WALK LIKE A MAN – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Every day, every week, every month, ever year, every Father’s Day,  there are new memories about my Dad.  It says a lot about William Benfield  Armstrong who left us 18 years ago.

I’ve heard the question for years. In high school, Marine Corps Basic Training, college, Network News, 31 years at Channel 7 Boston, and, now, almost 19 years into retirement. The same question.

I hear the question and, involuntarily, ask,  “Huh”?

No, it’s not about coping with racism,  hearing affliction, or being just over 5 feet tall in a 6 foot tall world.  It’s about how I walk. Yes, you hear correctly. How I walk.

Growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, many kids used to mimic the walk of  John Wayne,  James Cagney,  Gary Cooper,  Robert Mitchum,  Cary Grant,  Burt Lancaster and other movie celebrities.

Minority kids showed off their “Diddy Bop” (long before the Rap artist) walk.  A street gait that puffed up your neighborhood creds with the boys and girls.  You’ve seen this “Bop” almost stereotyped on TV cop shows and movies.   Black-oriented comedy shows, played  “the walk” straight or played it for laughs.

These various copy cat walks were not for me. Early on, I found myself watching my Dad walk. Many times I met him at the bus or railroad station when we lived in Queens in the late 40s and early 50s. I had to sometimes skip to keep pace with his fast-paced walk. Dad walked ramrod straight with a steady rhythm.  Very military.  Very self-aware and self-possessed.  Some of it was Staff Sgt. Armstrong,  Army veteran of the Battle of the Bulge and other European action in World War Two. Some of it was Antigua-bred, his walk with pride of his bearing.

The sum total was unique.  So, the oldest of the three Armstrong sons,  chose Dad’s special walk over a mimicked Duke Wayne swagger.

I think I tried to explain it a couple of times but other kids didn’t buy it.  They were too much into bullying and making fun of me until I had my memorable Junior High battle.  The bully was floored by a Bill Armstrong taught southpaw punch instead of his stoic walk.  Actually, the walk preceded the punch.  What a 1-2 arsenal!  The schoolyard wanker never saw it coming.  Dad was as proud of me as if I had won the Junior Lightweight crown at Madison Square Garden.

My Dad’s amateur boxing status was very real. He was a champ in bouts staged during the War.  It was a welcomed sport to relieve tension among the GI’s fatigued from battle.

Dad in the field, black and white with some restoration.

My Dad knew his boxers the way I grew up knowing my baseball players. We bonded watching Gillette’s “Friday Night Fights”.  I absorbed Dad’s commentary as we watched Joe Louis, Kid Gavilan, Ezzard Charles,  Rocky Graziano, Rocky Marciano,  Sugar Ray Robinson, Jake LaMotta and even a young Cassius Marcellus Clay.  Sometimes I muted the audio so Dad could do the play by play.  He always smiled when that was done.  Those were very special father-son evenings for me.

As usual, I digress.  This is about Dad. His walk. Dad was  versatile and talented,  a very talented man. He was a world class tailor and carpenter.  My father, at one point, worked for an elite Manhattan Men’s Clothier.  Very elite.  One evening, Dad took me to work. I was still an adolescent. 11, maybe 12-years-old and very naive.

We walked past limousines parked outside and into the store where apparently wealthy gentlemen, all white, were surrounded by staffers. Also all White.  Dad was greeted as if he was a senior executive. I followed his ramrod straight gait – past the salesmen, customers and coat-holders – into the tailors’ area where Dad was greeted like the CEO. I blinked like I understood.  Dad obviously was a VIP – a man among his peers.

A couple of young men, blue eyed with crew cuts, collegiate sweaters, khakis and loafers — swept up clothing parts and shared giggles.  They spotted my Dad and quickly blurted, “MISTER Armstrong, Sir, How are you?  This is your son, right?  Obviously cut from the finest cloth, right, Mr. A.”?  My Father responded with a smile that clearly wasn’t a smile.  The college boys shrank back to their duties. Nearby, there was light, nervous laughter.

I was introduced to pipe smoking men who looked like British actors from my favorite movies. They referred to my Dad as “Bill, best man in the company”.  One compliment after enough as Dad showed me his working place.  His tailor’s work tools.  I just kept blinking as a couple of co-workers came over to seek his advice on a “special job  that needed to be finished right away”.  He gave them that impatient sigh I’d heard at home. But he also smiled and gave the advice so badly needed with  minimum words and a quick show of hands how to best tailor the suit for the V.I.P.  Sighs of relief from the co-workers who almost bowed to Dad.

Later, there was an echo of “Goodnight, Bill!”  as we left the ritzy store.  Dad merely smiled and nodded as he walked proudly out of the place.

