Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

Pre-Safety Net Marker

July 26th, 2011

Evidence of a true atavism appears on a flat marker in Dorchestrer. In the Cedar Grove cemetery is one reading HOME FOR AGED COLORED WOMEN. Nearby are rows of small stones marking the graves of those residents.

home4agedThis institution operated just before and decades after the Civil War. While Boston was in a state that long before given up slave ownership, by custom and law, it was not an area where many African American residents flourished. Think of the north slope of Beacon Hill, where many of them lived, and went to their work as servants.  While better than slavery, that offered little chance for saving or advancement, and certainly not for retirement.

In an era before Social Security or any government safety net beyond debtors’ prisons and orphanages, churches, do-gooders and private groups stepped up as best they could. As listed in the 1910 U.S. Census for example, the number and dispersion of homes caring for small numbers of inmates is eye-opening.

In an era before Social Security or any government safety net beyond debtors’ prisons and orphanages, churches, do-gooders and private groups stepped up as best they could. As listed in the 1910 U.S. Census for example, the number and dispersion of homes caring for small numbers of inmates is eye-opening. It was catch as catch can for the poor, old or feeble.

The Home for Aged Colored Women was by then in its longest term location, down the street from the State House at 22 Hancock Street. That’s now a super-priced double home abutting Suffolk University on the back. Having lived across the street when I first moved to Boston, I know that this strip had become low-rent boarding houses after the black residents began to decamp. Back in the 19th and into the early 20th Centuries, it surely was an affordable place for charities to rent or buy.

fullerstoneIn 1910, this Home accepted three new residents and had a total of 18 women. Other documents said it could accommodate up to 20. They had six paid employees, and as the Census notes in one of its then-necessary columns, “Colored persons received.”

The Home was organized in 1860 “at the suggestion of Mrs. K. P. Clarke, and incorporated in 1864, for aged colored women of good character, who are unable to take care of themselves. If able, or if they have friends able to assist them, the beneficiaries are obliged to pay a small amount toward their maintenance.” The original location was also in the area with many black servants, at 27 Myrtle Street.

The MA Historical Society mentions it too, writing “an interracial group of concerned citizens opened the Home for Aged Colored Women on Beacon Hill to care for elderly African and African American women. Many of these women were ex-slaves.”

A different form of charity was in African American women helping in the Civil War effort, particularly in support of black soldiers such as the 54th Regiment Company A. Look up a floor on River Street in Hyde Park’s Cleary Square to see the office of The Colored Ladies Christian Relief Association. The 54th website describes them as, “The Colored ladies present the ‘hidden half’ of the story 
of the 54th, the contributions of African American women in the 
Civil War.”

The Bostonians weren’t the only groups. In an online encyclopedia on women in the  Civil War, the drive of Elizabeth Keckley led to numerous such Contraband Relief Associations. Contraband of course referred to freed or escaped slaves. Keckley a dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln ran a successful business and encouraged other free blacks to contribute to society.

Lincoln contributed a sizable $200 to the new effort. When Keckley accompanied her on a trip through New England and New York City, she “encouraged Octavia Grimes to establish the Colored Ladies’ Relief Association and Sarah Martin the Fugitive Aid Society of Boston. Both organizations were attached to all-black Boston churches and became auxilliaries of the CRA.”

She solicited contributions from black and white abolitionists here and abroad. She expanded the effort and even broadened the name to Ladies’ Freedmen and Soldiers’ Relief Association. In what would today strike chords left and right, “she was concerned that white philanthropists and charity workers who underestimated the abilities and the potential of the formerly enslaved would undermine their efforts to elevate themselves.”

No Kilt Needed

May 11th, 2011

Little black dresses and wee snifters were the props. Whisky was the feature, that is single-malt whisky (Scottish spelling, if you please), which many of us simply call Scotch.

