JEWELRY AS FAMILY HISTORY, PART 1 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Whenever my daughter, Sarah, comes to visit from LA, we always take a trip down memory lane together – in my jewelry drawers. I used to have all the jewelry I kept from my grandmother and my mom and my earlier years in shoe boxes and Tupperware containers that were stashed away in a closet. Then one year Sarah decided that we should organize all the old jewelry and display it in easy to access drawers, which we did. We discovered many pieces that I can still wear and those got transferred into my personal jewelry collection.

Now every year, Sarah and I go through our neatly organized drawers, reminiscing and trying on pieces of our family history. Here is a sampling of our favorite ‘historical’ treasures.

The two necklaces below belonged to my grandmother and I believe came with her to the US from Russia around 1908. I remember her wearing the one on the right and I always felt that they had a ‘European’ look to them.

My grandmother’s primary, go to piece of jewelry was the pin. She never wore earrings,  bracelets or rings. But she wore pins in may ways, like at her neck with a high collared dress, to hold a scarf in place (she loved scarves) and on her chest, on their own. She was very conservative in her taste but liked good quality, well designed pieces.

In the ‘olden’ days, no woman’s wardrobe was complete without a collection of pearl necklaces. Below is Grandma’s three strand, ‘evening’ pearl necklace but she also had single and double strands of varying sizes.

Now onto my mother, who was born in 1916 and started her jewelry collection around the 1930s, as a teenager. Her early pieces were primarily Bohemian in style, with many Beaus Arts/Art Deco touches. Her style changed dramatically as she got older and she later favored large, bold, ‘funkier’ statement pieces. So looking back at her early collection is always odd for me because I never knew the woman who would wear these pieces.

I love this Beaux-Arts/ Art Deco bracelet and I still wear it all the time.

My mother’s style-evolution can be seen, to some extent, in her two wedding rings. She married her first husband in 1936 with a small but interesting band. The wedding ring she wore after she married my father, in 1949, was big and flashy and not really a wedding band at all. She had a large collection of big rings which I gave to her friends when she died because neither Sarah nor I wanted to wear anything that big.

The mother I remember, and the grandmother Sarah knew, loved chunky, big necklaces. She was short but very busty and broad-shouldered, so she wanted her chest to make a style statement. It’s hard to tell how big her pieces actually were since I gave away the bigger ones to her friends after she died.

The green and gold piece below is only HALF of a two-tiered necklace that I deconstructed because I couldn’t wear it in its original state. The second tier was also gold balls with green stones, so you can imagine how bulky it was. Even as it is, it’s a bit too large for me but I do wear it every once in a while. I mostly keep it for sentimental reasons.

A sample of the big and ‘clunky’ neckpieces my mother favored.

My mother rarely bought any ‘real’ jewelry because she favored the larger costume pieces. But she did like sparkle for the evening, so she had some crystal/glass pieces in her wardrobe for dressing to the nines, which people often did in the fifties and sixties. She wore ‘evening’ clothes, often long dresses, at least once or twice a month. As a child, I used to love helping her decide what clothes and jewelry to wear when she went out at night. Maybe that’s why I’m so attached to her jewelry.

In her later years, I introduced my mom to the Craft Show and she ended up buying a lot of her costume jewelry there. At that point, our tastes had grown together and we both liked interesting, unusual, pieces that people would notice and comment on. So often she and I would buy from some of the same craft artists. The glass jewelry below is an example of something we both bought and wore. She bought the necklaces but I wear them now. The earrings are mine because she never pierced her ears.

My mother only wore clip on earrings and I couldn’t tolerate clips, so I gave away all of her earrings, which were as big and full of personality as all her other jewelry. I did keep one pair though because it was one of the last pieces of jewelry that I bought for her and because it represents the bright, fun, spunky spirit that characterized her and endeared her to everyone who knew her.

 

A NOSE JOB FOR MOM – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t remember how many times my mother told me this story, or how many times I have told it to you. It bears retelling.

At age 22

My mother, like many young women of her generation, had wanted to attend high school. And college. But the family was poor, and there were many mouths to feed. In the end, she had to quit school after seventh grade to take a job. She worked as a bookkeeper. At 14, my mother was respectable. Also naïve and innocent.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

The first place she worked was in a music publishing house on the Lower East Side where she had grown up. She was there for seven or eight years and finally decided to get a better job.

Immigrant children had trouble breaking into the workforce. Of course, my mother had the additional burden of being female at a time when women were not considered equal. There was no “political correctness” to protect them. My mother was blond and green-eyed. At 5 foot 7 inches, she was tall for her generation. Her English was better than most of the family since she had been born “on this side” of the Atlantic and had all her schooling in New York.

She was ushered into a room to be interviewed for the job she wanted. A few questions were asked. A form was handed to her and she filled it out. When she came to the box that asked her religion, she wrote Jewish. The interviewer looked at the application, said: “Jewish, eh?”

