Archive for category: Idiosyncratic Celebrations

Pessimism By Any Other Name Is Not Pessimism

26 Dec 2002
December 26, 2002

Was it visions of sugarplums that made my Christmas Eve day commute to work so sweet? Or was it President Bush’s “pardon” for all us Federal workers one half day of freedom for the upcoming holiday? No, as I looked around the subway car I realized everyone was contentedly reading the Health section of the Washington Post. More specifically, they were reading The Happy Heretic, an article about Dr. Martin Seligman’s new book, Authentic Happiness. Wellbeing saturated the underground air.

With Christmas just past and New Year’s up next, the burden of marking time (more specifically, marking this point in my life) is great. Happiness is a commodity, to be bought, sold, and listed. It is a benchmark for our success. My discomfort is palatable this time of the year. Something doesn’t fit right: the week between these holidays—the countdown to the new year (as if this point in time was a natural rather than a social construct) and the pressure to create (let alone live by) a checklist of New Year resolutions. Christmas and New Year’s beg me to consider my happiness.

Seligman, who is the former president of the American Psychological Association, feels that when it comes to this state, Americans have it “dead wrong.” True happiness is not fleeting pleasure (and in this gift-giving season, who but the staunchest curmudgeon is not prone to this affliction?). To counter this he has developed what he calls Positive Psychology: to be truly happy people must develop more durable strengths—integrety, critical thinking, street smarts, love of beauty, kindness, and perseverance. While daily life (both personal and global) can get you down, drawing on your inner strengths to move through the morass is his key. Antisthenes, who said “I would rather go mad than experience pleasure” would surely have something cynical to say about this.

Despite my reluctance, Seligman’s psychology forced to consider my lot in life. I was voted “Most Pessimistic” in my high school graduating class. True, my early life taught me to be extra cautious. But was this who I really was?

In the intervening years, I rarely thought much my “condition.” Usually, I pondered my reactions to the world with a quick swipe-of-my-hand across the nearby air and the passing acknowledgement: “Well, I am a pessimist afterall.” But recently, a coworker shocked me by declaring in a closed door meeting that I was an optimist! My cynicism, he felt, paled next to his fatalism. When I actually absorbed his declaration I was even more surprised to realize he was right. Somehow I had become an optimist. How could I have miscalculated my personality to this degree?

I had just told my office mate that despite the often uncomfortable intensity of a recent project, I’d learned quite a bit. His words forced me to look critically at the challenges of organizational society. I was surprised to realize I saw them as opportunities to exercise new coping and managerial skills. And, of course, there’s ample opportunity.

Apparently, even back in high school I was drawing on my inner abilities to rise above my notions of the world. Winning that “honor” was only a partial and most clearly an imperfect reflection of my self-perception. When I looked down that list of Most “this” or Best “that,” I was scanning for “opportunity” and this category seemed to be the only one I had a chance to win. And when I told everyone “I’m sure I won’t get it,” it clinched my victory. Yet it also helped cement a mindset that lasted for a long time.

Happiness, from Seligman’s vantage point, isn’t so much about short term pleasure, it’s about the type of gratification Thomas Jefferson and Aristotle wrote about. And he feels, rather than pursuing these more important goals, most of us are just “fidgeting until we die.” This is why I refrain from New Year’s Resolutions. Change doesn’t happen at the stroke of midnight. It requires a lot more effort from me.

And after taking his Authentic Happiness Signature Strengths Survey (registration required, but it’s free), I now have empirical proof of my mental shift. Of course, the Web site states I can best interpret the results by reading his book. However, let me use my inner drive to see what I can glean from this on my own.

My number one strength is Creativity, Ingenuity, and Originality. “Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.” I scored as high or higher in this area than 97% of all Web site users, 96% of all Post-college grads, and (most interestingly) 94% of those in Zip Code 200xx. That’s all of Washington, DC! This might explain a lot of what goes on in this town.

Other strengths I scored solidly on include Judgement, Critical Thinking, and Open-Mindedness (“Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.”) and Bravery and Valor (“You are a courageous person who does not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain. You speak up for what is right even if there is opposition. You act on your convictions.”). In both categories I score above 90% of my peers.