The Mcallan distiller pumps its promotion budget partly into such dram sipping evening here and there in an annual U.S. road swing. For example, see considerable detail in posts here and here. They write sumptuously on it so I don’t have to. The short version is that we got small snifters of 10, 12, 17 and 18 year old versions, averaging about half an ounce per. Each and more get full descriptions on the company site.

The production fascinated me. It also took me back to my early 20s when I wrote for a big construction magazine, a job which included covering the gigantic Con/Agg show of equipment.

My chum John signed several of us up for the free malt tasting, but only he and I ended up downtown at the Royale nightclub in our cute little theater district. There were no loose ends to this fabric. Mcallan folk had it all neatly woven.

Model types in LBDs greeted us and checked us off the list. They are worthy of comment and what first reminded me of the Con/Agg show. It goes on for days and fills the largest exhibition sites in Chicago. With gigantic earth movers and such, it’s not hard to command such spaces.

What was odd to my young 20s self was women as advertising and sales gear. There was an amusing and pleasing incongruity to the huge, metal machinery and hyper-attractive women in tiny dresses and sometimes bikinis. I recall at the first such show I attended seeing a gigantic dump truck filled with water and a half dozen barely clothed models splashing and swimming and generally showing themselves off in its massive bed. In construction terms, the point was that the bed was as big as a swimming pool, hence capable of hauling terrific amounts of rock and dirt with each load. Yet, the almost entirely middle-aged male potential buyers came to look first at the nearly nude women.

I asked my long-tenured editor how the Caterpillar and Euclid folk got all these stunning women for the show. He knew because he had asked. There was a gold rush of sorts many months before each Con/Agg, with the various equipment makers hitting up the modeling agencies. They wanted xx number of leggy lookers, first come first served.

malt

One might think that in the many years since, we’d be getting over all that. Nah. Men and women alike enjoy looking at and being greeted by attractive women. Exposed legs and shoulders seem to still be the norm. In fact, while they apparently did not have quite enough Mcallan issue LBDs to go around, most of the dozen or so women were in uniform. That was an extremely short and very tight dress, with the right shoulder bare and the left one with shiny black rectangular spangles. The shirt portion barely covered the aspirations of the audience.

Maybe 200 folk got seats at the long tables. A few glasses of walnuts were scattered about with the black and gold company napkins. We got a Mcallan token on the way in, which we traded for a wee glass of the 10-year-old malt. That was the method to keep folk from loading up on multiple shots before the show.

The incongruous disco music played for 20 minutes or so as we got our seats. It sure wasn’t bagpipes. The dark space focused us on the lit stage with the traveling exhibit — a counter for the speaker (brand ambassador Randolph [never Randy, yuck, yuck] Adams), tall display cases of nine different bottles of their malts, and a sports-event-sized touch screen. As the slick presentation started, it was describe Scotland, the whiskies, the process and so forth, interspersed with the women bring around trays of small snifters of the various samples.

There’d be two seatings, so they had it down for an opening at 6:30 and clear the room and tables for the next group between 8 and 8:30. Thank you very much. We can call you a cab if you think you need it.

It was a very efficient operation. Adams had the personality and snappy patter for the job as well. He’s certainly someone you’d, if you pardon, have a drink with. He’d never be a loss for an amusing anecdote.

Back to the temp help, while there were a couple of nice enough looking  20-something men by the doors, they stayed in the background and let the grinning women set the tone. It was a very 1970s tone at that. Also, being Boston instead  of a huge city, the LBD women were nice looking, but not the you-need-to-be-in-movies/Playboy and I-have-to-take-you-with-me types from the Con/Agg show. In that sense, the evening let the maybe 70% male audience concentrate on the snifters instead of sniffing the servers.

The crowd was mostly young men, but with a fair smattering of older guys, older women and a very few young women. I suspect that this is wise promotional expenditure. They’ll certainly keep Mcallan in the public mind, just as certainly sell their bottles to those who attended the next time they hit liquor stores, and get a better return than a similarly priced print ad to the cost of the evening.