He tore the application to pieces and threw it in the trash in front of my mother. She said that from that day forward, she wrote Protestant so no one would ever do that to her again.Finally, I made a leap of understanding. I connected this anecdote to an aspect of my mother I never “got.” My mother wanted me to get a nose job. When I turned 16, she wanted me to have plastic surgery to “fix” my nose.

“It’s not broken,” I pointed out.

“But don’t you want it to look ‘normal’?” she asked.

“It looks fine to me,” I said. I was puzzled. My sister took her up on the offer. I continued to say “no thanks” and my nose is the original model with which I was born.

Since the last time I told this story, I realized my mother wasn’t hinting I wasn’t pretty enough. She was asking me if I wanted to not look Jewish. Remarkably, this thought had never crossed my mind. Until a few weeks ago.

I know many children of Holocaust victims refused to circumcise their sons because that’s how the Nazis identified little Jewish boys. I know non-white mothers frequently sent their light-skinned children north hoping they could “pass” for white. But never, until recently, did it occur to me my mother was trying to help me “pass” for non-Jewish.

I never considered the possibility I was turned down for a job because I was, in the immortal words of Mel Brooks, “too Jewish.” I always assumed it was me. I failed to measure up. I was too brash. My skills were insufficient.

I told Garry about my revelation. It was quite an epiphany, especially at my advanced age. I needed to share. It left me wondering how much I’d missed.

September 15, 1990 – My family at our wedding. I think most of us look a bit alike!

I told him I’d finally realized my mother’s persistent suggestion to “get my nose fixed” was an attempt to help me fit in, to not look so obviously Jewish. I had never considered anyone might not like me for other than personal reasons. I said I thought perhaps I’d been a little slow on the uptake on this one.

Garry said, “And when did you finally realize this?”

“Yesterday,” I said.

“Yesterday?” he repeated. Garry looked dumbfounded.

“Yesterday,” I assured him.

He was quiet and thoughtful. “Well,” he said. “You’re 72? That is a bit slow. You really didn’t know?” I shook my head. I really didn’t know. Apparently, everyone else got it. Except me.

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 WOMAN’S RIGHT TO LIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

One-Liner Wednesday — Women’s Rights

I remember the awful days before legalized abortion. When women’s jobs were listed separately in the paper. When the first question you got asked on a job interview was “How fast can you type,” and the second was “Who will take care of your child if he or she is sick?”

When contraception was nearly impossible and a lot of it hadn’t even been invented, so no matter how hard you tried, you could end up pregnant anyway. We fought a lonely battle to retain control over our own bodies.

We won. I was sure we won, didn’t we?

Roe V. Wade put an end to getting abortions in a back room somewhere. Right?

pro-choice-advert

I remember backroom abortions performed with chlorine bleach, coat hangers, and turkey basters. When sepsis or perforation of your uterus was not an unusual price to pay to end a pregnancy and as likely as not ended in death for both the fetus and you. When young women, unable to obtain an abortion threw themselves off bridges rather than have an unwanted baby, or tried to abort themselves, with terminal results for mother and child.

Despite conservative backlash and brainwashing on this issue, and despite the current frenzy in Washington DC, having an abortion was not and is not a sign one is irresponsible or anti-life. It’s a choice to have a good life when the alternative is at its best, bleak. These frenzy has been going on for my entire life. I’m 72 and women have been fighting this battle since before I was born.

suffragettes

Women have abortions for all kinds of reasons, including a desire to be more than a mother.

Physical health. The welfare of living children. The basic need to survive. A career that leaves no time to properly care for a child. The lack of a career that makes it possible to bear and raise children in a life that is not squalor.

Meanwhile, these so-called men are trying to stop a woman’s access to abortion are simultaneously determined to keep women from getting effective birth control, a weird set of beliefs that no matter how hard I try to make sense of it, doesn’t make any sense. And the worst part of the “pro-life” movement is that these same people care nothing about what kind of life this not-yet-a-person will lead following birth. They only care about being born, not about living. Squalor is fine, abortion or even birth control is not.


This is not “pro-life.” On every level, it is “anti-woman.”

This has little to do with preserving life. It’s about power. Isn’t it always?

Getting women back to their position of subjugation so old white men can own the world. They already control most of its assets, so let’s finally get those pesky women back where they belong.

It has always been about that.

So many women my age went through an abortion. Were we happy about it? No, but we weighed our options, then did what we felt was our best (only) choice.


The most significant gains in personal freedom women
have won are at risk. If we don’t speak up, speak out,
and stand together, we will lose it all.

I never imagined that I would have to fight this battle AGAIN. I remember my friends looking for someone to perform an abortion, terrified of the consequences, but even more terrified of what their lives would become should they be required to go full term with pregnancy.

I am many years past child-bearing. This is about women. All women. Whether or not we are fully equal in this world, this nation — and have the right to decide what happens or is done to our bodies.

If there is a right to life involved, how about the right of women to have a good life, to bear the number of children we want from none to many.


No one wants an abortion, but sometimes, you need one.

No woman should be forced to bear children.

