Of course, it is impossible to think of North Carolina without hearing James Taylor singing: “Carolina in my mind.”
When I lived in New York City, the song lyric reverberating through the skyscrapers was, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
North Carolina, as you can see from the photography on the You Tube video (linger at the end and watch the ocean) is not New York, the City where I was born and graduated from college.
Many bumper stickers ago, I remember one that read pithier, but in essence:
“God created North Carolina first. That is why the sky is Carolina blue.”
Our family moved to North Carolina in 1990 in time to celebrate Thanksgiving in corporate-paid luxury temporary housing while Northern Telecom waited to see whether it had to abide by its agreement to purchase our historic landmark house on Capitol Hill if Diana and I were unable to sell it.
Joanna and I would drive down the road to Chatham County–where I lingered in the country store (and gas station) counting the number of chewing tobacco brands on sale.
Not far from our home, knowledgeable equestrians had relocated from New Jersey and built lavish horse farms full of exquisite horses–horses Joanna came to love and ride, train to jump, and teach others how to ride.
Amelia was an infant when we visited and moved to Durham. Amelia had been born two months prematurely. On our first visit, Amelia was still attached to a heart monitor. In the premie ward, she had simply decided to stop breathing.
We had stopped for the night in Durham as a result of a last-minute telephone call to my friend Patric Mullen (formerly a DC lobbyist for the National Sharecroppers Fund). We had been en route to elsewhere.
Patric and Trina’s next door neighbor Kathleen Atwater came over to the Mullens’ kitchen to meet us and drink wine. She was a manager of documentation at Northern Telecom, a company that controlled nearly half the telephone switches in the U.S. and was making fistfuls of money selling telephone companies software to download in their switches. [The company is now bankrupt as a consequence of stupidity and greed at its Canadian corporate headquarters.]
Kathleen promptly hired me on the spot on first meeting to work for her as a senior technical writer. I had never even been a junior technical writer.
I was then working for the U.S. Postal Service. I had been hired by the previous postmaster general who loved my work, saved the organization from imminent destruction, and left to help his brother run CBS while I had remained behind to do public relations work. [I had become obsessed with bar code technology which, to the surprise of many, was a technology where the postal service led the world.]
None the less, I was indeed going postal.
Diana’s job had lost its luster.
Each of us had lived in D.C. for 17 years.
After my second cancer and Amelia’s birth, we were desperate to leave the nation’s capital, ticking off on our fingers the problems we had to solve, which included the decline of public education in DC– total destruction would be more accurate.
Diana and I had each attended private schools.
We were committed to educating our children in public schools. After three years in DC schools, it was clear that Joanna was not learning what children must learn to get ahead. The public college in D.C. was and still is dreadful.
We arrived in North Carolina just before the school system in Durham ran into decline. Nevertheless, through constant vigilance–primarily exemplary work on Diana’s part– both Joanna and Amelia received a decent education. It helped that school board members , for example breakfasted at our home,
Joanna and Amelia were able to graduate with honors from the splendid University of North Carolina system the astonishingly brilliant visionary former-governor and candidate for President of the U.S. Terry Sanford had created as a true center of excellence for the people.
Simultaneously, Sanford was instrumental in creating the Research Triangle Park (RTP) concept–an astonishingly effective alternative (at least for a while) to the Silicon Valley and Boston’s high-tech corridor. I worked as a technical writer at RTP for over four years.
As I write, I can hear Joanna wondering:
When will Dad stop writing about North Carolina and makes sure he packs his bag to get down here?
Time to get my bag out of the closet.
Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.
“Mebane/ˈmɛbən/ is a city located mostly in Alamance County, North Carolina, United States, with a part of it in Orange County,North Carolina. It is part of the Burlington and Chapel Hill North Carolina Metropolitan Statistical Area. The town was named for General Alexander Mebane, Jr., a Revolutionary War general and member of the U.S. Congress. It was incorporated as Mebanesville in 1881 and in 1883 the name was changed to Mebane. In 1987, the official name became the City of Mebane. The population as of the 2010 census was 11,393.”
Getting out of bed (and eventually into an automobile)
To travel the 257 miles from State College, PA to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (known to New Yorkers as Memorial) less than two blocks from the East River in New York City, I have to get out of bed.
What follows is a photographic recreation of my getting out of bed on June first, for my most recent expedition to Memorial where I went for tests and more tests and the surprising news that Dr. Paul Russo had decided an operation would be a good idea.
The decision was a surprise because it was in effect a reversal of his position in April. The reversal can be explained, I suppose, because in June Dr. Russo had the opportunity to review extremely detailed sonic imaging of my kidney and heart:
The kidneys to see whether he could remove the tumor and save two-thirds of the kidney and not incidentally remove the threat that I will die of kidney cancer
The heart to determine whether I would survive the operation and recover
Keep in mind: Cure the cancer; kill the patient is not a good idea
Here I am in bed.
Because I am a paraplegic, getting out of bed requires some effort. Paraplegic, the dictionary explains, is an individual who has “paralysis of the lower half of the body with involvement of both legs.”