I am not likely to be a convert, even though I enjoyed several of the samples. As never-Randy noted early in his palaver, tastes differ. The Irish invented the distilling process and many folk enjoy the lighter whiskey they favor. He also praised other Scottish malt distillers’ products, while holding the Macallan the best.

He made special mention of Islay whisky, saying some Scotch drinkers prefer the peaty, smoky products like Lagavulin and Laphroig. I am in that group and those are my one and two favorite malts.

If you like brown whisky/whiskey, you’d surely enjoy a Mcallan evening. The anachronistic b-girl tone of the severs really doesn’t distract from the purpose of the evening. It’s free and, hey, it’s better than sitting in front of TV.

Mayonnaise, Scotch and the Rabbi

October 4th, 2010

A post on skyline signs at Universal Hub put me in the memory tumbler. Yeah, yeah, Citgo…but I have personal flashbacks related to the gigantic lit CAIN’S sign by MIT plugging mayonnaise and pickles.

Up here for a year and a half or so in the late sixties, I lived in Cambridge while I was on a grant to study underground papers in Manhattan, Boston and Cambridge. I filled in income with summer jobs at places like Advent and Cain’s. Sharing a big apartment on Broadway nearly Inman Square with my girlfriend and four other women, I’d head toward the back of that sign to work. The front faced Boston on the Charles.

The only part of Cain’s that came home other than stories was a radish knife. That’s not like a wee paring blade. Rather, a foot or so long machete-like blade for coarsely chopping the forearm-size horseradishes before processing.

I was a cook even then and admired them. One of the older guys said they had lots of them and they weren’t worth sharpening, so I should just take one.

The Spider Lady

Back home, the spider lady loved it. She worked as a grad student in Harvard’s arachnid lab. Her bedroom had walls pied with prints, photographs and posters of bats and spiders. She was spider-like herself, way thin with long arms and fingers (although only the usual human number of each, I am pretty sure).

I had a car and drove her out to her family digs. I think they were in Dover. It was the next estate to Gov. Francis Sargent’s. She could likely fixate on spiders or anything else given her station.

She also liked meat…bloody meat. She saw that radish knife as another tool in this fixation. The six of us shared a kitchen and she was often there doing vigorous things with steak.

The apartment was jolly and there was a pleasant sexual undercurrent. It was five women, two female cats, one male one (Balls for his most obvious feature), and I. Frequent humor was of synchronized menstrual cycles, human and feline. The women other than my girlfriend were largely busy with studies or work, and boyfriends were not common visitors or visited.

(Promise note: This apartment was also the setting for a Fourth of July overnight psychotic break, replete with endless arias, neighbors calling police and a holiday visit to MGH’s psych ward. More on that in a future post. Also, the tale of Balls’ vanishing and the night of the gigantic bottle of retsina will be another one.)

Spider lady loved that knife from Cain’s though. Thus, none of us was surprised to see her in the kitchen flailing on a chunk of dead cow, bringing the massive, lobed blade down too hard. I think everyone was there when we learned how powerful her spindly arms were, as she took a massive swing, cut the steak straight through and continued splitting the butcher block cutting board in two.

Lunch in the Locker Room

Back down to the mayonnaise factory, I found another kind of education entirely. I had grown up earning my way as a paperboy, working agriculture, lolling as a lifeguard, getting sore and calloused as a house carpenter, but this was my first factory job. It was also my first brief stint as a union member (Bakers and Confectioners, the Teamsters).

In the height of the Vietnam War and me with long hair and an earring, I was a bit trepid. A couple of us were 19 or 20, but the regulars were in their 40s through 60s. Many were WWII and Korean vets and I was unsure how elbow-to-elbow work would go, much less lunch at a long table in the shared locker room would go. The two youngest of us had to wear hairnets because of our hippie dos, as well.