This is a position I have held since I was very young and before I’d ever had sex. If you don’t own a uterus (and never did), you have no right to be part of this conversation. As a person who will never carry or bear a child– or even be responsible for those you had a part in creating, what right have you to speak on the matter? Old, childless men who want to force women to be baby machines are particularly loathsome.

I had an abortion. It wasn’t a “real” abortion because it was too early to even be sure it was a fetus. That was before tests made it possible to determine whether or not you were pregnant until pregnancy at least 8 weeks advanced. I had a husband in the hospital with cancer, a young child, a career just getting off the ground, and issues in the marriage that would later end with divorce. There was no way we could survive a new baby. Not to mention significant genetic issues that still haunt the family into new generations.

I am horrified by these people and their cruelty. Disgusted, revolted and sickened. I do not care who knows it.

#1linerWeds – One-Liner Wednesday and yes, this is way too long, but this is a big issue for me and always has been. I cannot keep this funny. It isn’t funny.

REALLY, MY MOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong

My mother was not a “regular” mom. This confused me a lot while I was growing up. Other mothers made cookies, kissed boo-boos. Hung out with other mothers in the summertime. Swapped recipes. Watched soap operas.

My mother didn’t bake anything, much less cookies. She was a terrible cook because she hated cooking. She was an unenthusiastic housekeeper and the whole huggy-kissy mothering thing eluded her.

She didn’t watch soap operas, loved the Marx Brothers and MGM musicals. She never graduated high school, but read voraciously and constantly. Especially about science and space. She was fascinated by quarks, black holes, and antimatter.

She never kissed a boo-boo; I don’t remember her kissing me at all. She wasn’t that kind of mom. She talked to me about everything and more important, she listened to me.

Mom-May1944

She had no interest in gossip, recipes, or cute stories about anyone’s kids. She wanted to talk about politics or the space program and which nations were so hopeless they needed a complete redo, from scorched earth up (she had a list). I think if she were still alive, she’d probably add this country to her list.

She enjoyed talking to me. I’m not sure if she talked to anyone else about being a young woman when FDR became president. How, when the NRA (National Recovery Act) was passed, there was a spontaneous parade in New York that lasted 24 hours. Ticker tape, and all.

How the government had surplus crops during the worst years of the depression, and government agents took the extra food, dumped it in vacant lots and put poison on it so no one could eat it. Even though people were starving.

I thought she was just paranoid, but I have since learned that it happened, just the way she said it did. For all I know, it’s happening right now.

She didn’t trust the government, was sure they were spying on us. Positive that  J. Edgar Hoover was out to get us and he had a long list — and we were on it. Turned out, she was on target about most of it.

Mom1973-3She was in favor of equal rights for everyone, everywhere. Pro-abortion, in favor of birth control, gay marriage, putting wheat germ in everything (yuk) and holistic medicine before anyone knew what that meant.

She wanted all religion out of the schools and government.

She was in favor of the death penalty. She felt there were people who should be taken out and shot. No long terms in prison (too expensive). No years of appeals. One well-placed bullet in the brain and justice would be served.

That was my mom.

She gave me Knut Hamsen to read and a grand piano for my 14th birthday. As well as appropriate anatomical books about sex. She figured I needed accurate information so I could make informed decisions.

She hummed most of the time, sang the rest of the time. She got the words wrong all the time.

She read me poetry when I was very small and treated me like an adult. She was a grimly determined atheist and would debunk any hint of religious belief should I be foolish enough to express it. I always felt she had a personal spite on God for failing her and the people she loved.

She was the most cynical person I’ve ever known. It seems I am following in her footsteps.

So here I am. Older than my mother was when she left this earth. I think my mother would like this version of me. She always liked me, probably more than I liked myself.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY: A MOTHER’S WALTZ – Leslie Martel and Marilyn Armstrong

Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 12, 2019


FROM swo8 (Leslie Martel): Today is Mother’s Day. To commemorate this day, we have created a photographic montage of families together. It includes eight generations of my family and three of Marilyn and Garry Armstrong’s families.

The song is bittersweet because to be a mother, is indeed bittersweet. Our children bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. The couple in the video are my great-grandparents.

My great-grandmother died in childbirth, leaving 3 babies and a husband. When my great-grandfather remarried the children were sent off to their aunt to be raised.

The aunt is the lady sitting by the fireplace. The first photo of children is of my grandmother and her twin sisters. My grandmother being the oldest would have missed her mother the most. In spite of her early losses she became an extraordinary person and had a huge influence on me and my thinking.

To be a mother has got to be one of the most difficult endeavors to undertake in one’s life. We are given this helpless creature for a short period of time to nourish, educate and inspire before they disappear into the ether of adulthood.

As a tribute to mother’s everywhere we dedicate this song, “Mother’s Waltz” by swo8 Blues Jazz and Marilyn Armstrong. 


