explain that radio listeners tend to presume that the relationship between a radio station and the businesses it advertises are friendly and that the Chicken Man comment was obviously meant to be cutely humorous. Her response was that she didn’t like my attitude. She then hung up, complained about me to station management, and I was summarily fired.
That brings us to January 8th, 1973 when the company suddenly found itself in need of my services to help get the situation in Chicago under control. So, I found myself in the odd situation of collecting severance from the Sonderling’s Washington station while simultaneously collecting a management paycheck from its Chicago station where I had been hired as program director.
As it turned out, Charles Manson resented my appointment by corporate management to the Chicago position and he ended up dismissing me 6 months after I’d taken the job.
However, my former college radio station manager at Northeastern University at just taken a job in Pittsburgh to launch a new Top 40 station and he offered me a job as one of his first two employees. The other person he hired was a young kid named Bob Pittman. And, together, the three of us launched one of America’s first FM Top 40 radio stations, WPEZ.
Pittman later hired me at WNBC, New York and at MTV: Music Television.
So, you might say that I ended up as a member of MTV’s original management team because of Elvis.
Here’s to The King!
We Baby Boomers are “digital immigrants”. We’ve had to learn to adapt to computers, email, digital downloads, smartphones, texting, tablets, etc. The Millennials are “digital natives”. To them, the constant stream of rapidly changing media tools have always been a part of their lives. Here’s an interesting infographic about “digital natives” and learning courtesy of KZO Innovations:
Presented by Kzoinnovations.com
Most of the media analysis surrounding the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination has been focused on its impact on journalism and American perceptions about TV in terms of news.
However, I’ve also been struck by how TV helped Americans who were between the ages of 7 and 45 during the “Camelot” years to emotionally connect with the Kennedy family. Vaughn Meader’s comedy album, “The First Family” not only made us laugh at the Kennedy’s but also, because of JFK’s publicly good-natured reaction to it, with them.
CBS Sunday Morning ran a story about JFK’s father, Joseph Kennedy’s plan to market his son for the presidency “like soap”. That story encouraged me to consider the consequences of Joe Kennedy’s marketing campaign and I’ve concluded that its result, to those of us watching, was a message about the ideal family and its values, attitudes, and behaviors.
Jim Stengel, in his book GROW, discusses the concept of the Brand Ideal. According to Stengel , a brand’s success relies on its ability to satisfy one of the following fundamental values: elicit joy, enable connection, inspire exploration, evoke pride, or positively impact society.
The Brand Ideal of Jack and Jackie Kennedy could be described as “a youthful, healthy, intelligent, cultured, loving couple who represented the hopes and dreams for America’s future”. In other words: Camelot. [ Feel free to quibble with this description and its basis for validity. I use it only for the purpose of example.]
The fact that Baby Boomers still revere JFK and Jackie today despite what we’ve learned about their very human flaws and short-comings seems to me to be a testament to how well Joe Kennedy’s marketing of his son worked.
November 22, 1963 was a Friday.
I was a typical shallow, self-possessed, care-free teenage male in the first couple months of my first year in high school at Mount Pleasant High in Providence, Rhode Island.
On Friday’s, my last class of the day was gym. In 1963, gym class for males was an active, athletic program to prepare young men for military service and which required students to develop skills on the parallel bars, pommel horse, horizontal high bar, still rings and for rope climbing. The gymnasium also served as the school’s basketball court, so the space was cavernous and the class was noisy. Consequently, we couldn’t hear messages being transmitted over the school’s loudspeaker system.
So, on that Friday, after I’d showered and walked along the typically noisy corridor to my locker, I was in a good mood and oblivious to what was going on around me.
I was in a good mood because that night was scheduled to be opening night for the Mount Pleasant High School Dionysiac Player’s production of Thornton Wilder’s classic play, “Our Town” and my theater debut as a member of the stage crew manning the main spotlight.
My original plan had been to try out for the football team but, at the last moment, I wisely changed my mind. The football coach was also my Geometry teacher and, for some reason, there was an unsettling level of antipathy between us.
So, instead, I decided to join the theater group at the urging of my friend, Mike Grace. It was a decision that, to this day, I’m glad I made.
Arriving at my locker and fetching my things for the bus ride home to Smithfield, I was blithely mocking the sweet young woman I’d befriended whose locker was to my right. She was emotional and, because I couldn’t hear what she was saying, my initial thoughts were that she was laughing. But then I realized that it wasn’t the sound of laughter but of grief that I was hearing.
