Wednesday, May 24, 2017
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When I visited my father’s childhood home in Schenectady, New York with my brothers last summer for my 65th birthday, I felt like I was attached to the very streets. I’ve never lived in Schenectady. The Cheat River in the Monongahela_National_Forest in West Virginia, nearing its headwaters (from the state’s highest peaks). (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Some years before, I’d seen my father’s childhood home when I visited Schenectady for the first time, walked down the sledding hill on the street closed off in the winter for the children. I imagined my grandfather walking along... (Read More ...)

We know that Lucie Burian Liebman was married for 52 years and had five children. Sir Nicholas Winton British humanitarian (b. 1909) who organized the rescue of about 669 mostly Jewish Czech children visiting Prague in October 2007 – meeting with Czech students. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) At 76, in 2002, a widow in a wheelchair, she revisited her childhood home in Vienna, Austria, and the home of relatives who took her family in for nearly three years in Prague, Czechoslovakia. But, until you read her book, Unconquered: A Tale of a Girl’s Survival During the Holocaust, you don’t know what... (Read More ...)

On a recent visit to China, I asked mothers and fathers if there were any issues between generations in their family about how to raise the grandchild. Sunset of the Forbidden City, Beijing (northwest cornor of the Forbidden City) (Photo credit: Wikipedia) I expected to hear about the issues raised by the one-child policy, introduced in 1979, and the pressure on a single child to fulfill all the wishes of the parents and grandparents. What I heard was rather more practical issues, such as a difference of opinion about whether a child should be so bundled up against the cold as to be sweating. Since... (Read More ...)

How did two sisters get jobs with the CIA when their father was a career criminal? U.S. Penitentiary, Atlanta, Ga. (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress) Why did two sisters decide to write a biography of their father when he had mostly been in jail while they were growing up and unrepentantly continued some of his illegal activities every time he got out? What kind of letters do you suppose such a father wrote his children from jail? “My sister and I always thought we would keep our childhood a secret.” The triggering event was an email from an adoptee seeking information about... (Read More ...)

When my father died, suddenly, in Atlanta, Georgia, four days after a hemorrhagic stroke and twenty years before his family’s history would have suggested, I told my mother’s friends I was most worried that my mother would stop eating. A fudge cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia) They swung into action. Mom told me later that, though she had lived in the South for more than fifty years, and generously participated in the ritual of bringing food to the home of the bereaved, she had never understood the tradition. Now, she did. She was unable to lift a finger to feed the dozens of family who came for... (Read More ...)

How many moos should you allow in a herd of cattle? A curved “V” cattle race. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) “…each year, half the cattle in the United States are handled in cruelty-free facilities [Grandin] has designed.” ‘To achieve this unprecedented success, Temple used one of the strengths of autism: she thinks visually, the same way animals do.” Her father thought she was retarded and insisted she be sent to a mental hospital at the age of three. Her mother refused. Instead, she engaged a speech teacher to come three times a week for a daughter who could not talk or laugh. She... (Read More ...)

DNA model built by Crick and Watson in 1953, on display in the National Science Museum of London.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia) There are several ways to read The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, by Nobel Prize Winner James D. Watson. There is the scientific breakthrough of the structure of DNA that its discoverers thought so significant, that: “Francis wanted no time lost in seeing whether satisfactory three-dimensional models could be built, since the geneticists and nucleic-acid biochemists should not misuse their time and facilities any longer... (Read More ...)

Patrici Hampl, author of I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory, takes an unusual approach to memoir. Koláčky – czech sweet bread with plum jam or poppy seeds, Czech Republic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) First, she tells you about a time when she was a young woman, trying to figure out love. She meets a stranger on a cross-country bus trip, a middle-aged woman she’d just seen passionately kissing, on the mouth, a young man in his 20s, whom Hampl presumed to be the woman’s son. The woman gets on the bus, sits down next to Hampl and, guessing the reason for her confusion,... (Read More ...)

How do you come to terms with growing up in a family where women get pregnant and married young, then spend much of their lives deciding whether to leave their abusive husbands, also trapped, too young, with children to feed? A scan of the book Aunt Louisa’s Bible Picture Book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) If you not only feel trapped, but, even as a child, you see this pattern repeating throughout your family and are waiting, as for the other shoe to drop, for it to happen to you, how do you cope? Stories. Dorothy Allison, author of “Two or Three Things I Know for Sure,” opens her autobiography... (Read More ...)

It’s tempting to throw crazy into the mix when you are describing Jenny Lawson’s autobiography, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir). A self-portrait of the Bloggess, also known as Jenny Lawson, an Internet blogger. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) But, when she already reveals that she has generalized anxiety disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and rheumatoid arthritis, crazy not only seems like piling on, it obscures her genius. Her genius is describing her life in such a way that you are rolling on the floor laughing. I try not to read book passages out loud to my... (Read More ...)