I cannot stand without holding on to something. That does not mean I cannot dance, if I am careful and have a partner who understands, I CAN dance.
I cannot walk, but there are a wide variety of devices that can help me get from here to there.
Plus, my feet work well enough that I can drive a car.
To get out of bed, I need to transfer to a mobility device.
The following photograph shows me transferring from the bed to a scooter. First invented in 1968 by my friend Al Thieme, CEO of Amigo Mobility, the device is formally called a Power Operated Vehicle (POV) scooter.
Photograph by Benjamin Carlsen
In the following photograph, the transfer is complete and I am now ready to:
drive to the bathroom
the kitchen to make breakfast
to various parts of my apartment to get dressed and pack for the trip to New York
It is essential to keep the battery charger in mind at all times and to make sure it is positioned in the right place. Before going to sleep, have a plugged in battery charger with a fan inside sitting on the bed table preparing for the period after sleep. Hearing the hum of the fan reassures that the charger plugged in next to my bed will provide me in the morning 25 miles worth of power–25 miles (to repeat) for one full charge.
Finally, after considerable effort and stops for this and that (including, of course, getting lost), here is a photograph I took of myself driving a mini-van through the streets of New York City in June—the scooter having been taken apart and put in the rear. As one born and college educated in New York, I like the thrill of driving in insane cross-town traffic where there are no rules of the road except aggression. This is what it is like to be en route to appointments to test my kidney and heart and to learn of the operation I had not anticipated.
Today is Monday, July 8th. I am in State College planning the logistics of getting to New York for the operation in August at a hospital in New York City where the word MEMORIAL is chiseled ghoulishly in large stone letters above the entrance.
Now I am planning and planning– wondering which of my disability devices to take with me. I am planning on how to position my mobility devices in New York so they are there when I need them:
before the surgeon cuts
in the hospital immediately after the operation
wherever I will be staying in New York for the two-week recovery period
Fashion note: The beautiful 100% cotton yellow pajamas I am wearing in bed are part of a generous sartorial gift from the family of the late David Forer, a man of impeccable taste.
In 30 days (the actual date is Thursday, August 8th), I am scheduled for major surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). The surgery will be performed by an expert in the field of kidney surgery which my physician here in State College (250 miles from New York City) advises me cannot be reliably perfumed in the greater region where I live. My State College urologist referred me to Sloan Kettering in New York where Dr. Paul Russo will perform the surgery. The surgery, if successful. and it is highly likely to be, will remove the large tumor that surrounds my right kidney. The surgery will also remove one-third of my right kidney–in effect saving the kidney. Since imaging indicates the cancer has not spread, the operation is likely to eliminate the threat of my dying of kidney disease. Period. That is a big load off my mind. I hope you are able to donate money to help defray the travel expenses to surgery and during the two-week estimated recovery period.and of course the journey back home. My estimate is that $3,000 would be amount required and when I achieve that amount I will tell you and take down the donation button. Begging for money is difficult enough. Begging for money after I have raised the requested amount is tasteless.
ISADORE SOLKOFF, 1902-1989, Friend of Jabotinsky, Briscoe, and other early Zionist leaders
UNION, NEW JERSEY, January 15, 1989: Isadore Solkoff was buried at the Temple Binai Abraham Cemetery. In an Orthodox Jewish service officiated by Rabbi Phillip Goldberg of the United Hebrew Community of New York, the mourners were reminded of Solkoff’s work in introducing Vladimir Jabotinsky and Robert Briscoe to the Jewish Community of New York City.
Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940) was an early Zionist leader who is buried in Jerusalem next to the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism. Jabotinsky was an extremely controversial figure. He was also a brilliant orator, capable of delivering his speeches in several languages, including English and Hebrew, which as an adult he learned to speak Hebrew fluently because he believed that every Zionist should speak Hebrew. Although he died in 1940, he predicted the Holocaust, advocating relief measures so Jews could be sent to Palestine. He also advocated strict military training for Jews and a series of summer camps for youth around the world were opened for that purpose. One of those camps was located in suburban New York.
Solkoff arranged for Jabotinsky to speak to a packed crowd at Town Hall in New York City in March of 1935 warning of the impending Holocaust. Solkoff produced a film of Jabotinsky observing military exercises of Jewish youth, later shown at Jewish synagogues in the New York City area.
Jabotinsky was the founder of the Zionist political party now running the state of Israel. Yitzhak Shamir, the prime minister of Israel, was a follower of Jabotinsky. Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had been an aide to Jabotinsky. When Jabotinsky died in 1940, Begin inherited Jabontinsky’s movement. Solkoff supported Begin in his efforts to obtain arms and get them into Palestine. Then in 1948 when the state of Israel was created and the War of Independence took place, Begin’s troops obtained arms despite a United Nations embargo. Solkoff donated his correspondence with Jabotinsky to the Jabotinsky Museum in Tel Aviv.