FROM Serendipity (Marilyn & Garry Armstrong): The melody of A Mother’s Waltz echoes in my mind. I feel as if it is something I remember hearing my mother sing a long time ago, but of course, it is new from swo8 Blues Jazz

The pictures of my family include my mother, me, much younger and my son as a toddler. Pictures of Garry’s family include his mother and father’s wedding, Garry’s dad back from WWII with little Garry on his knee. Garry’s mom as a young woman.

The pictures are family heirlooms that evoke strong and sometimes conflicted feelings.

Music by swo8, with pictures from Leslie Martel (swo8) and Marilyn Armstrong (from both my family and from Garry’s family).

These are memories in music for all mothers.

DEFIANCE OR DETERMINATION? – Marilyn Armstrong

So I found this question on Facebook and it brought back a deluge of memories.


Hey moms, I’m in desperate need of help. I’m at my wit’s end with my lovely little defiant child. I love him lots, but enough is enough. Every morning, my son wakes up at 3 in the morning and refuses to go back to sleep. He will literally be up for the entire day. I’ve repeatedly tried putting him back in his room. I’ve tried time outs, taking away his privileges. Tried having him do chores. Nothing works. He talks back, makes faces, or just laughs at me. I literally don’t know what to do anymore.


My mother used to tell stories about me as a baby. How I’d be up and wide awake by 3 or 4 in the morning. We lived in a cheap apartment on Rose Street in Freeport. When I got up, she would get up too. She’d put on her overcoat and wait until the heat came up, which wasn’t until around seven.

She eventually figured out that I needed to be busy. Crayons, paint, and lots of paper were big items in my world. I didn’t sleep as much as most kids and when awake, I needed to be doing something. Ultimately, reading took over a lot of that time, but until then, drawing (the three-year-old version of it) and other crafts filled the time. That and running around outside. Knowing me now, it’s hard to imagine what an active kid I was.

Sisters playing by the river

Eventually, I learned to read books, write stories, and draw. Life got better.

Even as a toddler, I went to bed hours later than the “official” bedtime for little kids. I never slept as many hours as other kids. Garry recalls being much the same. Of course, these days, there’s no such thing as too much sleep, but we are long past youth, much less childhood.

Defiance is an overused term these days. Any time a child doesn’t want to do what mom or dad wants him or her to do, it’s defiance. My theory is that it’s more like boredom than defiance when a box of crayons and paper can cure it!

Smart kids need challenging activities and they can be hard for caretakers. Especially hard for working mothers who are already tired by the time they get home.

Pop psychology can be dangerous.

Don’t label your children. Smart kids hear what you say and figure out what you mean. Just because he or she doesn’t “behave” doesn’t make him or her defiant. These days, with so many mothers working and convinced that “outside” await predators waiting to snatch your kid, every minute of the kid’s time is programmed.

I shudder imagining growing up like that

MOTHERHOOD WITH BENEFITS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My English friend’s daughter, Katie, just had her first baby. She is 37 and has an established career she loves. Because she lives in England, having her baby will not affect her position at work. She gets nine-months of maternity leave and is guaranteed her job back when her leave is over.

For an American, that whole concept is amazing. Women in America are afraid to take the full legal six-weeks maternity leave for fear of negative repercussions on the job.

I’ve recently read that many women in America are choosing not to have children because motherhood would adversely affect their careers.

Women have to fight harder to establish themselves professionally and prove they are as good as the men they work with. Therefore, they don’t want to give up the gains they fought for make by having kids. They shouldn’t have to, but apparently, mothers are routinely treated with prejudice throughout corporate America.

Mothers are not viewed or treated like childless female workers or even male workers with kids. Mothers’ loyalty and commitment to their professions are always questioned.

Corporate life leaves no room for a family life. At least not for women. Mothers in the workforce have a terrible time balancing work and home life. They’re afraid to give any priority to their families, which creates tremendous stress. And hurts families.

There are other benefits Kate has as a new mother in England which American moms don’t have.

The English National Health Service, though stretched to the limit, still offers invaluable services to mothers of newborns. Kate can call an experienced midwife whenever she needs advice. When Kate was worried about nursing, a midwife with an expertise in lactation issues came to Kate’s house. She sat with Kate while she fed her daughter and offered advice and support. This would have been invaluable to me but is unheard of in America. I would have to find my own expert and pay for her services.

In addition, the midwives, as well as the GP’s in England, pay close attention to the new mother’s mental health. They are on guard for any signs of postpartum depression. This is considered a major part of postnatal care in England. Not in the U.S.

The National Health Service also offers something called the Lullaby Café, a place for new mothers to meet each other under the guidance of a trained midwife. The professional is there to answer questions, offer advice and comfort, as the voice of experience. I would have loved to have something like this when I had my first child. Mommy And Me ‘classes’ were just playgroups, not healthcare.

The new moms in my group had to compare notes and figure things out on our own. Truly the blind leading the blind. We also had to pay for our group activities, until we could form our own groups and meet in each other’s homes.

For Kate, her group experience is both free and educational.