All the way home – on the subway and bus – I wanted to ask questions. But Dad was very quiet, almost bemused, I thought.

Finally, striding down 177th street, Dad slowed his pace a bit and offered, “Garry,  don’t be misled by those men you met tonight. We don’t live in their world. But, at work, I make sure they know I am their equal. My work speaks for itself. I don’t have to do any shouting or boasting”.   I looked up at Dad as we approached our house.  In the receding light of that summer’s evening, he looked more than 6 feet tall.

As we walked into the house, I mimicked my Dad’s gait.

Walk like a man!

HATS! – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Hats

I used to love hats and I wore them a lot, especially when we were down on the Vineyard and didn’t drive much. But when there was work and driving, the brims just kept knocking into the seat behind me and I wound up having to take them off. And there was no place to store them at work, either. no hat racks anymore.

Conference of the great ones

Portrait of an Ana McGuffy

Dolls with hats all lines up

Someone left his hat and gloves on the bar. Maybe it was you?

PRIVILEGED IN THE PARK – GARRY ARMSTRONG

It was really a lovely day. Cool, bright, not humid. The car, after these months of sitting under the trees which, these days, are covered with the remnants left by Marilyn’s birds. Our Renegade was not looking her best. And, there were a lot of medications waiting at the pharmacy.

We had gotten up early because Marilyn thought we had a doctor’s appointment, but it turned out to be next Tuesday. Since I was up already, I bravely ventured out. Mailed a long-delayed letter. Picked up medications, got the car washed, bought Marilyn a bouquet of white roses, then went down to River Bend.

I found a great spot for photographs, an old Andy Griffith, Mayberry scene. And there was a mom and her two little kids playing in the river. I was also wearing both mask and gloves with my USMC T-shirt and an NCIS vest (bought directly from the CBS online shop).  I guess I didn’t look dangerous enough to call the cops.

I asked permission to take pictures of her and the kids. Eventually, I asked why none of them were wearing masks. She told me, “Thanks for asking permission for pictures. Yes, you can take them. As for no masks and gloves, I think the media is blowing this out of proportion. The President knows what he is talking about.”


Long pause from me. “Hey, ” she said, “You look familiar. Didn’t you used to be on TV? Oh, don’t tell me. I know! I grew up watching you on TV. You have a nice day, now.”

I also guess no one told her about the literally thousands of snapping turtle who live in that area of the river. That’s why you aren’t allowed to swim in it or even dangle your feet off the dock. They like to munch on toes and fingers and have the jaws to for it.


Her 5-year-old is in preschool. The 4-year-old is in nursery school. And mom watches Fox News. You can’t save them all.

BLACK PLAGUE POETRY – Marilyn Armstrong

Do you ever wonder where your nursery rhymes came from? This one, known as “Ring Around the Rosie,” was a poetic description of dying from Plague.

“Ring around the Rosie.
Pocket full of poesy.
Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down.”

The king has sent his daughter
To fetch a pail of water
A tissue, a tissue
We all fall down

The robin on the steeple
Is singing to the people
A tissue, a tissue
We all fall down

The wedding bells are ringing
The boys and girls are singing
A tissue, a tissue
We all fall down.

I notice that a lot of people are writing poems. Maybe they will be the nursery rhymes of the future.

KIDS SAY THE DARNEDEST THINGS – Marilyn Armstrong

My kid will turn 51 in May, but he still says the darnedest things.

“Why,” he asked me, “When I was a kid didn’t you tell me getting old was going to be such a bummer?”

“Because we didn’t know. We weren’t old yet. What we also didn’t tell you was that you were going to get a job and no matter how tired of it you got, you’d have to keep working until you got old. We don’t tell kids that because if we did, they’d never get out of bed in the morning.”

He was only three

It’s not that sometimes you get lucky and you get a job you love. I had some high times with my career when it was great. Garry had a lot of great years when he felt he was on top of the world. But the thing is, even the great job lasts a lot longer than your best years. Even great jobs get to a point where you are tired and you really want to stop. Your job slogs on even when you are weary, worn out, not feeling well. When your back hurts, you’ve got a migraine, and realize you still have to work.

And then he turned 50

And, as my son pointed out, it’s even worse when you’re the boss because you can’t call in sick. You are the one to whom everyone else calls in sick. I pointed out that it’s even worse when not only are you the boss, but it’s your own company and you don’t give sick days.

You just can’t tell your kids this stuff. They would find it demoralizing. And they might give up before they even try to find a profession which makes them happy. Nonetheless, I wish I’d known getting old would be such a bummer. I might have been better prepared when it showed up.