Solkoff worked with members of Jabontinsky’s United States supporters who formed an organization based in New York City called the Revisionist Zionist Organization. They publicized the difficulties of Jewish refugees especially the unwillingness of the British to permit immigration into Palestine. Stories of British insensitivity to Jewish concerns were late in being highlighted by the world’s press. One incident that was highlighted occurred after World War II was over. A ship called the “Exodus” contained refugees from Nazi concentration camps. The British refused to allow them to get off the boat at a Palestinian port. The ship was in poor repair and was incapable of leaving the country safely. The plight of those Jews who had escaped Nazi concentration camps perhaps only to be drowned in a leaky boat because of British policy caused an international sensation. It also led to a best-selling novel based on the incident and a popular movie.
Solkoff was friends with the late Robert Briscoe, who in 1956 became Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ireland. Briscoe was also a fascinating figure. Before the founding of the states of Ireland and Israel, Briscoe regarded himself as both an Irish and Israeli revolutionary fighting a common British enemy.
Briscoe introduced Jabotinsky to the early leaders of the Irish fight for independence. Before and after Jabontinsky’s death, Briscoe worked at transporting Jews from Nazi-dominated countries to Palestine. Solkoff introduced Briscoe to New York City Jewish organizations. Solkoff and Briscoe both collaborated with Ben Hecht to create a highly controversial full-page advertisement on the back page of the first section of The New York Times. The year was 1943. The ad was entitled, “FOR SALE TO HUMANITY, 70,000 JEWS, GUARANTEED HUMAN BEINGS AT $50 A PIECE.” Romania had offered to let their Jewish citizens leave Romania on the condition that the Four Superpowers pay $50 for each Jewish head and agree to transport them to Palestine. The British opposed transportation to Palestine, which was under their control. The Jews who might have been saved died.
Solkoff’s most important contribution to the effort to avert the Holocaust was the fact that Solkoff arranged a secret, private meeting between Robert Briscoe and Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) then a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Brandeis took pride in his influential role with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and in the American Jewish community. The meeting did not go well. It took place at Brandeis’ Washington home. Briscoe gave Brandeis a warning about the American Jewish community’s indifference to the plight of Jewish European refugees. Later Briscoe reported to Solkoff the warning he gave Brandeis. “Your accommodationist stance with the British will result in millions of unnecessary Jewish deaths at the hands of the Nazis.” Briscoe continued, “The blood of those Jews will be on your hands too and that of the rest of the American Jewish community. It will be on your hands even though you do not directly commit the murders.”
Solkoff was a graduate of Columbia College, class of 1924. Receipt of his diploma was delayed six months because of failure to pass a swimming test. Solkoff, who never learned to swim, said that after sitting around the pool for six months trying to get the courage to jump in, the coach took pity on him. “If you jump in, I’ll pass you, even if we have to fish you out with a net.” Solkoff jumped in, sank to the bottom, was fished out with a net, and formally received his B.A. degree.
Solkoff attended Cornell Law School in Ithaca, New York, class of 1930. He practiced law in New York City before moving to Miami, Florida. After becoming a member of the Florida bar, Solkoff specialized in the practice of bankruptcy law, especially Chapter 13, which he used as a device to stop foreclosure on his indigent clients’ homes. Before his retirement from practice in 1984, he represented 97 percent of Chapter 13 suits brought in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida. Solkoff met with members of Senator Robert Dole’s staff when they were preparing to make the recent revisions in the bankruptcy law.
He founded the Miami chapter of Parents without Partners, serving as its president. He also formed the Revisionist Organization of Dade County in 1977 to support Menachem Begin. The American Jewish community generally was alarmed because of fears that Begin might be more extremist in his views about Israeli territorial expansion than they thought prudent. Solkoff’s organization helped alleviate those fears. Solkoff met with members of Begin’s staff during a trip to Israel in 1976.
Solkoff died of respiratory failure on January 13, 1989 at the Miami Jewish Home for the Aged at Douglas Gardens in Miami, Florida. He was born on March 14, 1902 in a field outside Odessa, Russia and came through Ellis Island as a refugee from a Russian pogrom.
He is survived by his wife Wilma of Miami, his grandchildren Joanna Solkoff, Melissa and Mark Schollmeyer, Jason and Lisa Herskowitz. He is also survived by his brothers Benjamin, Morris, and Ephraim, and his son Joel of Washington, D.C. Joel Solkoff is a senior writer at the U.S. Postal Service and is the author of The Politics of Food and other books.
News of Isadore Solkoff‘s death was delayed at his request. Also at his request, the funeral was private and in accordance with Jewish law. Memorial contributions may be made to either of two Miami organizations: the Guardianship Program of Dade County, Miami, Florida or the Jewish Home for the Aged at Douglas Gardens.
For further information please make contact with Joel Solkoff, phone at work 202-268-2182, phone at home 202-543-5232, address 612 E Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002-5230.
