Background - Parents 001

 

Much has been written by me about me.  But of course, there would be no me without two important people: my mother and my father.  Perhaps this should have been introduced earlier in the series of autobiographical essays, but I really don’t know a lot about either of them as far as their early lives are concerned.

 

Neither mother nor father shared a great deal about their lives with me – my father much, much less than my mother – but that is like comparing a thimble with a teaspoon.  Mother and her family lived in Pennsylvania in a town named Bradford.  I take it that her father was some sort of inventor who had worked in the coal mines in Pennsylvania, but had invented something which took him out of that sort of work.  What it – or what was the group of things he invented - was not something that was ever shared with me.  I believe that he had contracted what is called black lung disease – a disease that commonly afflicts people who work in coal mines.  Whatever the disease he had, he died at a relatively young age.

 

Mother was apparently a very bright youngster in whom other members of the family took an interest.  I think she had an aunt who taught school and worked with her to increase her knowledge.  Someone used to play math games with her.  She said she would look forward to the times when they would play those games.  I cannot clearly recall with whom she had such a good time.

 

Mother’s name was Gertrude Birmingham before she was married.  And her mother’s name was also Gertrude.  Apparently my grandmother Gertrude did not get along well with my grandfather (whose first name I do not know).  Along the way, while mother was under 16, my grandparents got a divorce.  That was a matter of some shame in those days (although now it seems like a hobby in America).  That may be why mother did not talk about her family much and particularly did not talk about her father.  Another reason may be that he remarried, and the person with whom he remarried was my grandmother’s sister.  I suppose some occurrence like that might ruffle some feathers.

 

Mother was raised in the Catholic Church.  When she was about 16, her father died, and the question about where he should be buried came up.  Some of the family wanted him to be buried with some other members of the family in a Catholic cemetery, but other factions wanted him to be buried elsewhere.  In those days, and to some extent today, the Catholic Church was very hard on people who were divorced.  Divorce was against the church doctrine, and it could be very difficult for people who were divorced. Apparently the “feud” grew worse, and some members of the family involved the Priest of the Catholic Church.  However the priest became involved he took the churches standard position and said mother’s father could not be buried in the Catholic graveyard.  Mother was on the other side.  Her side wanted him in the Catholic graveyard.  Mother never forgave them, and never practiced a religion after that time.  There was a short time when mother and father went to a Unitarian Church.  It is a church that accepts people from all religions as well as people who do not believe in any religion.  The members of the Unitarian Church all agreed that humanity is great.

 

She did well in pre-college school, and went to the University of Michigan, a prestigious college, where she also did quite well.  It was not ordinary, though not exceptional, for a woman to attend college in those days.  She obtained a BA degree and then worked to send her two younger sisters (Laura, and Muriel) through that University.  I really don’t know what jobs she had, but one was as a dental assistant.  Time passed (and I don’t know how long or how it was filled) and she went to Columbia University in New York City, New York.  There she took a law degree.  Apparently she did quite well, and was interested in practicing law.  However she was a woman, and women were not employable as lawyers in those days.  So, it was very difficult to find work in her chosen profession.

 

As I understand it, she had some contact with a woman in Colorado who had her own law firm.  Mother got in touch with her, and went to Colorado to join that firm.  I think they may have been or they may have become good friends.  I believe that it was this woman who went with mother (at least some woman and mother) went mountain climbing in Colorado, a state where such activity is commonplace.  Colorado is beautiful state with many mountains.  On this particular trip something went wrong.  The woman fell or was somehow injured or sick.  I don’t have a clear picture of the malady.  Mother was a small woman, just under 5 feet in height, and about 90 to 100 pounds in weight.  She could not carry the friend down the mountain.  So mother went down the mountain as fast as she could to get aid for her friend.  When she and the rescue team arrived back at the spot where the injured friend lay, the friend had frozen to death. 

I have no direct word of mouth evidence of this, but I think mother was devastated by what had happened.  Again, I do not know the time line of events, but I know that she decided to go on a boat to Alaska for a vacation.  I think it was to get away from what had happened.

 

Of my father’s side of the family, I know little.  I know little of my father’s life.  I do know that his parents were from Cuneo City (http://www.italianvisits.com/piemonte/cuneo/index.htm), a city in the province of Cuneo in Italy that is in an area near France called the Piedmont area. 