The first lunch settled that. One of the oldest guys, gray, pot-bellied and with forearms like Popeye unfolded his Record-American tabloid (later bought by the Herald). Oh, crap, thought I; here we go. He read about battles and deaths over there, swore and said we had no business sending our boys to die in Vietnam. The room heard widespread grunts, obscenities and agreement. I, of course, felt like a total fool, because I had already stereotyped the reader as a conservative, warmonger. Instead, we basically shared the same politics.

Back then, Cain’s was still a family business. The founder John E. had died almost 20 years before, but the workers had known him and knew his son Bob who took over. Today, it is part of a large corporation and is Cains Foods. It long ago moved to a sprawling suburban location and the sign by MIT is gone.

When I was there though, I learned a bit about the Teamsters, something about mayonnaise and salad dressings, a major drawback of a food assembly line, and the slightly unsavory visits from the kosher-certifying rabbi. Those in part two

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Lingerie Jungle

July 8th, 2010

Girdles, panty-girdles, pettipants, slips full and half, stockings, underpants and of course brassieres…

Those were my daily teenage jungle. They were vines in the family bathroom, but not even of any utility for swinging from place to place.

In apartments with two females, I moved or pushed aside curtains of lingerie to shower, use a toothbrush or shave. I was the minority adjusting the the nylon tyranny of the majority.

That meant heaving the foldable wooden Rid-Jid drying rack (carefully so the dowel structure didn’t collapse) from the tub to the floor to get to the shower or tub. That meant pushing aside the shower-curtain rack of stockings and white wear and moving it to someplace obvious and safe.

It’s good I didn’t have a fetish for women’s undergraments. Perhaps the daily dealings are what kept me from fixating on them. I never understood the guys in college who sat at student union stairwells hoping for glimpse of what I had seen far too many of, thank you very much.

The amusing part though was not my daily bra bushwhack. Rather, my busty sister and flat-chested mom kept a regular banter about their contributions to the jungle. There was never a doubt about whose bra was whose.

They’d laugh about their respective attributes, feigning jealousy.

I ran into that again a few years later in my first job after journalism school. As editor of the black weekly in Columbia South Carolina, the Palmetto Post, I was usually the only white person around. Other than ad sales reps, the two always-there office staff were black women who had been best friends since first grade. They even went to the two neighboring black colleges there before starting working for the paper together.

They knew each other very well.

Part of that was play like I grew up hearing. They had the two stereotypical African-American women’s bodies. One was was slender with no bottom or top to speak of and the other short and heavy top and bottom. The slender one, Ida, would not let a day pass without lamenting how much she wanted big breasts and a substantial rear. Jackie would counter with how chubby she was and how much she wanted Ida’s right bod.

Here again, I was outnumbered and on their turf. They remained the best of friends and used body talk like too many of us go through riffs on the weather. Plus, I think they enjoyed watching me blush.

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The Good Word Through the Open Window

May 17th, 2010

“Great legs! Strong!,” she called out. The words, coupled with a winning smile were very unnecessary but very pleasant.

I was in slight laboring mode biking the long, steady incline up Washington from Green to Egleston Square. I wasn’t flirting, not even with 20-something Latinas in mini-vans coming behind me. She didn’t have to, but it was OK by this aging, somewhat chubby guy.

My legs must be acceptable to the eye. I’ve been hearing the occasional acclaim since at least high school. A native Chinese girl I new blushed as she told me what beautiful calves I had. It seems in Canton, where she was born, strong, attractive legs are one way women evaluate men. Years of competitive swimming and now cycling do well by my nether limbs.

Being a UU, I’m relatively political correct. I compliment my wife and a few other female relatives and long-term friends. Otherwise, I’m pretty cautious.

Yet, considering the little lift a phrase of physical praise can provide, even to such as me, I should not be so cowardly. Surely I can find non-lecherous and non-threatening ways to put in a good word or ten.

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Look! Over There!