N.B: I am Isadore Solkoff’s son Joel and I now live in State College, PA. I wrote this obituary notice in 1989 shortly after my father’s funeral. My daughter Joanna Marie Solkoff also attended the funeral and watched as this notice was written on a computer and preserved on a floppy disk. The floppy disk was destroyed and the only copy of the original text was preserved by the Jabotinsky Institute where Amira Stern, Director of Archives, emailed it to Joel from Israel in October, 2011.
Isadore Solkoff arranged a critical interview between Robert Briscoe and U.S. Supreme Justice Louis Brandeis. The interview is recorded in Briscoe’s 1959 autobiography For the Life of Me. It is also documented in correspondence Solkoff initiated with Justice Brandeis.
The meeting between Robert Briscoe and Justice Louis Brandeis was the most important accomplishment of Isadore Solkoff’s life. According to Briscoe, Brandeis almost certainly reported the meeting to the President Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s refusal to act on the information resulted in the unnecessary deaths of millions of Jews in Europe.
When I was born in 1947, my father was a man burned out by the fact that he had the vision to see the impending tragedy, did everything he could to avert it, and had to live with the tragic reality that he had failed. Jabotinsky was and remains today a controversial figure. He was by all accounts a leader of astonishing magnetism whom my father loved with a love which could not be compared. Isadore Solkoff’s tombstone reads, “Follower of Jabotinsky.” When my younger daughter Amelia was born, following Jewish custom of naming children in honor of the dead, her mother and I gave her the middle name Altalena.
Altalena was Jabontinsky’s pen name. It is also the name of an arms ship that was brought into Israel in the middle of the 1948 War of Independent which to this day is a source of passionate controversy. As one Israeli asked me querulously, “You named your daughter for an arms ship.” I replied, “No, I named my daughter for the man the arms ship was named after.” Either way my father would have been pleased and my father’s love for me was steady and pure and this act of homage is the least I could do.
It is worth noting that after naming my younger Altalena, I received a lengthy letter from my late beloved mother Miriam Schmerler begging me not to name my daughter after that awful man Jabotinsky.
Jabotinsky had served in World War I as co-captain in the Zion Mule Corps with David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. The two hated each other and the views they each represented. My parents met at a synagogue weekend where members of various Zionist groups presented their ideas. My mother was a follower of Ben Gurion. My parents’ marriage was not made in heaven.
The resolution to the inter-Zionist animus, which continues to this day, must be solved before peace in Israel can possibly be achieved. Peace with the Palestinian community and their Arab neighbors is the only way the state of Israel can preserved. Ironically, both Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion would agree with this statement.
My mother Miriam told me [when I was a freshman at Druid Hills High School in Decatur, Georgia in 1961] of her attempt to convince her Aunt Marcia (Tanta Masha) to have a Thanksgiving celebration in 1933 when my mother was eight years old.
Tanta Masha, married to Sol Demick [a sweet, bald man who worked at a delicatessen] and my grandmother Suschi Schneider’s older sister, ran my mother’s household in The Bronx (of course, of New York City) with an iron hand.
Tanta Masha and my mother did not get along, “Probably,” my mother said, “because we were so much alike.”
Why my mother and grandmother (whom I called Bubbie) lived with Sol and Marcia Demick and their two sons Norman and Alvin (Vremmy) is a story for another occasion. My mother said that in 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt became president, Thanksgiving [first established as a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln’s executive order] was not universally celebrated the way it is today.
In fact, my mother said, FDR (whom my mother adored) was responsible for Thanksgiving’s widespread celebration (probably at the suggestion of FDR’s political adviser then Postmaster General James A. Farley) as a way of including the immigrant community into the lumpy American melting pot (and not incidentally securing their vote.)
So taken with FDR’s appeal to celebrate Thanksgiving, my always precocious and astonishingly serious (and beautiful) mother appealed to Tanta Masha to celebrate the holiday complete with turkey and Norman Rockwell-like trimmings.
[Note: Yes, I am aware that Norman Rockwell’s iconographic Freedom from Wantpainting first appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943.]
Mother explained that for Tanta Masha, Thanksgiving complete with turkey and cranberry sauce [hint: cranberries will later take on great significance in my life] meant a great deal of unwanted work and expense she and the family could ill afford. [When my grandmother talked about poverty—and indeed when my father did—they spoke with an understanding of pain they could never express successfully in words but the pain came through clearly and on the mark like the early promises of digital sound and flat screen high-definition television.)
“With Tanta Masha, everything was a power struggle,” Mother explained. Then weeping unexpectedly, Mother described how Tanta Masha had outmaneuvered my mother—bitterly angry that Mother’s goal to become a good American had (as she explained it) been stolen from her by an unfair trick.
Tanta Masha asked her sons Norman [who died unexpectedly this year] and Vremmy [about whom more needs to be said than can fit neatly into this section] (Mother’s cousins were really more like brothers than cousins), “How would you like to celebrate Thanksgiving with hot dogs and baked beans?” My mother’s dream of patriotic desire had been robbed from her by what she conceived of as a mean parlor trick.