Alright, alright already. Please. I am humbled by your applause. I do sound centered, don’t I? Ok, well, I already knew all of this—not in these glorious terms but somewhere between the perceived pessimism of my youth and the hopeful wisdom of my old age (most of us know who we are, even if we’re not prepared to admit it). I am a process-oriented person. And I get it, Dr. Seligman. I resolve not fidget next year.


My brand of cynicism: not the negative notion of distrust. It’s more an acceptance that motives of others will sometimes be alien to one’s own belief system. Rather than constantly being shocked by the behavior of others, I’ve come to accept that I will not always understand what motivates every person I come in contact with. Back >>

Turning Over a Few New Leaves: The Backstory

23 Nov 2002
November 23, 2002

I have always been interested in the social aspects of technology: that is, how new ideas brought on by technological development seep into the everyday lives of regular folk. In the last few months I’ve been contacted with greater frequency by subjects of my writing or from those who have been alerted to my stories in the process of a doing a web search. Googling is becoming a natural process. And the interactions I’m having because of it add to my sense of the enlarging net community.

Horoscope

In September I began my 9/11 story with a quote by Jenna Jacobs, wife of Ari Jacobs one of the people who died in the World Trade Center. A few days later Jenna�s mother contacted me and we corresponded about what it’s like to be the mother of a young widow. In October I wrote of Irina Han, an intern at our museum who was murdered on her way home one night. A few days later I received a comment on my post from a family friend. A relative of Irina’s husband also posted a few comments. We exchanged emails, both of us wondering how this tragedy could have happened.

Last week Washington Post writer, Darragh Johnson, found me. She posted a comment to one of my two stories on my annual bout with autumn foliage. She was writing an article on “man verses leaves” and wondered if she could interview me. Since it was that time of the year again, we made arrangements to meet in the middle of my “crop” this past weekend.

• • •

While last year the conditions for clearing my lawn were perfect (warm and dry weather), this year has been anything but. Timing is critical in this process. With a full time job I only have my days off to do this laborious task. Most years I’m usually able prolong the actual leaf abatement process by mowing my lawn one last time. This mulches the initial thin layer of dead stock. Good for the lawn and good for my back (which, whether I rake or blow, is always at risk).

The leaves start dropping in mid October and by Thanksgiving the ordeal is usually over. This gives me approximately three to four weekends to work. But it’s critical to get the early crop blown to the street to make way for later droppings. If you don’t, the push from the back of the yard to the curb becomes difficult. The pile gets bigger and bigger as you push forward. And more unwieldy.

This year conditions have conspired against me. While it was the most spectacular year for the fall colors I’ve seen in a while, my nature duties were overshadowed by family obligations and the weather.

Two weekends ago would have been a perfect time to work. It was dry and the leaves were, well, fluffy. But Saturday we had to attend my youngest daughter’s ballet class—once a semester parents are allowed to watch. Then we had to go to a birthday party in the afternoon. On Sunday we had to go to the outlet mall to buy shoes for both girls (half price over regular stores and worth the 120 mile round trip considering we got five pairs for $115!). The daylight hours were completely booked. Of course I wasn’t avoiding this chore. No way. Uh uh.

I had to balance these activities. And now I’m paying for it. Last weekend a Nor’easter was forecast (a front coming up the east coast). Saturday was sure to be wet and indeed it was. The leaves now completely covering my lawn are soggy and heavy (wet leaves act like cement when trying to rake or blow them). While this boded very poorly for me, it was perfect for the Post article idea. The artist in me started to visualize the whole affair. We artists have to constantly adjust to changing conditions, seeing opportunity in adversity. I started to get excited.

• • •

We scheduled to meet “in the field” at high noon. The staff photographer, Robert Reeder arrived first. He had been in contact with his editor and both were sure the weather would prevent any good photos. I had other ideas. “You’re not going to blow leaves today are you?” he queried. “Of course not,” I stated. “But this is perfect! Man verses the elements” And I was quite content to lose this battle if it meant a great idea could develop.

His editor had already given him another assignment. There had been a parking garage collapse the day before and they were still looking for a missing construction worker. He felt a need to get over there as soon as possible. I convinced him to stay at least until the writer arrived.

When she did, it was clear she too was pleased with the meteorological conditions. Rain and leafy cement. It was perfect. Robert started to understand. I grabbed my blowing paraphernalia (my Toro 850 electric blower, a huge reel of industrial strength orange extension cord, goggles, dust mask, and ear protectors). I was ready. My wife warned me not to plug in the thing for fear of electrocution in the cold rain. Robert took off, scouting for the right vantage point. I could see his mind beginning click. He was getting into this. Good.