HELLO, WE’RE HERE! – Rich Paschall

Now What? by Rich Paschall

What do you do when friends come to visit?  Do you plan a nice dinner?  Do you stay in and cook or do you go out?  Do you plan some activities or do you go for spontaneity? Do you bring out old photo albums or run pictures on a computer or even on your television?  There are a lot of things you can do if it is just for a day.

What if friends and family are coming for more than a day?  A few days of guests may take a little more planning.  Maybe you want to both eat at home and go out.  Maybe you want to take your visitors around to meet other family and friends.  Maybe this is the opportunity for a lot of conversation that has been missing in your friendship in recent years.  But what if they come for a few weeks?  Yes, weeks!

When I was small, perhaps 6 years old, I recall visiting Tennessee with my grandparents or other family members.  My grandparents were from Tennessee but they spent the late 1940’s to mid 1960s in Chicago.  There were plenty of relatives in the small town and rural areas for us to visit, so we made the rounds whenever we arrived, staying here and there.  Since I was the little kid from the north, these friends and relatives of my grandparents enjoyed entertaining me when I first arrived.  That probably wore off quickly.

Down on the farm

Down on the farm

We stayed with people I do not recall and, since I was little, the details are a bit sketchy.  I had no idea that decades later I would be interested in these vague memories.  I do recall that sitting around the living room, or front porch if the weather was nice, and telling old stories was a popular pastime.

“Well, how ya’ll doin?  I guess it’s downright cold from where you come from.”

“No, it is hot there too.  It’s July!”

“I swear you are the spittin’ image of Robert Lee at that age.”

My father’s middle name was Lee.  I guess I heard plenty of stories of my father when he was my age, although “my age” seemed to take in his entire childhood.

Most of these visits included my grandfather or some other relative telling how my father got that scar on his chin.  It seems that he was not much more than a toddler when he ran into a barbed wire fence chasing after my grandfather.

“He was told to stay put there at the house but he wanted to help out in the field like everyone else.”  I could not see my father as a farmer, at any age.

Sitting around telling stories is a trait of a lot of families.  It is a happy thing to do when family and friends get together.  In a rural area, it might just pass as the most exciting thing you could do anyway.

I do recall that I must have been the entertainment sometimes as the southern folks took the city boy around the house or farm.  One time some adults had finally convinced me that I should walk across a field to pet a cow.  Never mind the fact that I was just a tot and the cow was, well…, a cow.

I headed out  across the field, a bit scared I am sure, but determined to pet the cow.  When I got near the cow, he took off in another direction.  I guess he was just as afraid of the little city boy as I was of him.  Anyway, he wanted nothing to do with me.  There are some more amusing farm animal stories but, fortunately, I can not think of anyone still alive to tell them.

What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

After my grandparents retired I was old enough to get put on the train in Chicago and collected from the train in Fulton, Kentucky.  It was the nearest stop to my grandparents in Tennessee.  Yes, we went around and visited relatives and friends.  I could now participate in some story telling.  I was still told I looked like Robert Lee, which I was always to take as a complement.  In my grandparents’ retirement years, there was not much more to do.

“You can walk right down there to the Dairy Queen and get yourself an ice cream cone.  If you go down there after dark, you can hear that bug zapper getting something every minute or two.”  Now that’s entertainment!

Robert Lee’s boy

When my grandmother passed away at some point in her 90s, we returned to Tennessee for another round of family visits.  My father and I attended some family reunions in other years.  One time it was at a Baptist church, the next time it was at the John Deere dealer.  It seems the John Deere dealer had the largest room in the area, bigger than the church.  We didn’t need any farm equipment, but it was interesting to see.

Even decades later, our visiting routine was to travel around and see relatives, mostly without advance warning.  We were always welcome, however.  Once my father and his brother, my uncle, tried to remember how to get to someone’s house using landmarks from when they were kids.  The amazing thing is there was little movement of families and we always found our way around.

On one trip my father wondered if old Aunt Ella was still alive.  She would have to be in her 90s and we were not confident we would find the small town well off any highway, much less Aunt Ella.  When we spotted a mailbox with our last name, we went up to the house where an old woman sat on the porch.  My aging father had not seen her in decades.

“Well, I guess you don’t know who I am,” my father started out.

“Why, you’re Yancy’s boy, Robert Lee,” she declared without missing a beat. “And you must be Robert Lee’s boy,” she said to me.  I must have been in my 40s by then.  We sat around and talked, as was the custom.

What do you do when relatives come calling?  Do you ever go to visit old family and friends?  Go to restaurants? Visit museums, famous landmarks, local hot spots?  Have actual conversations?

KINDNESS IS NEVER OBSOLETE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I wrote a blog recently about Fred Rogers and his show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” I focused on how he helped generations of parents be better, more empathetic and connected with their children. Since then, I’ve read many articles about Mr. Rogers because of the newly released documentary about Fred Rogers and the movie starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. Both movies have had good audiences and great reviews.