In the long run though, Mother prevailed (as she always prevailed when something Important was at stake). And so, for me Thanksgiving evolved into the holiday of the year—significant in a way I will try to define, but whose root structure now clearly runs deeply into the ground holding generations fixed in place.
Thanksgiving has become the holiday that defines me as a person, as a father, as a family man, as a citizen in ways no other holiday can. What makes this definition especially auspicious this year (a year of enormous change in my life)….[Let us wait and see what happens next after I have completed cleaning out the oven and stuffing the fresh turkey that is now in the refrigerator.]
This photograph taken in 1990 is especially significant.
The photograph shows some of the people I love most in life. The six-year-old girl, front row left, is my elder daughter Joanna Marie, now 28 and engaged to be married.
The infant, back row right, is Amelia Altalena, my 22 year-old daughter who graduated from college in May.
The grinning young woman, back row middle, is my sister Sarah Schmerler.
The woman seated is my grandmother Celia Pell, my Bubbie, shown here in celebration for the last time outside the Jewish Home for the Aged in Riverdale where by some miracle my mother Miriam Pell Schmerler top left was able to obtain for Bubbie a private room at the most beautiful home for the aged in the universe–a room overlooking the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge where there is a collection of art so wonderful it will knock your socks off. Especially notable is the fact that I am shown, holding Amelia in my arms, and I was then able to walk. Four years after this photograph was taken I became a paraplegic. At the time I was merely a procrastinator–a vice sadly that continues to this day.
The photograph was taken in my mother’s apartment in Inwood, a neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan Island. At the time my mother, a Hebrew educator, was a newly enrolled graduate student–then 65 years-old–at the Jewish Theological Seminary where she later received a doctorate in Hebrew letters after completion of her thesis on the Roman Catholic Church’s significant decision to change its theological doctrine so that today the Jewish people are no longer blamed for the death of Jesus Christ.
In my mind’s eye, I think of this photograph as being taken at Thanksgiving. But by November of 1990, my former wife Diana, my two daughters, and I had relocated from Washington DC, where I lived and worked for 17 years–many of them heavily influenced by Edward R. Murrow’s Thanksgiving Day broadcast “Harvest of Shame” which I had viewed in my grandmother’s Brooklyn apartment and which changed my life (as if I were on the road to Damascus). In November of 1990, we relocated to Durham, NC where I began a new career as a senior technical writer for Northern Telecom–a career that I loved.
Not shown in this photograph is my favorite (and only) nephew Asher Benvenuto Simonson, now 11, who was not yet a gleam in his father Robert Simonson’s eye.
What compelled me to write this Thanksgiving posting is one consequence of this month’s Hurricane Sandy. This posting begins with my mother’s attempt to have a real Thanksgiving overruled, among others, by her brother-like cousin Vremmy (a nickname from the Yiddish name Abraham Meyer), one of the most influential people in my life, publisher of Arts Magazine, who arranged for publication in The Washington Post of an advertisement for my book Learning to Live Again, an advertisement which appeared in the book review section with a photograph of Joanna, then one, and me.
Vremmy died shortly after the advertisement was published leaving his widow Theresa Demick, an elegant and cultured delight in my life and that of my family. Theresa, one of the victims of Hurricane Sandy, was on the 16th floor of her apartment building when the storm hit wiping out the electricity.
Somehow, Theresa managed to get to the street where she wandered around aimlessly, taken to the emergency room of a nearby hospital, diagnosed with dementia. Now, thanks to the efforts of my sister Sarah, my brother-in-law Robert, and others, Theresa has found a safe berth at the wonderful Jewish Home for the Aged in Riverdale–the wonderful wonderful place where my grandmother lived out her final years with pleasure and respect. Although Theresa suffers, her knowledge of art remains in tact and Sarah feels confident that Theresa will be able to work with the home’s magnificent collection–Theresa safe from harm.
Not shown in the photograph is my sterling prospective son-in-law Jade Kosmos Phillips because Joanna did not meet him until 22 years later when they met while Joanna was working as an ambulance driver–the romance beginning in typical Joanna fashion when she insulted Jade who is a firefighter/paramedic.
The photographer is my now former wife Diana who blessedly drove up from Durham to New York with Joanna earlier this week to comfort Theresa–which should serve to reassure Amelia who also was close to Theresa and who is celebrating Thanksgiving in rural Spain near the Portuguese border, where she is teaching English.
Tom Connolly, my drumming teacher and friend just arrived and we will now celebrate Thanksgiving, cooking and playing the drums. Tom has invited beautiful women over who are younger than Amelia but who, if they come, I will flirt with shamelessly as I have in the past. After celebrating, making music, and flirting, I will return to you to post my Thanksgiving letter of thanksgiving (or wait for a more auspicious occasion when I have completed work interrupted by an intense case of the flu which has caused me to feel as if I live on another planet).
On Thanksgiving Day, Americans everywhere gather with family and friends to recount the joys and blessings of the past year. This day is a time to take stock of the fortune we have known and the kindnesses we have shared, grateful for the God-given bounty that enriches our lives. As many pause to lend a hand to those in need, we are also reminded of the indelible spirit of compassion and mutual responsibility that has distinguished our Nation since its earliest days.