Jeff verses his leaves

It was a picture perfect day! He had me stand at the base of a leaf-infested embankment. He grabbed a picnic bench and had Darragh dry off handfuls of leaves. He asked her to stand on the bench and just at the right moment drop them in front of the camera to simulate a leaf downpour in front of me. He used a fisheye lens. Completely covered in my uniform, I lost all interest in my soon-to-be public persona. No one would know it was me. We were quite a sight. Darragh interviewed me as Robert photographed. I imagined being on the red carpet of the Academy Awards. The paparazzi, the reporters, the leaves.

Cars driving by slowed down to watch. My neighbor, Peter, walked up, his curiosity getting the best of him. Like a true “happening” he became part of the event. We compared leaf herding styles. I admonished him for not loaning me his very efficient leaf tractor. I told stories of past years. Robert began to shoot both of us with a smile while Darragh got it all down in print. Behind my mask I could barely contain my glee.

• • •

This morning I walked outside to retrieve our Saturday paper. Luckily, my wife had taken 3 1/2 hours this past week to blow a quarter of our yard so I could find the thing. And there, on the front page of the Metro section was the headline: Let the Ground Wars Begin (PDF, 448K). I rushed inside to make the announcement.

Darragh had done her homework. She interviewed other weekend leaf men to discover their implements of choice (blowers verses rakes, the classic debate). She included statistics: a Tulip Poplar tree sheds, on the average, 25 pounds of leaves per season. Multiply that by the 35 Tulip Poplars we have on our lot and you get a total of 875 pounds of leaves! Add to that the other assorted trees (a total of 75 on our 1/2 acre lot) and that’s a lot of leaves. The next time I declare “I’ve got a ton of leaves to blow” (that’s 1000 lbs.), don’t laugh.

And what would an article on this subject be without an historical perspective (“Legend has it that Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare, invented the rake…”) as well as a revealing statement from Jerry Herron, an academic expert:

“The American studies professor at Detroit’s Wayne State University dubs bringing in the leaves a ‘highly significant phenomenon’—particularly since the advent of the leaf blower. ‘It allows men to buy expensive and noisy equipment,’ he notes, ‘and then demonstrate their prowess in front of the whole neighborhood.’ Lawn mowing can’t compare: ‘Everybody does that.’ he says. And snow blowing is a waste: ‘The weather is too cold to allow much audience admiration.'”

The article states I heartily concur. “He hoists his Toro and shouts, ‘I’ve got this phallic power thing! I mean, look at this thing. Is this power, or what?”

Well, yes, I did say that. But it was part of the theater of the moment, meant to be a postmodern ironic statement. Personally, I could care less what the neighbors think (other than, “Oh my gawd, we’re the last ones on the block to clear our leaves”). My wife is the mechanical one in the family. She’s the one who gets excited about band saws and diamond-tipped drill bits.

And now the gods have conspired to thwart my efforts once again. It’s sunny and crisp right now. Perfect leaf blowing weather. But yesterday I came down with a bad cold and the thought of swinging that phallic instrument around for the benefit of my neighbors holds no interest, even in the name of Art.

We artists are a curious lot. The strangest things make us utterly happy. Somehow I felt responsible for bringing together the lot of us into this tableau. Oh wait, perhaps I should bow to Mother Nature on this one.

Related Stories:
Spores, Spores, and More Spores (October 28, 2001)
Moving Forward on a Number of Fronts (December 10, 2001)
Leaving: The Movie, an independent short film documenting our last International Leaf Festival (Quicktime 2.2 MB)
Let the Ground Wars Begin, Washington Post article by Darragh Johnson (November 23, 2002)

Photo courtesy of Robert A. Reeder, The Washington Post, © 2002

Now This is Really Scary

30 Oct 2002
October 30, 2002

I don’t think we’ll ever be ready for John Allen Muhammad or John Lee Malvo Halloween costumes. But if you’re still undecided about who you would like to be tomorrow night, there is still a overabundance of very scary public figures who just may fit the bill.

But please, be careful not to frighten your kids (or your significant other) too much. Scaring the begeezus out of your stockbroker is ok (via Forbes).