So if you’re going to have a baby, especially if you also want a career, you’re better off if you’re British than American. Given our broken and morally corrupt healthcare system, that’s hardly a big surprise!

 

THE TINY WORMS IN THE FRIDGE – Marilyn Armstrong

My house was neat enough if you didn’t look too closely. You could walk into it without falling over a pile of dirty clothing (that was all in the basement — another story entirely) and the dogs and cats were  (usually) housebroken.

I couldn’t say the same for my toddler or my friends. Overall, the toddler was less of a threat to house and home than the friends, but when they got to messing around, anything could happen.

As my son grew, he developed (what a surprise) a passion for all kinds of creatures. Rabbits. Hamsters. Birds. We already had cats (many) and dogs.

We never properly owned more than two dogs but often had three or four. Two of them were ours. One was on loan from a friend who was in the army or on the road playing gigs. The fourth had belonged to a houseguest who had left but somehow forgotten to take their dog. Sometimes, it took us years to get the owner to come back and take the furkid too.

I love animals that aren’t insects, so while I frequently pointed out that it was NOT my dog and would they please come and get him or her, I would never throw them out. The owner I might toss out the door, but never the dog.

The year Owen turned eight, he decided he wanted geckos. They were the “in” things for 8-year-old boys that year. I pointed out that I didn’t think they would last long with the cats in the house.

He wanted the geckos. I was not much of a disciplinarian. If you argue with me, I’ll say no at least twice. After that? I usually give up.

As soon as we got the terrarium and the plants and finally settled the geckos into their home, Owen promptly lost interest in them and rediscovered his bicycle. That left me to care for the geckos, who would only eat mealworms.

I am not a big fan of worms. Any worms. I can tolerate earthworms because they are good for the soil, but overall, if it creeps or crawls, it’s not my thing. Did I mention that the geckos would only eat LIVE mealworms? I had to buy them in little cups at the pet store.

So mom dropped over and the cup of mealworms for the geckos had tipped over in the fridge. Which was now full of tiny worms. I assured her that my fridge does not usually contain worms and the worms were what the geckos ate. I don’t think she believed me. It was years before she would eat anything at my house. She always quietly inspected everything, in case there were a few worms there.

As for the geckos, a few days later, the cats figured out how to open the terrarium and there were no more geckos. And thankfully, no more mealworms.

A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO LIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

I remember those bad old days. When contraception was nearly impossible to find and no matter how hard you tried, you could still end up pregnant. We fought a lonely battle to retain control over our own bodies. We won. I was sure we won, didn’t we?

Roe V. Wade put an end to getting abortions in a back room somewhere. Right?

pro-choice-advert

I remember backroom abortions performed with chlorine bleach, coat hangers, and turkey basters. When sepsis or perforation of your uterus was not an unusual price to pay to end a pregnancy. Where young women, unable to obtain an abortion threw themselves off bridges rather than have an unwanted baby, or tried to abort themselves, often with terminal results for mother and child.

Despite conservative backlash and brainwashing on this issue, and despite the current frenzy in Washington DC, having an abortion was not and is not a sign one is irresponsible or anti-life. It’s a choice to have a good life when the alternative is at its best, bleak.

suffragettes

Women have abortions for all kinds of reasons, including a desire to be more than a mother. Physical health. The welfare of existing children. The basic will to survive. Meanwhile, men are trying to stop a woman’s access to abortion are simultaneously determined to keep women from getting effective birth control.

That isn’t “pro-life.” It’s entirely “anti-woman.”

It has nothing to do with preserving life. It’s about power. Getting women back to their position of subjugation so old white men can regain world control. It has always been about that.

So many women my age went through an abortion. Were we happy about it? No, but we weighed our options, then did what we felt was our best (only) choice.


The most significant gains in personal freedom women have won are at risk. If we don’t speak up, speak out, and stand together, we will lose it.
All of it.


I am many years past child-bearing. This is about women. All women. Whether or not we are fully equal in our world and have the right to decide what happens to our bodies.

If there is a right to life involved, how about the right of women to have a good life, to bear the number of children we want from none to whatever.

No one wants an abortion, but sometimes, you need one.

TO MOM ON YOUR 101st BIRTHDAY

Today is “Flag Day” throughout much of the world.  Here, it is much more. It’s my Mom’s birthday.

Happy Flag Day, America

Esther Letticia Holder Armstrong left us 11 years ago. But for me and my family, she’s very much alive in spirit and 101 years young. They were singing “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and “Over There” when Mom was born on that June 14th in 1917.  Mom’s father,  my grandfather,  was over there. He was a sailor in the Danish Navy during World War 1.

Gramps, a Barbados native, saw plenty of action as he would tell us many times in the years to come.

Esther Holder, as Aunts and Uncles would gleefully tell me, was a feisty child and teenager.  “Smart as a whip,” friends said about Mom. She graduated near the top of her Julia Richmond High School class of 1935.  My Mother once described herself to me as a “Jazz baby,” showing off pictures of herself as a young woman who liked to dance. I’m not sure how that resonated with some of the older folks in the family but none of them lived in a glass house – if you get my drift.