Many Thanksgivings have offered opportunities to celebrate community during times of hardship. When the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony gave thanks for a bountiful harvest nearly four centuries ago, they enjoyed the fruits of their labor with the Wampanoag tribe — a people who had shared vital knowledge of the land in the difficult months before. When President George Washington marked our democracy’s first Thanksgiving, he prayed to our Creator for peace, union, and plenty through the trials that would surely come. And when our Nation was torn by bitterness and civil war, President Abraham Lincoln reminded us that we were, at heart, one Nation, sharing a bond as Americans that could bend but would not break. Those expressions of unity still echo today, whether in the contributions that generations of Native Americans have made to our country, the Union our forebears fought so hard to preserve, or the providence that draws our families together this season.
As we reflect on our proud heritage, let us also give thanks to those who honor it by giving back. This Thanksgiving, thousands of our men and women in uniform will sit down for a meal far from their loved ones and the comforts of home. We honor their service and sacrifice. We also show our appreciation to Americans who are serving in their communities, ensuring their neighbors have a hot meal and a place to stay. Their actions reflect our age-old belief that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and they affirm once more that we are a people who draw our deepest strength not from might or wealth, but from our bonds to each other.
On Thanksgiving Day, individuals from all walks of life come together to celebrate this most American tradition, grateful for the blessings of family, community, and country. Let us spend this day by lifting up those we love, mindful of the grace bestowed upon us by God and by all who have made our lives richer with their presence.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 22, 2012, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage the people of the United States to join together — whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors — and give thanks for all we have received in the past year, express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and share our bounty with others.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.
Click on Memoto hear the After Pumpkin Pie Trio perform: “Thanks. Giving.”
The spirit of Jack Kerouac (as photographed by Tom Palumbo) returns with our song to wish us all a free-spirited conclusion to Thanksgiving Day, 2012. Kerouac is my daughter Joanna‘s favorite author as she takes an after dinner drink in Durham, N.C. before returning to her nursing school studies. For daughter Amelia Altalena, where her computer is broken in rural Spain, it is now 3:18 tomorrow morning; celebration must wait for Skype repair as all my dear readers for whom I am thankful, will await the writing of the forthcoming Thanksgiving Letter.
Afterthought. The idea that I was able to celebrate Thanksgiving appropriately–including, of course, a prayer of thanksgiving–comes as a surprise now that my guests have left. Tom, whom I met at Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe, across the street from my apartment, is relocating to Philadelphia to pursue a music career. State College, sadly, has not yet developed the resources to support musicians serious about their work. The idea of getting together was a spontaneous thought Tom had earlier this week.
Katie’s presence surprised both Tom and me. She was in town visiting friends. Tom was sure she would not come–not recollecting clearly that he had invited her. Neither Tom nor Katie could remember how they knew each other–perhaps through a mutual musical connection. As I helped Tom load his many drums in the car, where Katie accepted Tom’s offer to drive her to her friend’s apartment, I told Katie I do not understand how she arrived here; it is almost as if she never existed at all, but she certainly quickly warmed to the spirit of the occasion, banging drums with enthusiasm. Childlike percussion noise-making now goes on my list of Thanksgiving rituals.
I end this posting for tonight with the words I first heard Edward R. Murrow broadcast on television after Thanksgiving dinner in 1960 (words I recall each Thanksgiving):
“This is CBS Reports Harvest of Shame. It has to do with the men, women, and children who harvest the crops in this country of ours, the best-fed nation on earth. These are the forgotten people, the under-protected, the under-educated, the under-clothed, the under-fed. We present this report on Thanksgiving because were it not for the labor of the people you are going to meet, you might not starve, but your table would not be laden with the luxuries that we have all come to regard as essentials. We should like you to meet some of your fellow citizens who harvest the food for the best-fed nation on earth.”
These are the words that inspired me to publish a book on agriculture policy. These are words that cause me concern in the all-too close seasons and months ahead as I view with alarm the world’s adverse weather conditions, short supplies of soybeans and grain, astonishingly high future prices, and by calendar year 2013, a world where people will starve (not because, as has been the case for decades, they do not have enough money to afford food), because there will not be enough food to feed the world’s population.
Yes, automation and other developments have changed the visual portrayal that came to my grandmother’s living room television in 1960. In this global economy, the men, women, and children who harvest our food may not be U.S. citizens or they may not be harvesting in the United States the food we have on our Thanksgiving table.
In Spain, where my younger daughter is currently teaching English, the agricultural attaché at the U.S. embassy in Madrid told me that organic vegetables are a major agricultural export from Spain to the United States.
Many years ago, on a bus in New York City, a little old lady in a babushka stared at me. I looked away, and then back, and she was still staring. I rose to get off, and she stared as I approached. And she said, matter-of-factly, catching my eye as I passed, “In my little village, everybody looked like you.” I stepped off the bus, mystified, wondering where that village was and whether I would ever find it.