On Becoming a Man Again

04 Aug 2002
August 4, 2002

Forty years ago I became a man. In the Jewish sense. August 4th, 1962 I was bar mitzvahed. It was actually the 4th of Av, 5722 on the Jewish calendar. And that day actually fell on July 13 this year. But I, being the assimilated Jew that I am, decided to commemorate this event by going to temple yesterday, a place not normally a part of my Saturday schedule.

Since I live far from where I grew up I went in search of a synagogue. A coworker recommended a couple shuls nearby, one Reform and one Conservative. I grew up in a Conservative temple so that was my first choice. Of course, Judaism being what it is, Conservative doesn’t mean “conservative” as the word generally implies. It’s actually middle-of-the-road within the continuum of Jewish practice.

There are at least three denominations within Judaism. Orthodox adheres most strictly to the tenets of traditional Jewish practice. While Reform temples are more liberal in their interpretations. Conservative falls in the middle. There is also a fourth movement Reconstructionist, which is relatively new.

I am a modern man. I embrace change and progress. So it was surprising how at home I felt with my past as I entered B’nai Israel Synagogue. The service had started before I arrived. But people are always coming in throughout the ceremony.

As I entered, a woman at the door greeted me with the traditional sabbath salutation, Shabbat Shalom. “Are you new here?” she asked. I introduced myself and told her why I was there. “You’re 53!” she replied. Yes, I admitted to myself; if you’re going to celebrate this 40th anniversary, you have to admit how old you really are. “I’m going to my 40th high school reunion this year,” she continued. “Please have a seat.”

The sanctuary and the people within felt so familiar to me: the old, hunched over man, in his tallis, a Jewish prayer shawl, davining (bending forward and backwards slightly as one prays), women with their children on their laps, and men shaking hands and talking.

Years ago, while traveling in Europe I came upon a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Venice. A bar miztvah was taking place the next day so I made plans to return. A German guy I met at the youth hostel I was staying at asked if he could tag along. It was a huge Moorish interior, illuminated mainly by the light streaming in from huge windows. All the women were in the balcony, while the men sat down below (separating men and women is tradition in an Orthodox synagogue).

When we got there the bar mitzvah boy was reading his haftorah. We sat down and my fellow traveler was shocked that so many people were talking while the service was taking place. In his church, he said, everyone was silent. There is a low level murmur that accompanies any Jewish service and I simply felt at home.

As I took my seat yesterday, I felt this same comfort. I took out my own tallis, the one I had been given for my own bar mitzvah, and put it on. Suddenly I noticed how old it appeared. As I looked over to the old man, I noticed he was wearing earphones. It took me a minute to realize the temple had audio enhancements for the hard-of-hearing. I laughed to myself. This was not 1962.

• • •

1962. It was a tough time for my family as I look back now. My mother had had a major brain operation the year before that had left her paralyzed on her right side. We were all trying to adjust to our new reality. Dad tried his best to keep some semblance of continuity to our lives and my bar mitzvah was part of that.

We had a professional photographer, of course. There was no video back then. And 8 mm home movies weren’t allowed. However, my father had won a new reel-to-reel audio tape player the year before (in a church raffle of all things) and he slipped the rather large machine inside the beama (the podium) to record me reciting my halftorah.

Until I received this tape from my stepmother after my father’s death two years ago, I didn’t realize how important that audio was to me. Hearing my 13 year old voice immediately brought back memories long forgotten: memories that had nothing to do with this event.

The most important part of the tape, however, was the very beginning, before the ceremony even began. It was my father documenting (Quicktime 187 k): “This is the bar mitzvah of Jeffrey Stuart Gates, August 4, 1962, with Rabbi Kazan and Cantor Solomon,” he said slowly. This is the only recording I have of his voice. I have none of my mother’s. And while I have many visual memories of her, and can remember many things she said to me, I can’t remember what she sounded like.

Today, of course, our videocams record sound as much as the visual reality of the moment. But there was no sound with home movies. So, while my youth had been recorded on film, it was a silent version.

What Dad didn’t know at the time was this would be his bar mitzvah day too. Since he had never been bar mitzvahed, when he came to the pulpit to say the blessing, the Rabbi informed the congregation that this made it official for him as well. While he had only to recite a blessing, I had studied for months, learning the chants and tones from an LP recording of my particular haftorah.