 

Economic conditions were bad in Cuneo City, so many people from that city went to Genoa.  Since I am writing this to my friends in China, I will mention that it must have been a little like it now is in China where the middle and western Chinese population travels to the eastern part of China to look for jobs.  Genoa is a port city and was doing well financially at the time.  None the less, many people – my grandparents included - came to California, an area similar to Genoa in terms of weather.  The family was a typical Italian family made up of parents and a number of children.  There were Romeo and Juliet, Henry and Henrietta, and another female child whose name eludes me currently (perhaps Jewel).  His mother died when Juliet was born, and at 6 my father was put in a Catholic orphanage, because his father could not raise all the children.  I have no idea what happened to the father or to the other children at that time.  I met some of them once or twice later in life, but have no clear recollections of them.  I met the family once when my father and I flew on an airplane to California to be with the family when his brother Romeo was buried.  In what was an extremely rare moment for him, he confided to me that Romeo’s death was a suicide. 

I remember very little of that meeting.  One or two of the sisters had married Portuguese men and had farms on which they raised sheep and artichokes.  The custom for families with this heritage was to bring children up to drink wine almost from birth.  I had not been so reared.  I was probably 7 at the time.  The relatives decided, with dad’s permission, to give me a glass of wine with dinner.  Whether it was the excitement of being there or the wine itself that caused me to get sick, I don’t know, but I got sick and lay down for several hours to recover.

 

As I said, Dad was placed in an orphanage that must have been run by Catholic monks or priests of the Franciscan order.  That order was quite prevalent in California, and they had a number of orphanages and other facilities aimed at helping people.  Dad never talked about that part of his life.  He did not talk about either growing up or being a young adult, but once when he and I were out west together we had occasion to look at some old missions and I noted his interest in the names on plaques on the walls.  I was sure that he recognized several names, and many memories were stirred up. I am aware that he was very well educated, and although I do not have details, I know he took Latin for 20 years, was fluent in Spanish, German, Greek, and Italian.  He also studied Sanskrit.  The Catholic Church oversaw his education, and he became a Franciscan Priest.  As part of his education, he spent time in Egypt and in the Middle East.  He did research on the bible.  He translated many documents having to do with the Bible and with his religion.  As his career progressed, he became a teacher at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. (http://www.cua.edu/) where he taught in the branch of philosophy called ethics.  The class was held for other priests and persons preparing for priesthood.  He conducted the classes in Latin rather than English.

 

His life is sketchy in my mind because he never told me about it.  It was my mother who told me the little I know.  But apparently the more he learned the more he tended to disbelieve the teachings of the church.  The more he disbelieved, the deeper his struggle went.  He was after all, a teacher of ethics.  Could he remain in the church and not accept some of the basic tenets.  Is it ethical to abandon the principles of the family (the Catholic Church which raised you)?  Is it ethical to continue teaching and living by principles that you do not agree with?  He was struggling with those thoughts and perhaps many others when he decided to take a boat trip to Alaska to sort out his mind, and to see what direction his life should take.

Fri

13

Nov

2015

Are Languages Products of their Environment?


shutterstock_222422665_151112


DISCOVER MAGAZINE published this very interesting article: 


  Languages Are Products of Their Environments


The characteristics that make each language unique may actually be adaptations to the acoustics of different environments.

0 Comments

Tue

03

Jun

2014

The Case for Reparations

 

The Case for Reparations

 

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

 

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

May 21, 2014

 


Chapters

  1. I. “So That’s Just One Of My Losses”
  2. II.  “A Difference of Kind, Not Degree”
  3. III. “We Inherit Our Ample Patrimony”
  4. IV. “The Ills That Slavery Frees Us From”
  5. V. The Quiet Plunder
  6. VI. Making The Second Ghetto
  7. VII. “A Lot Of People Fell By The Way”
  8. VIII. “Negro Poverty is not White Poverty”
  9. IX. Toward A New Country
  10. X. “There Will Be No ‘Reparations’ From Germany”
0 Comments

Mon

02

Jun

2014

A Look At 19th Century Children In The USA

PHILADELPHIA — DINNER with your children in 19th-century America often required some self-control. Berry stains in your daughter’s hair? Good for her. Raccoon bites running up your boy’s arms? Bet he had an interesting day.

 

As this year’s summer vacation begins, many parents contemplate how to rein in their kids. But there was a time when Americans pushed in the opposite direction, preserved in Mark Twain’s cat-swinging scamps. Parents back then encouraged kids to get some wildness out of their system, to express the republic’s revolutionary values.

The New York Times

Sunday Review

By JON GRINSPAN MAY 31, 2014

 

A late 19th century family taking a stroll down a set of railroad tracks
A late 19th century family taking a stroll down a set of railroad tracks

American children of the 19th century had a reputation. Returning British visitors reported on American kids who showed no respect, who swore and fought, who appeared — at age 10 — “calling for liquor at the bar, or puffing a cigar in the streets,” as one wrote. There were really no children in 19th-century America, travelers often claimed, only “small stuck-up caricatures of men and women.”