Well, I never found that village, but I’ve always known another one—a village of stories. Dr. Seuss and Robert McCloskey lived nearby, and Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe only a few blocks away. I eventually explored more distant streets and found Fyodor Dostoevsky and Franz Kakfa and then returned to my own neighborhood and stopped by Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville. None of them looked like me, it’s true, but they all thought in terms of stories. At first my connection was through their characters and plots and themes, but over time I became interested in language and allusion and form. Yet whatever my connection, it was the same village. And whatever I was doing, that village was there for me to visit.
I grew up in Watertown, Massachusetts; Bayside, Queens; and New Rochelle, New York. And I went to New Rochelle High School; Brandeis University; Teachers College, Columbia University; and SUNY Buffalo. I taught English at Walden School in New York City; Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois; and finally Penn State DuBois, where I’ve been for twenty-six years. And wherever I’ve lived and worked, I’ve lived also in that village of stories.
My wife Amy lives in a village of pictures—her mother was an artist; she is an art historian at Lycoming College. We visit on occasion—I look at her pictures; she reads my books. But mostly we meet in the middle and tell each other about our villages. My trip to DuBois and hers to Williamsport are not our only commutes.
We have two fabulous children who are finding their own villages. Emily, 24, a graduate student in English at Stanford, seems to have taken a cottage down the street from mine. And Gabe, 22, an undergraduate at Pitt, stayed in my village for a while (he has a BA in English), then moved, preparing to set up shop in my father’s old town and Amy’s father’s as well—a place of digital derring-do.
I visit with my mother in her apartment in New York City and we talk about our lives. She’s been a traveler, having been an accountant, a teacher, a guidance counselor, a business magazine editor, a computer exhibit organizer, and a financial advisor. Now, in retirement, she is visiting my village more frequently. She’s reading, writing, taking courses at Hunter College. I sent her one of my course syllabi recently, and she—who first read to me, “Tom! No answer. ‘Tom!’ No answer. ‘What’s wrong with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!'” –now reads what I teach—and what I write.
I still think about that little old lady in the babushka. I wonder if I’ll ever find her village. I suppose I might—I’ll be speaking on Poe in St. Petersburg, Russia, next fall. But even if I were lucky enough to find that place where everybody looks like me, I would have to leave eventually. The village of stories I will never leave.
Note: September 7, 2012, Congregation Brit Shalom, 620 East Hamilton Avenue, State College, former congregation President Cliff Cohen presented Richard Kopley with the Helping Hands Award, for among other things, bringing Rabbi Ostrich to State College
Note 2: Following the award, the congregation celebrated the 2011 marriage of Emily Kopley and Raphaël Godefroy. The couple reside in Montreal. Emily is completing her dissertation on Virginia Woolf and is currently researching whether Virginia or her husband Leonard won the lottery which made their literary press possible.
Note 3: Richard Kopley and I are working to honor the memory of Philip Young, the scholar who made Penn Statethe center of Hemingway scholarship in the world. We have chosen February 26 (the date Young’s landmark book Ernest Hemingway, A Reconsideration was published) 2013 as a Borough of State College Official Day of Hemingway Celebration, an effort our enthusiastic Mayor Elizabeth Goreham supports.
Note 4. David Ostrich is a wonderful rabbi who president over the memorial service for my mother Miriam P. Schmerler at Addison Court’s bingo parlor where Lady Gaga has a standing invitation to appear.
Note 5. I came across Dr. Kopley’s “The Village of Stories” article while cleaning up my apartment. The article originally appeared as Richard’s profile in an old yellowing copy of the synagogue publication The Scroll where the article appears here not updated or edited.The intention was to tell readers something about members of the synagogue Board of Directors. This article is the account Richard gave of himself. Most articles in this genre discuss what the new director will do for the congregation, the importance of a Hebrew education, and the support for the Jewish community including the State of Israel. I will let you judge for yourself how well Dr. Kopley adapted his subject matter to the task at hand. At the regular Friday morning meeting of the “Bagel Boys” group founded by Bruce Pincus, Dr. Kopley gave his permission to publish this article on my site, where it certainly belongs.
Naturally, I begin with myself. The primary theme of my website is based on a scholarly body of literature known as experienced-based design which for the layperson, such as myself, means that I should have a role in the design of the world I live in.
2. My focus. Specifically, I am focusing on two separate worlds (or perhaps world views would be more correct); namely:
Reality: the design of housing for elderly and disabled individuals such as myself
Virtual reality: the tool that makes it possible, economical, and more efficient to create a 3-D model that can be used as a template for the massive construction effort required to house the elderly population here in Rust Belt, PA, and as we age; we “baby boomers” who constitute the largest generation in our country and indeed the world’s history. Stay tuned for more on this demographic reality and its impact.