After the ceremony we had the traditional temple reception of sandwiches and Manischewitz wine (grape juice for us newly anointed “men”). Often there is also a larger reception that takes place at a hotel or restaurant that night or the next day. Dad and Mom decided a small version of this celebration with close relatives and some of my friends worked best for them. But, they decided to have it at the Cocoanut Grove in Hollywood.

In it’s heyday, the Grove was the Hollywood nightclub. It’s opened in 1921 as part of the Ambassador Hotel. The first Oscars were awarded there. Judy Garland made her comeback there, the jury of the Charles Manson trial was sequestered at the Ambassador and, of course, six years after my reception, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in the pantry of the hotel’s kitchen.

1962 was nearing the tail end of it’s golden period. Freddy Martin was playing there that night as was a performance of The Can Can. I remember going backstage afterwards to get everyone’s signature on my program.

• • •

Interwoven between prayers and the Torah reading yesterday I thought about my family. I thought about my parents, both gone now, and reflected on their wishes for me that day. I considered what it really means to be a man: lessons learned and relearned over the years. Inevitably, I came back to my present, my thoughts more focused on my wife and children and my wishes for them.

Related Story: April 7, 2001

This Day in (My) History

17 Jul 2002
July 17, 2002

Every year it’s the same cast of characters: Phyllis Diller, Art Linkletter, Lucy Arnaz, and Donald Sutherland. All were born on July 17. And every year I make sure I tune in on Entertainment Tonight on this day to see if there are any new starlets who have joined our group. What just a minute. Doing a Google search, there are more of us. How could I forget Earl Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason), Bernice Abbott (photographer), Peter Schickele (Schickele’s Mix and P.D.Q. Bach), Phoebe Snow, and David Hasselhoff (who turns 50 today)? We are an illustrious group.

It’s not only birthdays but events that make July 17 what it is. Good memories, bad memories. The Spanish Civil War started on this day in 1936. And, my favorite: Disneyland opened in 1955. Growing up in Southern California, this was an iconic event I couldn’t never ignore.

Unlike holidays, where we share our memories with others, our birthdays are ours. While the families of TWA Flight 800 are remembering the loss of their loved ones today, I remember coming home from a celebration, only to hear of the crash on the radio. Birthdays are “where were you” days just for each of us. They start out with a clean slate. But as one gets older each year new records are added to our birthday database.

If July 17th is your birthdayMy friend Sheryl was born on November 22 (Kennedy’s assassination). I remember arriving at LAX from China on July 21, 1997 only to find out that my uncle had died on July 17. My aunt’s birthday is December 7 (Pearl Harbor) and each year on my birthday she sends me a card but her good wishes are mixed with memories of her husband. While men actually landed on the moon on July 21, 1969 they were headed that way on July 17, so I count that as part of my day’s celebrations. It’s a mixed bag but we all have them.

So, I’m glad to add one more event to this day. I’m cool, very cool! And I’ve got Willis Carrier to thank for that! On this day, 100 years ago, he installed the first air conditioner at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Co. in Brooklyn, NY. Where would we be with out our AC? I know I’d be a less gentler, grumpy sort of guy.

Forced air and window units are ubiquitous these days. In my old Baltimore loft I had a 10,000 BTU window unit. It was so loud I had to turn it off at night to sleep—that, of course, defeated its purpose.

But growing up in the hot San Fernando Valley in the 60s all we had were swamp coolers. Efficient and low on energy consumption, these fans in a box (hooked up to the hose outside) pumped moist cool air into the house. Many had multiple ones on their roofs. Ours was affixed to our bathroom window. And to really cool the back part of the house (its effect never reached any further) we had to really crank it up. This made for some interesting bathroom experiences.

The relatively dry climate of the valley during those years (my other aunt keeps telling me how humid LA has now become) made the extra moisture pleasant. This could never fly here in DC.

Washington was built on a swamp and moisture is the last thing we need added to our interior spaces. Real air conditioning has transformed this city (and the rest of the South). While politicians seem to abandon us throughout the year now, before AC (the House of Representatives became cool in 1928 and the Senate followed the next year) Congress was only in session during cooler months. Even with conditioned air, our elected officials’ tempers still seem to fly as much as they used to. Hot air seems to be non-seasonal these days.