May 15th, 2010

Who do the 20  and 30-something balding guys think they’re kidding? Would that be everyone else in the gym?

The surest male-pattern-baldness indicator is wearing a baseball cap when you’re on the treadmill. Puffing and perspiring, you’d have us believe you wear the Red Sox cap to support our team. Instead, it is like so many diversionary vanities.

A cultural myth we just can’t seem to shake is how vain women are, with the corollary that men are just slobs who don’t care about their looks. Without their women — mom, girlfriend, wife, mistress — all men would pull their greasy jeans over their holey underpants and top it with a t-shirt that may or may not smell.

Sure, we can all reach just inside our bags of experience to back up those stereotypes…so long as we ignore what is all around us.

Perhaps it’s unfair to draw on the fashion or entertainment world, but male vanity pranced its way before me again with the Cannes coverage. The as-hard-to-behold-as-Donatella-Versace designer Karl Lagerfeld was doing his turkey-neck thing as always.

karlneckHe’s moderately old, at 76, but he’s no way ready to come to terms with it. If his collar gets any higher, it will strangle him or slice his dewlap open. Like the baseball cap in the gym, that absurd fashion screams that he has flippy, heavily grooved, old-man neck.

When I see him, I recall a piece I did a lot of years ago for a management magazine on shirts. Interviewing the founder of Custom Shirts, Mortimer Levitt, I had been chosen to bell the cat. He was notorious for ridiculing what individual men wore.

He dispensed with me relatively quickly — the suit wasn’t hand tailored…obviously. However, I had never seen his slide show and was not quite prepared to a few entries. He flashed up stills of famous and powerful men so he could comment on their shirt flaws. The most striking was President John Kennedy.

Vanity, Thy Name Is…

Having grown up in the manufactured Camelot images of the Kennedys, I had kind of ignored how he porked up. We learned later of his various diseases, including hyperthyroidism that led to his piling of 30 pounds in his last three years. Well, Levitt’s slides hasn’t not ignored any of that.

There was Jack on the wall, fat hanging over and all around his collar. The then most powerful person in the world, with a reputation for handsomeness and plenty of money to clothe himself never bothered to buy shirts to adjust to his new girth. He went three years, getting fatter and fatter while likely struggling to button his collar.

Everyone else may have feared pointing out the obvious to him. We can be surprised that his stylish wife apparently did not, or changed nothing if she did.

Women as a group, of course, have made this illusion and delusion process more of an art and more open. Any women’s service magazine at the checkout line shows as much.

At its baseline, women teach other other from girlhood the tricks. The chubby are supposed to flatter their figure, as the euphemism goes, by wearing vertical stripes to trick the eye. Conversely ectomorphic young women with no visible secondary sex characteristics are supposed to go for horizontal stripes to give the illusion of hips, butts and breasts.

More severe are such physical restraints as body shapers, which have taken the role of the old girdles and corsets. The aim is the same, to squeeze the corporal paste to different locations on the body tube.

serious

I think of the then horrifying long-line girdle my grandmother used to wear. I only saw it hanging on the drying rack in the basement, down there with the working pickles, the jars of last summer’s beans, and the freezer for fish and venison her son would bring. (Southern women of that era did not hang unmentionables on publicly visible lines.)

The amazing object really belonged in a museum, perhaps with medieval iron armor. My sister and I could only imagine what it would be like to spend 16 hours a day squeezed from clavicle to mid-thigh.

Yet such highly engined compressors were the norm for women born in the early years of the 20th century. They had a moral aspect as well. Women whose parts jiggled when they moved were immodest and advertising their sexuality.

Tricks Are for Grannies

How tough it must have been for my large-boned grandmother. We can rightfully credit or blame her for our big feet and massive shoulders. Her husband and his forebears were much more delicate.