I guess Mom left a trail of broken hearts when she and my dad, William Benfield Armstrong, married in 1941.  It was one of the biggest social events of the year. However, modesty aside,  the glittering affair was just the warm up to my début on the world stage in April of 1942.  A star was born —  at least that’s how I’d see it in my private fantasies which Mom frequently punctured.

Mom was a single parent during my early years because Dad was away — in the Army – seeing some of the heaviest action of World War 2 in France and Germany as a Sargeant in the still-segregated armed forces.

We looked like a Hollywood family when Dad finally came home from the war. At least that’s what I thought. Mom was beautiful and Dad was such a handsome guy.

Over the years, my Mother was “the voice” of our family. She clearly set the parameters for right and wrong, good and bad for my two younger brothers and me. I tested her many times, especially as I got older and became a “man” in my immature mind.  I always lost those confrontations.

Mom was tough! She was also tender, in her own way. She encouraged me to read and write.  She actually read my first attempts at fiction and assured me I had talent. She told me I should pursue my dreams.

We weren’t big on outward displays of affection,  something that I would have to deal with in later years. However,  Mom always found quality time for me. She knew I had a huge passion for movies.  We’d go to the movies, 3 times a week.  I was “Mom’s date.” She would explain who the people on the big screen were.

They were Gable, Tracy, Hepburn, Cooper,  Grant and all the others who reigned over my fantasies through my many years of loving Hollywood.  Mom said she named me after her favorite star,  Gary Cooper.  There was a mixup in recording the birth certificate and Gary became Garry.

There would be frequent mixups later when I became a news guy on television. Actually, there are still frequent mixups. Some things never change.

I’m not sure my Mother was excited about my career choice.  She always said I should become a doctor, lawyer, or minister.  She agreed I talked well.  What she really said was,  “Garry,  you have a big mouth!”  I’d smirk when she said that.  The smirk usually quickly disappeared she gave me “the look.” Mom also thought I was too good for the women I dated. I think she left that impression with many of those women in my life. I got lots of feedback about it.

I remember Mom and Dad celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  I saw a look in their eyes I hadn’t seen too often.  The look of love.

Dementia took hold of Mom in her last few years. Dad had passed away.  Mom was alone with my middle brother Billy in the old family home on Long Island. Anton,  my youngest Brother, was busy with his blooming career as director of the St. Olaf Choir in Minnesota. I was the married, busy TV news guy up in Boston.  Family get-togethers were difficult.

In what would be her last coherent afternoon with me,  My Mom floored me when she admonished me to be a good husband, to find quality time with Marilyn, to show affection and not stonewall Marilyn with internalized emotions. Mom held my face close with her hands like I was that stupid teenager. She smiled with patience and compassion, counseling me to “… be good to your Wife … you are lucky to have her. Show her you appreciate her, that you love her.”

I’m still trying Mom.  I’m not there yet.

In the meantime,  Happy, Happy Birthday.  Mom.  You’re the best!

MY REAL MOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong

My mother was not a regular kind of mom. This confused me a lot while I was growing up. Other mothers made cookies, kissed boo-boos. Hung out with the other mothers in summertime. Swapped recipes. Watched soap operas.

My mother didn’t bake anything, much less cookies. She was a terrible cook because she hated it. She was an unenthusiastic housekeeper and the whole “huggy kissy” mothering thing eluded her. She didn’t watch soap operas, loved the Marx Brothers and MGM musicals. She never graduated high school. She read voraciously and constantly. Especially about science and space. She was fascinated by quarks, black holes, and antimatter.

She never kissed a boo-boo; I don’t remember her kissing me at all. She wasn’t that kind of mom.

Mom-May1944

She had no interest in gossip, recipes, or cute stories about anyone’s kids. She wanted to talk about politics or the space program and which nations were so hopeless they needed a complete redo, from scorched earth up (she had a list). I think if she were still alive, she’d probably add the U.S. to her list.

She enjoyed talking to me — I’m not sure if she talked to anyone else — about being a young woman when FDR became president. How, when the NRA (National Recovery Act) was passed, there was a spontaneous parade in New York that lasted 24 hours. Ticker tape and all.

1963

How the government had surplus crops during the worst years of the depression, and government agents took the extra food, dumped it in vacant lots, then put poison on it so no one could eat it. Even though people were starving. I thought she was just paranoid, but I have since learned that it happened, just the way she said it did.

She didn’t trust government, was sure they were spying on us. Positive that  J. Edgar Hoover was out to get us and he had a long list — and we were on it. Turned out, she was on target about most of it.

Mom1973-3She was in favor of equal rights for everyone, everywhere. Pro-abortion, in favor of birth control, gay marriage, putting wheat germ in everything (yech,) and holistic medicine before anyone knew what that meant. She wanted all religion out of the schools and government.

She was in favor of the death penalty. She felt there were people who should be taken out and shot. No long terms in prison (too expensive). No years of appeals. One well-placed bullet in the brain and justice would be served.