On November 27, 2019,, I saw an article in the Washington Post titled, “What Happened When I Showed Vintage Mr. Rogers To My 21st Century Kids.” Then on December 2, I read another article, also in the Washington Post, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street and it’s receipt of the Kennedy Center Honors – the first TV show to ever receive this award.

These two articles made me think about how today’s kids relate to these two classic kids shows from a kinder, simpler time. Fred Rogers retired from his show in 2001 so he never had to deal with the iPhone, social media and video game obsessed kids of today. But Sesame Street is still going strong, which is a tribute to the evergreen concept of the show.

Mr. Rogers and one of his signature puppets

Both shows are firmly rooted in an understanding of early childhood development, cognitive psychology, and curriculum design. Both shows understand how children think and react at a young age, so they know how to speak to the children’s concerns, interests, and fears, on their own level. Both shows are rooted in kindness and acceptance. Their worlds are inhabited by empathetic, caring characters but these characters have to learn how to deal with others who aren’t always nice.

Kids are told in these shows that they have the ability to be good people but they also have the strength and confidence to handle whatever happens in their lives. These lessons are eternal, so they still appeal even to the social media immersed kids of today.

The aforementioned Mr. Rogers article documents the accidental exposure of the writer’s kids to old Mr. Rogers Shows. The writer, Mary Pflum Peterson, was tasked to produce a national TV segment on Mr. Rogers in connection with the release of the Fred Rogers documentary. She wanted to binge-watch hundreds of old shows and get representative clips of some of the classic Mr. Rogers moments.

Mary has four young children but assumed that the show was a part of a bygone era that would not resonate, or even hold the attention of today’s short attention span kids. Her children had previously dissed vintage music, like Madonna and Springsteen as boring and called their parents’ favorite childhood movies like ‘ET’ and ‘Karate Kid’, too slow. So she didn’t even ask her kids to watch Mr. Rogers with her.

Then something shocking happened. The kids drifted into the room where Mary was watching ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’. And they became immediately entranced. “Who is that nice man?” they wanted to know.

Then, “Can we watch with you?”

To their mother’s surprise, after each episode, they asked to watch another. The two slightly older kids also started to watch episode after episode – for days on end. The kids applied modern technology to their newfound passion. They used their iPads and their mom’s laptop to pull up old Mr. Rogers shows and then created a playlist, ranking their favorite episodes.

Mary asked her children what appealed to them about the show and discovered that it’s all about the man, Fred Rogers. “He likes kids, Mommy,” said one. “And he’s not too loud. When we watch him, we don’t have to worry about anything.”

Another child described Mr. Rogers as “…the one who makes people feel better.”

So it boils down to kindness, calmness, and sincerity. Even in a fast-moving world that is often noisy and chaotic, kids are drawn to and reassured by what is real and what is kind.

These same qualities have kept Sesame Street in business for 50 years. Its goal is still to make kids grow up stronger, smarter, kinder and more accepting. Sesame Street fosters the same thing as Mr. Rogers – a sense of belonging for everyone based on acceptance and inclusion for everyone. Acceptance of people who are different has continued to be a major theme on Sesame Street through the years.

To adapt to the modern era, Sesame Street has become brighter and a bit faster and ‘zippier’. The set is cleaner and spiffier and there’s a recycling bin next to Oscar the Grouch’s trashcan. There’s also a community garden and Hooper’s store serves birdseed smoothies. The songs have also taken on a more modern tone, like a catchy R&B riff on self-assurance.

Most importantly, the show is still helping kids cope honestly with difficult issues, like the incarceration of a parent, the deployment of a family member and the aftermaths of hurricanes and other natural disasters. In 2017 they introduced a character, Julia, who has autism so as to address the increasing number of kids being diagnosed on the spectrum and to demystify the condition.

Michelle Obama celebrating the Sesame Street Anniversary

Kids still want to touch and talk to the Muppet puppets wherever they go for public appearances. The kids ask them questions and listen intently to the answers. They still feel comforted by this kind and accepting characters who help make the world a little less confusing and scary.

Just like Mr. Rogers, who still also appeals to young children everywhere. So I guess young kids haven’t changed that much over the past 50 years.

DRY LEAVES THAT FALL BEFORE THE WINDS – Marilyn Armstrong

I am not as nostalgic about the past as many people. I had a difficult and often unpleasant childhood. It’s hard to put aside the unhappy childhood memories to find happy ones. They get tangled up.

Maple along the Blackstone

It is in the autumn where good memories live on. That perpetual autumn I can sometimes smell in the air as October arrives. It is probably why I love this season. Fall signals the return to school and what passed for “normal” in my world.