McKeesport, PA is the unlikely location for a presentation of how the reality of technology currently being constructed should serve as a model for the future. The overriding example presented here is a non-profit corporation BlueroofTechnologies founded 10 years ago, where I spent three days and two nights in December as the first invited guest at the Blueroof Experimental Cottage shown here with Blueroof’s founders on the front porch (a front porch identified by elderly residents as being significant to their sense of well-being):
Next is a photograph of next door in decaying McKeesport. Notice that the road and sidewalk are rotting, and the door and everything else about the building has been demolished, but the wheelchair-accessible curb cut is brand new. (Stay tuned for more on McKeesport‘s curb cuts to nowhere.)
The principal characters in this encomium to Blueroof’s founders are Dr. Robert Walters, (left) a former engineering professor at the local campus of Penn State, and John Bertoty, a retired principal of the local high school.
My under construction profile of John’s cofounder reads: “Robert Walters is the kind of engineer who collects more data than he knows what to do with, but wants more.” Bob currently is collecting data on the number of times the residents of a non-experimental Blueroof residence open their refrigerator doors.
Assume your 86-year-old mother is living alone in an apartment (which is basically what a Blueroof Cottage is). If she has not opened her refrigerator door for three days, that indicates something is wrong. The wired cottage alerts you in a timely fashion and you are able to get there before three days, whatever default Bob contrives. Instead of arriving at Mom’s residence to find her passed out on the floor, requiring an ambulance and who-knows-what, you are able to get over there and help your mother out.
This is a device Bob contrived to measure activities of daily living (ADL) and signal alarms and phone calls for help. The wireless BlueNode System (motion detectors and other sensors not shown, nor the refrigerator):
University Park, PA. is a two and a half drive east and north from McKeesport. Here the Penn State Department of Architectural Engineering (AE) is home of the Smart Spaces Center for Independent Living, an interdisciplinary group which has the capability to help Bob Walters process the data he obtains and find useful applications.
One place where Bob’s data are applied is in the AE Department’s Immersive Construction (ICon) Lab and now is the time to put on your 3-D glasses:
The principals at University Park are:
Dr. Richard Behr, Director of the Smart Spaces Center for Independent Living and professor of architectural engineering.
Dr. John Messner, director of the Computer Integrated Construction (CIC) Research Program (which includes custodianship of the virtual reality lab) and professor of architectural engineering.
[No, I do not know why John and Sonali’s photos came out larger than Rich’s and my wonderful IT guru is asleep. Who wouldn’t be at this hour?]
Sonali Kumar, graduate assistant to John M. and the 3-D modeller who turned me into a virtual reality avatar.
Now more on each:
Dr. Richard Behr has been the prime visionary on all of this. As Director of the multidisciplinary Smart Spaces Center, Rich has been a prime mover in the effort to foster aging in place long before it because a recognized goal. He has focused on retrofitting existing residences so the elderly could continue to live in their traditional homes and in supporting the development of Blueroof and the use of virtual technology in Dr. Messner’s CIC Program.
“These technologies,” Dr. Behr writes, “are often grouped into three broad categories based on their function and value: those which
(1) address safety at the environmental level,
(2) secure health and wellness at the individual level, and
(3) enable social connectedness at the community level .”
Dr. John Messner uses virtual technology to design health care facilities. Shown here are pharmacists from the Washington, D.C. area viewing a Kaiser Permanente health care facility not yet constructed. The pharmacists drove from DC to State College (quite a schlep, try it sometime) to view their future workplace and make important design changes before building began.
Sonali Kumar built this 3-D model of me as an avatar getting ready to take a shower:
Sonali is completing her doctoral work on experienced-based design, which this is. As I keyboard this posting, I frequently glance at her award-winning poster entitled “Experience-Based Design Review of Healthcare Facilities Using An Interactive Prototyping System.” Shown here is one of the experienced-based design consultants Sonali used to research the effectiveness of an interactive prototyping system, Lilian Hutchison, my 87-year old neighbor:
4. Baby Boom Demographics
One out of every four Americans is a part of the Baby Boom generation which the U.S Census Department defines as those 76 million Americans born between 1946, the year after World War II ended, and 1964 when prodigious use of birth control and other factors caused the annual birth rate to fall below 4 million.
The first baby boomers have already begun to retire despite the fact that most jobs in the United States are held by baby boomers. When the members of my generation give up their jobs a whole slew of disaster scenarios appear—whether you go to the U.S. Census Bureau’s excellent website or consult Google’s index and find this expression of impending disaster:
5. Who is the primary audience for this information? Why it is the Ford Foundation, based in New York City which has demonstrated a tradition of providing funding for significantly innovative projects that improve the lives of indigent, elderly, and disabled individuals throughout the world (and the world includes the United States).
Ford has a tradition of distinguished leadership exemplified by McGeorge Bundy, who left Lyndon Johnson’s White House to become Ford’s President.
Today, the President of Ford is Luis Antonio Ubiñas. His official biography notes: “Prior to joining the Ford Foundation, Luis was a director at McKinsey & Company, leading the firm’s media practice on the West Coast. He served technology, telecommunications and media companies, working with them to develop and implement strategies and improve operations. Much of his work focused on the opportunities and challenges represented by the growth of Internet and wireless technologies.”