Yet Mable was big and worked at the illusions of her era. To worsen it, she had a failing here though. She was  renown cook, particularly as a baker. She tried so hard to follow those absurd height/weight charts when they came out. Those were about as meaningful for individuals as today’s BMI is (group yes, person no), but pop culture gave them enormous credence, even when insurance companies disregarded them as non-predictive and non-diagnostic of health and longevity.

So, Mable tried to follow book and magazine diets meant for much smaller and less active women. She had several of Gayelor Hauser’s books, with titles like Eat and Grow Beautiful. There was lots of dry Hollywood Diet bread and daily totals of something like 900 calories.

Sometimes she just couldn’t take it. We knew that when she covered her plate she prepared in the kitchen with a paper napkin. Again like the cap on the treadmill guy, we all knew there was more food on that plate that she thought she was supposed to have. She was the matriarch and no one called her on it, but like that gym guy, she was ashamed and did what she felt she had to do.

So sure, women have their clothes and makeup tricks. They and increasingly men are getting faces and other body parts done by surgeons. As surely, we all like to look at attractive people. Maybe we don’t offer as much to the public as we’d like to see.

Yet to our credit, most of us let others get by with a lot of failed illusions, tricks that fool no one and in fact draw attention to what we’re trying to hide. I guess that’s fair enough. The convention is to expect those others to cut us some slack when we act out too.

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Hidden HP History

April 1st, 2010

212 Fairmount Ave.

Nondescript 212 Fairmount in Hyde Park was the site of a social-activist nexus for Hyde Park, Boston and beyond — a century and one-half ago at least. Think abolitionists, suffragettes, Weld and the Grimkés (including the sisters’ half-black, former slave nephews).

Its nearby neighbors today are largely splendid Victorians. This is one of several clearly razed and replaced. No sign or wall plaque hints at the former buzz within.

In fairness to whomever redeveloped 212, that was what happened and not only in Hyde Park back then. One of Boston’s virtues is how many of its historic buildings it has kept. In contrast, in Manhattan far more important sites get that plaque if anything. However, Hyde Park was carved out of open tracts of Milton and Dedham and Fairmount Hill required either bushwhacking from the Mattapan train terminus or pushing across the bridgeless Neponset in a punt to begin settling the area. Such niceties as devoting resources to troubled houses could come later.

In fact, Hyde Park let herself go. The dangerous and dilapidated Fairmount House was totally gutted and rebuilt on Michael Tallon’s dime to become Townsend’s. The former grand inn lives only in a few pictures on the upstairs walls. Also, many of the grand meeting halls went down.

Moreover, the most known and distinguished building in this newest of Boston neighborhoods (1912) is Christ Church. While architects cite this Ralph Adams Cram building as the prototype for many other 19th Century works, it looks ugly to me and has mediocre stained glass.

Crusaders of Fairmount

Theodore Weld operated out of 212 Fairmount for the bulk of his rabble rousing career. In partnership were his wife, Angelina Grimké, her sisters, Sarah and Eliza, and eventually two of those those nephews, Archibald and Francis Grimké, They were a one-stop stop for freedom fighting for Black Americans and women.

The nephews became accomplished in their own rights, one after getting his Harvard Law degree. The lawyer, Archibald, also had a daughter Angelina Weld Grimké, who became a well-known poet and writer. She too had lived at 212.

The details of the sisters’ shock at finding their S.C. brother had continued to own slaves, fathered children with one of them, and then sold his sons is here.  Typical of today’s progressives, they did something, lots, about it. Their tale and Weld’s are in that and related documents on the link above.

So, out of 212 came tracts and activists on missions. Weld and the Grimkés were together and separately active writers, orators and organizers for abolition causes and what was known then as elevation of the Negro to equality. They were as passionate about women’s rights, and the suffrage action that didn’t take place in New York came out of Fairmount Hill.

Imagine the parade of women from 212 on election day, March 7, 1870, who went to the Hyde Park poll to cast the first votes ever by American women. Those did not count toward the total, but that was an inspiration for many.