72-dry-leaves-112215_32

I was a New Yorker. I’m sure it was cooler there 50 plus years ago than it is today. Especially in the fall.

And, I loved school. I know this was not a popular point of view in the kid world, but I loved it. Home kind of sucked.

Crunchy on the lawn by the river

School was better. Orderly. I had assignments. Things to learn. Teachers didn’t beat students and there were very few moments of sheer terror with which to cope. Unlike home at home.

In generating fear, schoolyard bullies were amateurs compared to my father.

72-fallen-leaves_04

The thing I remember best and most fondly were the sound of the leaves crunching under my squeaky new leather shoes. The shoes always gave me blisters, no matter what salesmen in stores told my mother about the perfect fit.

I don’t know why she believed them when they told her the shoes fit, but never believed me when I told her they hurt.

Colors by the Blackstone. Photo: Garry Armstrong

Fall seems to be shrinking and disappearing. It is the most saddening part of climate change in this region. To lose the season that always brought me joy is very sad and I hope we can bring it back.

At least we are still getting some of it. Not like we used to, but a week is better than nothing.

LET’S BE TWELVE AGAIN — Marilyn Armstrong

Someone asked me what I would do if I were twelve again. Twelve. A little too young to be a teenager, too old to be a ‘child.’ It’s the middle-age of childhood. There might be a few things I could do — or, more to the point — NOT do that might make old age feel less old. I could avoid those events where I broke my back, for example. Or maybe not. We all know that changing the past doesn’t usually work. Somehow, you either don’t exist at all, or whatever happens lands you back in the same place you were in anyway.

But I’m up for a try, as long as I don’t have to go back to school. Ever.

96-Marilyn1964

I’ve got all the diplomas I’ll ever need. I’m an adult. I get Social Security. Pensions. And never to be forgotten, Senior discounts. At 12 I had my full height and was a smart as I would ever be. I looked old for my age anyway.

Smarter. We reach our maximum intelligence in our early teens. It seems like a waste, but it isn’t really. That’s when we are collecting the knowledge that will enable us to decide what want to do with the rest of our lives. In this case, I already know.

I know what I want and I know how to get there.  I know what to avoid, which may be the most important part. It’s a perfect second life. With all the body parts still working and foreknowledge of what may come.

To the good part. A 12-year-old body you say? Before I broke my back. I get the chance to protect my spine and avoid the big issues I’m facing now.

There are some issues to be worked out. Young, growing bodies have needs. But in my head, I’m old and wily, so I know what to do. I have the body of a youngster, the brain of a senior. Oh, joy. This is the best of both worlds! Garry would be 17 — just about to go into the Marines. This wouldn’t be fun without him.

We will have legs that can run and minds that remember everything. But this time, without dysfunctional parents and all those stupid rules?

Bring it ON! I am so ready.

YOU TALK TOO MUCH! – Garry Armstrong

“You Talk Too Much.”

It was a 1960 pop single that kids used to sing outside of school and on the streets. Usually, it was making fun of adults: teachers, parents, politicians, and others who they dissed from the temerity of youth.

It’s not something we — of a certain age — say about those who do most of their socializing via texts and emails.  We value the word, conversation, face-to-face sharing of thoughts and beliefs.

As a youngster at large family gatherings, I remember the older men — uncles, cousins and male hangers-on, emboldened by liquor and loud Carribean music casting insults at the women in the house.  When they were inevitably chastized, one of the men usually would bellow, “Woman, you talk too much.”

Most of the men, shielding themselves from a proper physical response, would giggle in a protective huddle.  Much like a bad football team after committing an egregious foul.

“You talk Too Much”?  In my youthful mind, I wondered how my elders dare say such an obviously disrespectful thing. I couldn’t in my boldest young bombast even consider saying that to an elder. Certainly not my Mom. I’d be picking up my teeth scattered around the room after the two slaps on my cherubic face.

It IS something I now mumble at the political blabbathons as Presidential wannabees stumble over themselves, verbally shooting each other in the feet and leaving us — the losers — as we try to zero in on a preferred candidate to take on the current White House squatter whose rent is overdue.  Yes, you people, you talk too much and don’t say things that will make us believe in you and your candidacy.

I’m growing increasingly angry with baseball’s  TV sports talk jocks who think their jibber-jabber is more important than the high anxiety postseason games.  The nonstop verbal poop is often insulting when it’s obvious these people don’t know the basics of our national pastime.

This 77-year-old retired TV Newsie with 40 plus years on the job, YELLS profanities at the Sports yakkers. The nicest thing I can offer is: “You talk too much!”