When I asked her what was wrong, I presumed that she was reacting to a misunderstanding or breakup with her boyfriend. The usual stuff of adolescent drama. So, when she told me that the President was dead, it didn’t register. I laughed thinking that she was telling me some sort of sick joke. Then, I looked at her face…and I knew.
John F. Kennedy was a mythic figure in Southern New England. In 1963, Rhode Island’s population was heavily Roman Catholic Italian and, although JFK was Irish, he was one of our own. His was like a death in the family.
The first reaction I can recall was wondering how this tragic event might affect the play.
Our theater group had worked hard, rehearsed and devoted much of our lives for the previous two months in order to be ready for this moment. The school wouldn’t cancel opening night, would it?
Other than the moment when I was told about the assassination and the overarching sense of loss and sadness which enveloped the school, there are two incidents that I most vividly remember about that afternoon. The first involved one of the wise guys who, like me, was bused in from Smithfield and with whom I’d shared classes since elementary school. He started laughing and making jokes about Kennedy’s assassination. I was appalled and, frankly, embarrassed for him. Over the years, I’ve wondered if he sometimes stopped to consider how he’d reacted and, if he did, how that affected his life.
The second incident occurred when we discovered that the school administration had, indeed, canceled opening night for our production of “Our Town”. Of course, it was the appropriate decision under the circumstances. But, we were emotionally invested in our work and had difficulty accepting the decision. What shocked me was when the student who played George Webb, one of the play’s primary characters, lay down on the stage and while pounding his fist sobbed “Why did he have to go get killed on opening night?” I understood the kid’s angst but found his self-absorbed attitude embarrassing.
The Mount Pleasant High School Dionysiac Players production of “Our Town” did go on as scheduled on Saturday night. And, as I recall, the show was well-received by an audience which was probably affected more than usual by the play’s story of day-to-day life, youthful love, premature death, sorrow and grief. That play continues to touch me to this day.
On Sunday afternoon, while continuing wall-to-wall commercial-free live coverage of the weekend’s sad events were being broadcast on the existing three television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS), Mike Grace and I were doing a project for Mike’s aunt and uncle in the living room of their home when I happened to glance over at a TV and noticed the Dallas police escorting Lee Harvey Oswald down a corridor. It all seemed pretty mundane until, all of a sudden, a man in a black hat stepped out from the crowd, shoved his hand towards Oswald’s stomach and shot him. The black-and-white photo we’ve all seen over the intervening decades of Oswald crumbling in pain is still shocking. But, to see an actual murder occur live on a national TV broadcast as it happened was stunning. At first, it seemed unreal. And, thinking that I might be imagining it, I asked Mike if he’d just seen what I saw.
The 48 hours from the moment when JFK was killed on Dealey Plaza until the moment when Jack Ruby’s bullets ended Lee Harvey Oswald’s life, were surreal and shook America’s sense of order and complacency to its core. This was a time in American life when we lived daily on the brink of nuclear holocaust in our conflict with the Soviet Union. We were all subconsciously concerned that, at any moment, we might get word that the missiles were coming in.
Leading up to this anniversary, journalists have been focusing on how coverage of the events of that weekend changed news because it was on TV. I would argue that it changed America.
For the first time, we were able to not only hear but to see events as they happened. Radio had provided us with theater of the mind. With TV, we were there…watching Jackie grieve at her husband’s coffin, watching little John-John salute the passing caisson, seeing Lee Harvey Oswald murdered in cold blood.
On that weekend leading into Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays, we were shaken to the core.
When World War I began, we got our news on time delay via newspapers.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we learned the news from radio.
John F. Kennedy’s assassination was the first calamitous event which we Americans shared communally through television.
It remained the most significant historical event of my lifetime through the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in the late 1960s, the Kent State Massacre, the murder of John Lennon and other tragic events which we experienced through the years.
For me, a change began to occur when I watched the Challenger disintegrate as Dan Rather was covering its launch live in 1986. It became obvious to me that I was going to continue to witness these occasional tragedies through my remaining days.
Then, of course, came September 11th.
PS- A fellow Rhode Island native, Bill Flanagan, has an interesting insight on how the death of John F. Kennedy affected our parents who were his contemporaries in the World War II generation. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/jfk-assassination-when-a-nation-coming-of-age-lost-its-youth/