There is a splendid period mixed theater to that episode as well. Each woman going to vote symbolically had a male escort, who had presented her with a floral posy. Each man held back at the poll to let the woman advance and place her ballot in the envelope for that purpose. So, it seems under the protection of men and with flowers, the women were at once demanding and fem.

Literally to the very end, Angelina showed her toughness and right-mindedness,  the stuff of a reformer. She had been frail and then lived her last years partially paralyzed from a stroke. She continued to write and made a poignant statement in her final note — I have purposely selected my oldest clothes to be buried in, that my good ones may be given to the poor, that they may do good after I am gone.

If there are any spirits around, it would seem that 212 would still have lots of Grimké/Weld mojo.

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Color Me UU: 2 and New

March 30th, 2010

Good timing, Globe! A short feature today dovetails with my recent post on UU hand-wringing over lack of racial diversity.

After 378 years in Cambridge, MA, First Parish will have a Latina minister, Rev. Livia Cuervo. In a religious group striving to mix up its very, very white membership and very white ministry, that’s good. Unitarians founded and ran Harvard from the start, but has somehow fallen far behind in diversity efforts.

Cynics may ask:

  • What took so long?
  • How serious is this for adding her as an associate minister?
  • How serious is this for hiring a 72-year-old?

Don’t sneer too long. The parent UUA most recently elected an Hispanic, Rev. Peter Morales, to its presidency.  Plus, the senior minister in Cambridge is Rev. Fred Small, who is also a hippy-dippy style folksinger (pretty good and pretty well known IMHO). I have no doubt he wants to build on this choice.

UU v. US by raceUUs are actively trying to diversify. They seem to be doing better in attracting and growing ministers of color than folks in the pews. See this chart from UU data with the maroon being they and the blue all US church goers by race in 2008.

Rev. Cuervo is coming in with a good attitude at least. The Globe‘s Lisa Wangeness quotes her as, “This is really breaking the tradition — it’s big for everybody…I want to help them nurture the dream they have.”

From my experience in the UUA and in particularly with the Arlington Street Church, I’m looking to see whether this will translate into more Latinos coming to a not-necessarily-Christian and pretty white church.  I think back to over 20 years ago at the ASC when we replaced the standard UU minister (white, male, graybeard) with a young, very out lesbian adoptive mother, Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie.

She was already well known in the LGBT communities around here as the minister at the P-town church. Very few of our members feared her presence might turn the ASC into an all-gay church; truth be told, we already had the reputation as the UUA chapel for the number of ministers and staff from HQ who worshiped there and we were already welcoming to all.

However, we were quite surprised in her first year at how many lesbian couples her ministry attracted, many adoptive parents and quite a few from Somerville. Most of those turned out to be tire-kickers as they say in the sales biz. When we asked those who stopped coming why, we typically heard that they’d rather sit in a café with the papers on Sunday mornings or that the 12 mile drive or subway seemed too much or that the kid’s classrooms were not nice enough for their children.

Rev. Cuervo might pack folk in by virtue of being a dynamite preacher, if she is. She might attract non-Catholic Hispanic worshipers. She might be just another good UU minister. Regardless, the calling was good. The effect and longevity are to be determined.

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Chucky’s London Digs

January 17th, 2010

A pleasant surprise in London was the Charles Dickens Museum. My wife decided that was a stop while in town and I admit that was wise.

This is the only surviving of his homes there and is chockablock with artifacts and exhibits. I was most taken with his life-long miserable love experiences, but there’s plenty else.  Get a sense of the offerings in the virtual tour. Unfortunately, neither the tour nor the exhibits description gives you a good image of what you’ll see beyond the furniture and portraits.

The basement is set up with an artificial library, as in this was a kitchen in the late 1830s when he and his wife (and soon their first three of 10 kids) were in residence. The museum claims over 10,000 documents available for researchers. They needed a library.