I wrestle with the image of my sportscaster hero — the iconic Vin Scully — who truly was a wordsmith, mixing in Shakespeare, baseball play-by-play and John Keats — without missing a beat and allowing minutes of silence to heighten the import of an excellent, game-changing play.  Alas, Vin Scully, closing in on 90, chose to retire still at the top of his game.1

In my best Brandon DeWilde “Shane” plea, Vin Scully, come back! We need you now more than ever! EVERYBODY needs you. Come back, Mr. Scully, please!

Those of you of a certain age can, perhaps, see and hear Archie Bunker yelling at his wife and son-in-law: “Hey, youse!  Ya givin’ me a headache. Stifle ya-selves.  You talk too much”.

No, Pilgrim, I’m not going there.  As sure as the turning of the earth, I’m not going there.

DO YOU REMEMBER? – Rich Paschall

Memories Of Our Youth, by Rich Paschall

If you are over 21 what do you remember from your youth that is no longer around today? If you are under 21, I am guessing you can remember your childhood well and most things are still around. If something has already disappeared, by all means comment below.

For some of us, the early days are in the distant past.  You know, as in history. While some things may stay fresh in our memories, for other things we have to look at old pictures, or Google 1950s or 60s to look up things on the internet. This is to jog our memories of toys, stores, and technology that have gone away.   I will try to stick to memory. If I start looking things up, I could probably fill multiple articles here.

Toy soldiers

Toys have certainly changed. I remember a toy box, a big wooden container, that held many toys. I can not recall when that went away, probably on one of our many moves.  We had toys made out of wood as well as a stuffed animal or two (or three). I remember small plastic toy soldiers. They were green and very durable. Toy soldiers were popular then.

Outside we would get down in the dirt and play. I do mean dirt, not on the grass. Trucks and tractors were fun. My friend next door had a farm set and we could create a farm, as if we had any idea what they were like. Marbles were fun too, but I didn’t like games were we would bet. I did not want to lose any “cat’s eyes” or “boulders.”

We had skates that attached to our shoes. Oddly enough you could not use gym shoes or just any old shoes. You had to have shoes with soles on them so the clamps would go over the edges. It was great fun to go to the roller rink where they had shoe skates. When we were older we were able to get our own skates. I think I was in seventh grade when I got mine and I went skating often. There are few roller rinks left in the metro Chicago area and none nearby.

Inside we could enjoy television on our giant 19 inch black and white television. Sometimes the picture did not come in too clearly, especially channel 2 (CBS) and we would have to play with the antenna until we got a better picture. I was the remote control. I would have to get up and go to the televisions to “fix” the antenna, turn the volume up or down and change the channel. There were only 5 channels when I was very young, so there was not a lot of channel hopping.

Silver Dollar Survey

Transistor radios were important when we became teenagers. They were about the size of a cell phone, but a lot thicker. They would run on 9 volt batteries, not some thin rechargeable lithium ion thing. We were cool when we could carry around something that played music. This was our idea of “cutting the cord.” Chicago had two radion stations blasting our rock and roll off their 50,000 watts of power.  AM rock and roll stations have gone away.

Before the days of VHS recorders and digital cameras, I had a Super 8 camera. It was alledgedly a step up from the standard 8 millimeter cameras and film. The film was in a cartridge and did not have to be threaded in the camera. I wish I still had mine as I think it would earn some good money on ebay. Despite what some film buffs may tell you, 8 and super 8 are not coming back.

Have you seen the video of young people trying to figure out how to use a rotary phone? I am not sure it isn’t a put on, but then again when would people under 21 have seen one? In a movie?  Would land lines even accept the pulses generated by such a phone? I do have an older push button phone I bought at Sears many decades ago. It’s plugged into my Magic Jack so it works a lot like a landline. There no reason to have an actual landline anymore, is there?

My first computer was a Commodore 64. It was a step up from the Vic-20 which somehow operated on tape. The C64 used the large floppy discs and had a whopping 64 KB (kilobytes) of RAM (random access memory) and 20 KB of ROM. Yes, it was not very powerful, and if you wanted it to do more than play simple games, you had to write the code yourself. It was not practical, but owning your own computer was a novelty and I suppose they were relatively inexpensive.

Commodore 64 – the most popular computer ever produced. More than 30 million of them sold. Yes, I had one of these, too.

At home there were no CDs or tapes for our music. We had 45 and 33 1/3 RPM records. The 45 typically had one song per side, while 33 1/3 were albums with about half of the songs on each side. The numbers represented the speed, or “revolutions per minute,” the record was to be played. A good turntable and quality speakers were a must as we got older. People will still tell you today that vinyl records on a good system represents the best sound for music. Now the problem is you need many cabinets full of heavy records to store the same amount of music you can keep on your phone.

record player

Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel

One important thing missing from modern society is the phone booth. Yes, there were little booths on the street with pay telephones. In an era before cell phones, these were very handy for urgent calls. As they started to disappear we became concerned for Superman. You may not know this, but before the 21st Century, the phone booth was a necessary commodity for saving the world. You see, Clark Kent would go into a phone booth and take off his clothes and his Superman outfit was underneath. Seriously!