That was my mom.

She gave me Knut Hamsen to read and a grand piano for my 14th birthday. As well as appropriately anatomical books about sex (she figured I needed accurate information so I could make informed decisions).

She hummed most of the time, sang the rest of the time. She got the words wrong all the time. She read me poetry when I was very small and treated me like an adult. She was a grimly determined atheist and would debunk any hint of religious belief should I be foolish enough to express it. I always felt she had a personal spite on God for failing her and the people she loved.

My mother and her sisters. 1953. Queens, New York.

She was the most cynical person I’ve ever known and it seems I am following in her footsteps.

So here I am. Almost as old as my mother was when she left this earth. I think my mother would like this version of me. I think she always liked me, probably more than I liked myself.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, daughters of mothers, and mothers of mothers. Let’s celebrate being women and being alive. It’s not such a small thing.

A MOTHER’S WALTZ: MUSIC & PICTURES – Leslie Martel & Marilyn Armstrong

Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 13, 2018


FROM swo8 (Leslie Martel): Today is Mother’s Day. To commemorate this day, we have created a photographic montage of families together. It includes eight generations of my family and three of Marilyn and Garry Armstrong’s families.

The song is bittersweet because to be a mother, is indeed bittersweet. Our children bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. The first couple in the video are my great-grandparents. My great-grandmother died in childbirth leaving 3 babies and a husband.

When my great-grandfather remarried the children were sent off to their aunt to be raised. The aunt is the lady sitting by the fire-place. The first photo of children is of my grandmother and her twin sisters. My grandmother being the oldest would have missed her mother the most. In spite of her early losses she became an extraordinary person and had a huge influence on me and my thinking.

To be a mother has got to be one of the most difficult endeavours to under take in one’s life. We are given this helpless creature for a short period of time to nourish, educate and inspire before they disappear into the ether of adulthood.

As a tribute to mother’s everywhere we dedicate this song, “Mother’s Waltz” by swo8 Blues Jazz and Marilyn Armstrong. 


FROM Serendipity (Marilyn & Garry Armstrong): It has arrived. The melody of A Mother’s Waltz echoes in my mind. I feel as if it is something I remember hearing my mother sing a long time ago … but of course, it is brand new from swo8 Blues Jazz

The pictures of my family include my mother, me, much younger and my son as a toddler. Pictures of Garry’s family include his mother and father’s wedding, Garry’s dad back from WWII with little Garry on his knee. Garry’s mom as a young woman.

The pictures are family heirlooms that evoke strong and sometimes conflicted feelings.

Music by swo8 … with pictures from Leslie Martel (swo8) and Marilyn Armstrong. Memories in music for mothers everywhere.

 

RELATIONSHIP MYSTERIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was a psychologist with a private practice. She saw lots of relationships up close and personal. She always wondered how people seemed to be able to find others who satisfied their unconscious needs. The Yin to their Yang.

How, she would ask, does the sadist find the masochist? You need one of each for a relationship to work. No one wears signs advertising their dominatrix tendencies. How does the person who likes to wear diapers or fluffy animal suits, find like-minded people? Today the answer is online, but before the internet, people still managed to find one another.

We are all like puzzle pieces. There are a few other pieces that fit neatly into our piece. But only a few. How do we find those needles in the haystack of humanity?

For example, everyone knows someone who always seems to end up with a similar ‘type’, usually one that is not good for them. There’s the woman who tends to go for men who treat her badly, cheat on her and/or abandon her. How does she know who is going to fit that pattern from their initial, usually neutral social contact? When we first meet someone, we can’t really know them. So what propels our choices?

My mother believed that we all put out ‘vibes’ or signals on a very subtle, primitive, even physiological level. Dogs can hear and smell things that humans can’t. Mom believed that the unconscious ‘senses’ things that the conscious brain is not aware of. Maybe it’s pheromones, maybe it’s micro facial movements.I’m a perfect example of this unconscious level of communication. When I was young, I was attractive but very guarded about relationships with men. I was superficially outgoing, intelligent and funny. But I was very closed off emotionally. Men sensed that and stayed away. I could go to dances, looking great, and never get asked to dance. It was as if I’d created an invisible protective shield around myself. I ended up marrying an abusive, controlling, manic-depressive. I stayed with him for 25 years.

Decades, and years of therapy later, I started dating again after my divorce. I had conquered my inner demons and was very open to a healthy relationship. I had no trouble finding men who were interested in me this time around, even in my late 40’s. I ended up in a wonderful marriage to a kind, caring, delightful man.

Something had happened to me on a deep seeded, emotional, unconscious level. Yet it made a palpable difference in my real world relationship experiences. How was that change so effectively communicated to the outside world? My outward personality hadn’t changed that much. To meet me, you weren’t hit in the head with my inner transformation. My friends still recognized me as the same person I had always been – at least on the surface.