 

This was not a “carefree” nation, too rough-hewed to teach proper manners; adults deliberately chose to express new values by raising “go-ahead” boys and girls. The result mixed democracy and mob rule, assertiveness and cruelty, sudden freedom and strict boundaries. Visitors noted how American fathers would brag that their disobedient children were actually “young republicans,” liberated from old hierarchies. Children were still expected to be deferential to elders, but many were trained to embody their nation’s revolutionary virtues. “The theory of the equality” was present at the ballot box, according to one sympathetic Englishman, but “rampant in the nursery.”

 

Boys, in particular, spent their childhoods in a rowdy outdoor subculture. After age 5 or so they needed little attention from their mothers, but were not big enough to help their fathers work. So until age 10 or 12 they spent much of their time playing or fighting.

 

The writer William Dean Howells recalled his ordinary, violent Ohio childhood, immersed in his loose gang of pals, rarely catching a “glimpse of life much higher than the middle of a man.” Howells’s peers were “always stoning something,” whether friends, rivals or stray dogs. They left a trail of maimed animals behind them, often hurt in sloppy attempts to domesticate wild pets.

 

And though we envision innocents playing with a hoop and a stick, many preferred “mumbletypeg” — a game where two players competed to see who could throw a knife closer to his own foot. Stabbing yourself meant a win by default.

 

Left to their own devices, boys learned an assertive style that shaped their futures. The story of every 19th-century empire builder — Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt — seems to begin with a striving 10-year-old. “Boy culture” offered training for the challenges of American manhood and a reprieve before a life of labor.

 

But these unsupervised boys also formed gangs that harassed the mentally ill, the handicapped and racial and ethnic minorities. Boys played an outsize role in the anti-Irish pogroms in 1840s Philadelphia, the brutal New York City draft riots targeting African-Americans during the Civil War and attacks on Chinese laborers in Gilded Age California. These children did not invent the bigotry rampant in white America, but their unrestrained upbringing let them enact what their parents mostly muttered.

 

Their sisters followed a different path. Girls were usually assigned more of their mothers’ tasks. An 8-year-old girl would be expected to help with the wash or other physically demanding tasks, while her brother might simply be too small, too slow or too annoying to drive the plow with his father. But despite their drudgery, 19th-century American girls still found time for tree climbing, bonfire building and waterfall-jumping antics. There were few pretty pink princesses in 19th-century America: Girls were too rowdy and too republican for that.

 

So how did we get from “democratic sucklings” to helicopter parents? Though many point to a rise of parental worrying after the 1970s, this was an incremental change in a movement that began a hundred years earlier.

 

In the last quarter of the 19th century, middle-class parents launched a self-conscious project to protect children. Urban professionals began to focus on children’s vulnerabilities. Well-to-do worriers no longer needed to raise tough dairymaids or cunning newsboys; the changing economy demanded careful managers of businesses or households, and restrained company men, capable of navigating big institutions.

 

Demographics played a role as well: By 1900 American women had half as many children as they did in 1800, and those children were twice as likely to live through infancy as they were in 1850. Ironically, as their children faced fewer dangers, parents worried more about their protection.

 

Instead of seeing boys and girls as capable, clever, knockabout scamps, many reconceived children as vulnerable, weak and naïve. Reformers introduced child labor laws, divided kids by age in school and monitored their play. Jane Addams particularly worked to fit children into the new industrial order, condemning “this stupid experiment of organizing work and failing to organize play.”

 

There was good reason to tame the boys and girls of the 19th century, if only for stray cats’ sake. But somewhere between Jane Addams and Nancy Grace, Americans lost track of their larger goal. Earlier parents raised their kids to express values their society trumpeted.

 

“Precocious” 19th-century troublemakers asserted their parents’ democratic beliefs and fit into an economy that had little use for 8-year-olds but idealized striving, self-made men. Reformers designed their Boy Scouts to meet the demands of the 20th century, teaching organization and rebalancing the relationship between play and work. Both movements agreed, in their didactic ways, that playtime shaped future citizens.

 

Does the overprotected child articulate values we are proud of in 2014? Nothing is easier than judging other peoples’ parenting, but there is a side of contemporary American culture — fearful, litigious, controlling — that we do not brag about but that we reveal in our child rearing, and that runs contrary to our self-image as an open, optimistic nation. Maybe this is why sheltering parents come in for so much easy criticism: A visit to the playground exposes traits we would rather not recognize.

 

There is, however, a saving grace that parents will notice this summer. Kids are harder to guide and shape, as William Dean Howells put it, “than grown people are apt to think.” It is as true today as it was two centuries ago: “Everywhere and always the world of boys is outside of the laws that govern grown-up communities.” Somehow, they’ll manage to go their own way.