No, I don’t know what happened to the nice suit he left in the phone booth. Maybe some homeless man got it. And yes, I do think it must have been uncomfortable to have that cape under his shirt. Since the common phone booth was glass on all sides, I am surprised that no one ever noticed in Metropolis a man in a phone booth taking off his suit. I do know that Clark Kent was remarkably good at doing this in a very confined space. What does he do now, I wonder?

JAPAN’S KIDNAPPING PROBLEM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently wrote a blog about Japan’s strange (to us) cultural norms regarding women’s roles. The blog elicited a lot of interesting comments so I decided to follow up with another blog about a different cultural phenomenon in Japan that is even more appalling to Westerners.

Japan has a unique approach to child custody that differs from most of the rest of the developed world. Japan does not recognize the concept of ‘joint custody.’ Instead, courts give custody to one parent, applying what is called the ‘continuity principle.’ This states that if the child is settled in one household, the continuity of their care should not be disturbed. This, in turn, means that if one parent kidnaps a child, once the ‘new’ household is established, the court will consistently award custody to the kidnapper.

This bizarre system is deeply rooted in Japanese culture, where children are not viewed as having individual rights or even as ‘belonging’ to their parents. They are seen as the ‘property of the household’ where they live, so as soon as a child moves to a new household (say, with the kidnapping parent), the estranged parent automatically becomes an outsider with no right to ‘disturb’ the newly established household.

As a result (surprise, surprise), tens of thousands of Japanese children are kidnapped EACH YEAR, by one parent, usually the mother. And the other parent, usually the father, has no recourse to the authorities or the courts for help. Hundreds of these parents/fathers per year who are kept away from their children are foreigners who married Japanese citizens.

In one situation, an American man was married to a Japanese woman and they were living in Washington state. There was a divorce and the father was awarded custody. He dropped the six-year-old child off with his mother for a visit and she immediately took the child to Japan. The Japanese government refused to help him and, in fact, the Japanese embassy in Portland, Oregon actually helped the mother escape to Japan by getting her young child a passport in just one day.

Campaigns have been organized here, in other countries and even in Japan, to protect the rights of the outsider parents as well as the children. An American pressure group is called “Bring Abducted Children Home” and represents over 400 American parents whose kids have been abducted to Japan by a Japanese parent.

The Prime Minister of Italy and the President of France have raised this issue with Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, calling the situation ‘unacceptable.’ A formal complaint has also been filed with the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, arguing that Japan has violated the Convention on the Rights of Children and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.

But this only deals with the plights of foreign parents who are deprived of access to their children. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese parents are in the same boat.

Apparently, momentum for change is building domestically and internationally. This past February, Prime Minister Abe acknowledged that children would want to see both their parents, which is a huge concession and opens the door to giving rights to ‘outsider’ parents.

 

Also, the U.S. State Department says that progress is being made regarding enforcement of the Hague Convention on abductions since 32 kidnapped children have been returned to the U.S. since 2014. That’s just a drop in the bucket and more abductions are happening every year. But it is a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, it seems that the best policy for foreigners is to avoid marrying and having kids with a Japanese citizen until Japan joins the rest of the developed world in their views on custody and parental kidnapping.

MR. ROGERS AS PARENTING GURU – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was a psychologist who originally specialized in child psychology. Throughout life, I had a personal role model for parenting through the way she treated me and from what she actually taught me about relating to children.

Her philosophy was to respect your child as an individual but understand how he or she thinks and what he or she understands at each level of development. You should talk to children as you would an adult, but using words and concepts they can understand at each developmental stage.

She believed that you should explain whatever is going on in your child’s life, including why you want them to do something or not do something. I always got a reason for what was expected of me so I was a very reasonable and cooperative child, most of the time.

My favorite photo of my mom and my son, David

I was nineteen in 1968 when Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood started its 30 plus year run on television. I didn’t get to know him until around 1987 when my daughter was two.

She became a huge Mr. Rogers fan, as did I. I immediately realized that he was motivated to help parents as much as kids. He was a wonderful example of the calm, consistent, patient demeanor parents should exhibit towards their kids as well as a model of how adults should communicate with children.

He showed parents how to tune into what their kids were feeling, to respect those feelings and how to appropriately address them. He was particularly good at showing parents how to help kids through difficult times in their personal lives or in society as a whole.