But I digress. Today is a day to celebrate. The DC temp will top at 95 and with the heat index, I’m told I will feel like it’s at least 100. But this is a work day for me, in my windowless, but cool cube. Later I’m going to take a nice bike ride. I’ll get really, really hot and sweaty. And my special birthday present to myself will be one of the greatest pleasures I know on a hot, humid, code red, sort of summer day: a long and cool shower. That’s the best air conditioning I know.

Update: Just got a call from my daughter. She lost her first tooth this morning and she’s pretty stoked. Tooth fairy, did you hear that?

May Day: The Family Memory Project

01 May 2002
May 1, 2002

My name was Chaim Shmuel Guyetsky. My friends call me Jeff. My father calls me Chaim Shmo when he teases me and Jeffrey when he’s about to invoke his fatherly rights of advice. I’m a Jewish boy in a gentile’s body (well, almost). Like a family heirloom, the original importance of which is now lost, my spirit has been handed down from the shtetls of the Ukraine. Yet, like the game of Telephone, where a string of people quickly whisper messages from ear to ear, by the time it’s gotten to me I can’t understand a word of it. I have Jewish memories in a gentle mind (well, almost).

From A Series of One Acts…

It’s May Day! My Aunt Selma’s birthday. Well, it’s both really. And that’s where this story begins.

Aunt Selma is my father’s sister. Our two families were never close as I was growing up but that’s another tale for another time. However, that didn’t mean my father and his sister were distant. It did mean, however, I never really got to know my aunt and her family very well as I was growing up.

Two years ago, when my father got sick, Aunt Selma and I reconnected during vigils in and around his hospital bed. She and I spoke of their childhoods and of my grandparents lives. It was an opportunity to connect to my family in a way my father would never have allowed.

All stories are filtered but even filters eventually become old anchors in our lives. Over time their effect is indistinguishable from reality. My father chose to filter out most of his childhood. And, for years, that was the family history I believed and accepted without question. Most of what I now know has been a gift from others in my family. I learned a lot from these hospital conversations. My aunt was one of my father’s most trusted relationships. Whether they spoke openly of their lives together or not, they shared that common history and that meant a great deal to both of them.

Two weeks after the onset of my father’s illness he died. I picked up Aunt Selma from her hotel to take her to his funeral. We were the first to arrive and we sat down on a bench to wait for others. As we sat Aunt Selma began to tell me about my grandmother’s brothers and sisters.

I knew Uncle Louie, “Unkie,” as he was called. After my grandparents’ divorce, he and my grandmother owned The Breakers Motel in Crescent City, California in the 1940s. He was her protector when a divorced woman had few resources. It was a different time. My grandparents had married and divorced twice, once when my father and Aunt Selma were children and later after they were old enough to take care of themselves. Uncle Louie made sure Grandma could survive on her own and would never be beholden to anyone. I have come to see this as one of the deepest acts of love I’ve encountered. It is a familial piece of history I am proud of.

I never knew my grandmother’s sister Margaret (only that they had had a “falling out” many years ago). But again, most of the story had been filtered by the time it came down to me. This was the first time I’d heard of their brothers, my Uncles Yuri, Grisha, and Albert and one other sister, Fira. Last year Aunt Margaret’s granddaughter, Nina, contacted me after she saw an ancient posting I had made on a geneology web site. Through her I have been able to fill in a few more pages of our family album, just before they fade completely away.

Albert was the suspected “pinko” of the family. An anarchist was more like it. A reputed lover of Emma Goldman (another family filter), he was imprisoned in Leavenworth for his alleged crimes. Depending on who you talk to, he either died soon after his release from tuberculosis or sleeping sickness.

When my Aunt was born he was ecstatic. He saw her May 1st birthday as a wonderful socialist sign. He sent my grandmother a present for his new niece: something lost in history but told to be far greater a gift than my immediate family could ever afford.

“When your father was born,” my Aunt continued, “Uncle Albert was even more excited. As you know, Mother named your father Eugene. Albert assumed she’d named him after Eugene Debs, a leading socialist. This time he sent an even more extravagant gift!” Of course, my Uncle Albert had his own filters. Grandma Gates never marched to L’Internationale.

So, on this May Day, while I remember my own early celebrations (1950s, Cold War America chose to filter this day mainly as a children’s springtime celebration with dancing around the Maypole), I pause to think of another time, an intermingling of blood and history. Happy birthday, Aunt Selma!

© 2001-2015 Jeff Gates ISSN 1544-4074