 

________________________________

 

A National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society who is writing a book on the role of young people in 19th-century American democracy.

0 Comments

Mon

21

Apr

2014

Investigating Family's Wealth, China's Leader Signals a Change

From The New York Times 

By CHRISTOPHER DREW and JAD MOUAWAD

APRIL 19, 2014

 

HONG KONG — His son landed contracts to sell equipment to state oil fields and thousands of filling stations across China. His son’s mother-in-law held stakes in pipelines and natural gas pumps from Sichuan Province in the west to the southern isle of Hainan. And his sister-in-law, working from one of Beijing’s most prestigious office buildings, invested in mines, property and energy projects.

 

In thousands of pages of corporate documents describing these ventures, the name that never appears is his own: Zhou Yongkang, the formidable Chinese Communist Party leader who served as China’s top security official and the de facto boss of its oil industry.





A visitor at the Zhou family's ancestral graves in Xiqliantou, eastern China.  Intrigue surrounds the family after a spate of arrests.  Sim Chi Yim for the New York Times
A visitor at the Zhou family's ancestral graves in Xiqliantou, eastern China. Intrigue surrounds the family after a spate of arrests. Sim Chi Yim for the New York Times

But President Xi Jinping has targeted Mr. Zhou in an extraordinary corruption inquiry, a first for a Chinese party leader of Mr. Zhou’s rank, and put his family’s extensive business interests in the cross hairs.

 

Even by the cutthroat standards of Chinese politics, it is a bold maneuver. The finances of the families of senior leaders are among the deepest and most politically delicate secrets in China. The party has for years followed a tacit rule that relatives of the elite could prosper from the country’s economic opening, which rewarded loyalty and helped avert rifts in the leadership.

Zhou Family Ties

1 Comments

Fri

13

Nov

2015

Are Languages Products of their Environment?


shutterstock_222422665_151112


DISCOVER MAGAZINE published this very interesting article: 


  Languages Are Products of Their Environments


The characteristics that make each language unique may actually be adaptations to the acoustics of different environments.

0 Comments

Tue

03

Jun

2014

The Case for Reparations

 

The Case for Reparations

 

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

 

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

May 21, 2014

 


Chapters

  1. I. “So That’s Just One Of My Losses”
  2. II.  “A Difference of Kind, Not Degree”
  3. III. “We Inherit Our Ample Patrimony”
  4. IV. “The Ills That Slavery Frees Us From”
  5. V. The Quiet Plunder
  6. VI. Making The Second Ghetto
  7. VII. “A Lot Of People Fell By The Way”
  8. VIII. “Negro Poverty is not White Poverty”
  9. IX. Toward A New Country
  10. X. “There Will Be No ‘Reparations’ From Germany”
0 Comments

Mon

02

Jun

2014

A Look At 19th Century Children In The USA

PHILADELPHIA — DINNER with your children in 19th-century America often required some self-control. Berry stains in your daughter’s hair? Good for her. Raccoon bites running up your boy’s arms? Bet he had an interesting day.

 

As this year’s summer vacation begins, many parents contemplate how to rein in their kids. But there was a time when Americans pushed in the opposite direction, preserved in Mark Twain’s cat-swinging scamps. Parents back then encouraged kids to get some wildness out of their system, to express the republic’s revolutionary values.

The New York Times

Sunday Review

By JON GRINSPAN MAY 31, 2014

 

A late 19th century family taking a stroll down a set of railroad tracks
A late 19th century family taking a stroll down a set of railroad tracks

Read More 0 Comments

Mon

21

Apr

2014

Investigating Family's Wealth, China's Leader Signals a Change

From The New York Times 

By CHRISTOPHER DREW and JAD MOUAWAD

APRIL 19, 2014

 

HONG KONG — His son landed contracts to sell equipment to state oil fields and thousands of filling stations across China. His son’s mother-in-law held stakes in pipelines and natural gas pumps from Sichuan Province in the west to the southern isle of Hainan. And his sister-in-law, working from one of Beijing’s most prestigious office buildings, invested in mines, property and energy projects.

 

In thousands of pages of corporate documents describing these ventures, the name that never appears is his own: Zhou Yongkang, the formidable Chinese Communist Party leader who served as China’s top security official and the de facto boss of its oil industry.





A visitor at the Zhou family's ancestral graves in Xiqliantou, eastern China.  Intrigue surrounds the family after a spate of arrests.  Sim Chi Yim for the New York Times
A visitor at the Zhou family's ancestral graves in Xiqliantou, eastern China. Intrigue surrounds the family after a spate of arrests. Sim Chi Yim for the New York Times

Read More 1 Comments