He wrote three key novels here, The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. That raises a sore point with the curators. While the house clearly shows the daily life of the family — replete with professional and personal furniture — one key item is absent.

You can see his commode (pic by Issac), his wine cellar adjacent to the ground floor garden, a reading desk and living and bedrooms fully decorated with Dickens’ originals.  However, I noticed several illustrations of him at a magnificent desk, where he wrote. I asked the caretakers and got the wistful looks and sighs.

It turns out a tarot reader ended up with it. The fuller explanation is that a relative had inherited it and let Christie’s auction it, with proceeds going to the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.  Charity won and London lost.Moreover, Dickens has contributed to that hospital from early in his career.

The museum has set aside up to £80,000 for the desk, which was the top estimate of its bidding price. However, Irish journalist turned very successful clairvoyant Tom Higgins, bid it up over £400,000. He let the museum display it briefly before having it shipped to Ireland. The caretakers were reduced to hoping he wills it to the museum.

Door knocker Dickens knocker
Dickens commode Commode
Wine cellar, adjacent to his garden. Dickens wine cellar
Dickens door A bit of Christmas color on the front of the house
The garden fountain still spews. Dickens garden fountain

I was most drawn by the bedroom on the top floor, where his sister-in-law died in his arms. The descriptions of the women in his life is most instructive, most sad, and most revealing.

As much of what he experienced, his several unrequited passions came to us as characters, events and plots of his novels. Perhaps had he been better skilled in love, he would have been happier and much less of a writer.

Consider his first, teen fixation, Maria Beadnell. She was of a higher class, her dad would have none of their love talk and he shipped her to Paris to school. Done and done. She married another. Then Charles married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of one of his editors. They seemingly had lust, if 10 children are an indication, but they were dissatisfied with each other always and separated. However, her younger sister, Mary moved in with them early, as was the custom at the time. Charles clearly was stricken with her. He never got over her death a year later after a short illness. He mooned after her, idealized her too and used her as the basis for numerous heroines.

To read the exhibit on the top floor, we have to assume that his passive nature in matters of the heart was to blame for a live of loving, longing and losing. Terribly sad for him, but we benefited.

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Sexist Artifact

October 14th, 2009

An intermittent of benefit amid the angst and tedium of sorting, packing and moving (and seemingly uncountable trips to Boomerangs). Unpacking can be like getting surprise presents — little rewards.

Yesterday in sorting old correspondence, I found a lost artifact, one I just knew had been tossed in my mother’s detritus from her overly stuffed garage after she died. Click on its thumbnail her for a larger view.The Helplessness of Women sketch

Journey back with me to the 1950s (if you weren’t alive then, pretend that something that doesn’t relate directly to you happened). Imagine a world in which my mother was a single-parent raising two kids without even the child support her ex refused to pay. Imagine that she would from time to time keep company with a man who asked her to dinner.

One such fellow, Allen as I recall, fancied himself as clever, hip (as the expression was) and manly. To me at 12 or 13, he seemed silly. Also, as a middle-aged guy who still lived with his widowed father, he didn’t seem like the best relationship material. Yet, from time to time he and his father would come over for a meal and some cards.

This was the modern-art and Peter Gunn era.  Today, we have our own safe-to-ridicule groups, like cyclists (particularly wearing bike shorts or fat people). Then, beatniks were fair game, as was abstract painting.

One evening, Allen took some of our ubiquitous art supplies (my mother, sister and I were forever drawing for Red Cross or school needs). He churned out the pasted piece, both to show his sophistication at satirizing modern art and to claim gender superiority.

My mother, Wanda, was astonished at his lack of observation and awareness. She was far more accomplished and self-sufficient. Indeed, among the helpless in the room, Allen was singular.

Come to see this oddity in my files, I seem to recall that she tossed it, maybe before he even left. It was his ticket out and I don’t think we saw him again.

My mom was many things, but helpless was not one and neither was accepting denigration of her gender.

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