He started his TV run in 1968 and that year he filmed an episode especially for parents, showing them how they could talk to their children about the assassinations and social turmoil that was erupting in the society at the time. His last address specifically for parents was after 9/11 in 2001, when he was talking to a generation of parents who had grown up watching his show.

Mr. Rogers’ parenting style was familiar to me because it mirrored my own mother’s approach to parenting. It apparently had a huge influence on many other parents for decades.

He became a parenting icon, or guru, to millions. His influence could be compared to the influence of Dr. Spock. He also wrote several books for parents. The real wisdom he conveyed was through his overall persona and gestalt. Parenting philosophies have changed over the years but his example of nurturing and sensitivity has had a lasting impact.

Celebrations last year marking the 50th anniversary of his TV debut were received with enthusiasm and huge ratings. There was a PBS special and a critically acclaimed documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” which made 22-million dollars at the domestic box office and became the top-grossing biographical documentary in American history!

The trailer for the new movie coming out about Fred Rogers, starring Tom Hanks, also received an enormous outpouring of affection and support on the internet.

Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers is obviously beloved by both the children and the parents who watched his show and he was a comforting presence to parents as well as children. He gave parents confidence that with some empathy and patience, they could handle any situation with their children. But he also made it clear that there had to be a real connection between parent and child for this magical relationship to work.

To be a parent like Mr. Rogers, you had to talk to your child, ask him questions, read to him and play with him in order to develop the rapport and trust that predicates the “Mr. Rogers’ style” relationship.

Above all else, his message was to accept and love your child “just the way you are” and to give that dependent being all the time and attention he deserves. This approach is timeless, compassionate and caring.

Mr. Rogers set a high bar for generations of parents, particularly working parents whose time with their children was more limited. He also gave these parents the roadmap and confidence to reach his lofty goals.

You could say that Mr. Rogers has played a major role in shaping American society through his influence over generations of kids and parents because society is made up of individuals, and parents shape the character of the individuals who populate society.

Mr. Rogers helped shape parents since 1968.

A ROAD HOME – Marilyn Armstrong

I grew up in a semi-rural nook in the middle of Queens, New York. The city had surrounded us leaving a tiny enclave walking distance from the subway.

The house was more than a hundred years old. It had been changed by each family who had lived there, so much that I doubt the original builder would have recognized it. From its birth as a 4-room bungalow in the 1800s, by 1951 it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd rooms that could be hard to find.

It sat at the top of a hill amidst the last remaining fully-grown white oaks in New York, the rest having fallen to make masts for tall ships. The shadows of the oaks were always over the house. Beautiful, huge and a bit ominous. Some of the branches were bigger than ordinary trees. I remember watching the oaks during storms, how the enormous trees swayed. I wondered if one would crash through the roof and crush me.

I was four when we moved into the house, five by summer. When the weather grew warm, I was told to go out and play. Like an unsocialized puppy, I had no experience with other children, except my baby sister and older brother and that didn’t count. Now, I discovered other little girls. What a shock! I had no idea what to do. It was like greeting aliens … except that I was the alien.

The first contact took place on the sidewalk. We stood, three little girls, staring at each other. First on one foot, then the other, until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism. “I live up there,” I said. I pointed to my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I was sure they had a private club into which I would not be invited. They were pretty — I was lumpy and awkward.

“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with long straight hair. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild, curly and full of knots. She gestured. “I live there,” she pointed. The house was a red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.

A dark-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial with bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long brick staircase. I’d never seen geraniums or masonry flower pots.

“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other. I, a stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.

1952

Finally, I fired off my best shot. “I’ve got a big brother,” I announced. They were unimpressed. I was at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.

“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. They turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again. I hadn’t the experience to know our future as friends were inevitable.

1953 – Three little girls

Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block. I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house. I imagined the lights were bright and cheerful in other houses. No dark shadows. No sadness or pain except in my scary world where the scream of a child in pain was background noise, the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Please, the neighbors will hear!” As if that was the issue.

Across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a stupor every night. The only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.

In the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, a battle raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was crumbling. It legally belonged to Liz’s grandmother. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. In lucid moments, she always reminded Liz’s dad the family lived there on her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and goodwill, there was neither.

About 6 or 7.

A lovely neighborhood. Fine old homes shaded by tall oaks. Green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where we could play day or night. I’m sure the few travelers who strayed onto our street, envied us.

“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses. “These people must be so happy.”

I have a picture in my album. It’s black and white, a bit faded. It shows us sitting in Liz’s back yard. I’m the tiny one in the middle. A little sad. Not quite smiling.

We envied each other. It would be years before we learned each other’s secrets and by then, we’d be adults. Too late to give each other the comfort we’d needed while we grew up, lonely in our big old houses all those years ago.