I’m not a psychologist and I don’t have any answers. I just find it fascinating that who we are on a psychological level, somehow gets projected to other people. Haven’t you met someone and immediately had a strong reaction to them, either positive or negative? I met a woman at a book club meeting. I knew we were going to be friends. Years later we are still best friends yet we hardly talked at that first meeting.

We call this ‘chemistry’. We say we are ‘drawn’ to someone. I don’t know how to explain it. But three cheers for whatever it is!

A POSITIVE PARENTING MOMENT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I had a brief shining moment as a parent. I did something right. It felt right then and I still believe that it was right now. I even think that my daughter, Sarah, would agree.

It has to do with Sarah’s Bat Mitzvah, which took place in January of 1998. We started planning it in 1997, when Sarah was twelve. Sarah has always been a very organized, efficient person. She could reorganize her closet, on her own, when she was five. So, my brilliant idea was, why not give Sarah the lead in planning her Bat Mitzvah events! She loved the idea.

Sarah at twelve years old

I gave her the budget and off we went to the invitation lady, the potential venues, the party planner, the florist, etc. Sarah got the final word on all decisions (after some maternal prodding and advice) as long as she stayed within the budget. That got tricky, which was the point of the exercise.

I remember, at one point, she fell in love with some fancy invitations. But, she realized that if she spent the extra money there, she’d have to cut back on the party favors for her friends. It was a carefully thought out decision. She finally went with the simpler invitations and the better favors.

Invitation Sarah picked

She had to use a calculator to plan her menu. For table decorations, she decided to save money on flowers. So she used balloons and paper decorations to supplement the very basic floral treatments on each table.

It was an enjoyable as well as an educational process. Sarah took great pride in doing everything herself. She learned about budgeting, time management and other sophisticated organizational skills.

The event was beautiful and lots of fun. I think it also had more meaning for Sarah because the day’s festivities were a result of her own input and effort. She not only had a memorable coming of age party, she actually grew up a lot in the process.

Sarah at the evening party

I’m proud of Sarah for handling everything so gracefully, maturely and responsibly. I’m proud of myself for giving the reins to the soon to become Jewish “woman”. We both benefitted from the experience and Sarah blossomed. A+ for the Bat Mitzvah, A+ for parenting.

Sarah and me at the morning services at the Temple

 

 

DIFFERENT LEARNING STYLES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I didn’t know it growing up, but I have several learning disabilities, including ADD. I was actually diagnosed with ADD in my sixties. The medication works wonderfully but it keeps me from sleeping, so I can only take it once in a while.

I learned of my other learning disabilities when my son was diagnosed in college. I realized that I have been plagued by the same disabilities that he has. When I was young, I was just considered anxious and a slow learner.

David in college

From high school on, through college and law school, I had to put in way more time than my peers did to learn class material and do well in school. Here’s what I had to do to master the material I needed to know for exams. I had to underline the reading material when I read it for the first time. Then I had to go back and reread the underlining, highlighting the most important parts. Then I had to reread the highlighting and turn it into an extensive outline. That detailed outline then had to be condensed into a shorter outline that I would read over and over until I had it memorized.

I also had to take copious notes during classes. I filled several notebooks by the end of each semester. It puzzled me that often, when I read over my notes, it was as if I was reading the material for the first time. I often had no memory of parts of the class lectures.

Me in high school

It turns out that this is a symptom of a learning disability. I forget what it’s called. But it basically means that I can’t aurally absorb the content of the lecture while I’m physically taking notes on it. The act of note taking itself cancels out my ability to learn and retain what I am hearing. I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time – and remember what I was doing.

To study for a test, I went through a similar process with my notes than I did with the reading material. I had to read over my notes and highlight the key passages. I then had to go back and reread the highlighting and incorporate the information into my voluminous outline from the reading material. My master outlines were often 20-30 pages long.

Me in college

It turns out that there’s a physiological reason why I had to go through that laborious process just to learn what I needed to know for a test. Another learning disability involves short term and long term memory. Some people only need to hear or read something once or twice before that piece of information is transferred from the short term memory section of the brain to the long term memory section. For me and for my son, we have to be exposed to that piece of information maybe four or five times before our brains move it from short term to long term memory.

The good news for us, is that people like us are often better able to use the information and integrate it with other information in our brains. But it takes us longer to remember it in the first place.

Me in law school

My first husband, Larry, was at the opposite end of the spectrum learning wise. He had a mind like a sponge. He heard or read something once and he knew it. It was very frustrating for me to watch him study when we were in law school together.

Larry just listened in class. He took minimal notes, usually only jotting down a word or two to remind himself of the subject matter discussed that day. When he studied for a test, he just flipped through the text book, refreshing his memory of the material covered. He used to urge me to stop taking notes – to just listen and absorb in class. He didn’t understand that I couldn’t. I would never remember what had been discussed unless I wrote it all down.

Larry’s quick study abilities got him into trouble with his first year study group. Study groups are an essential part of the first year of law school. Five people get together and study for tests. Each person outlines one of the five first year classes for the other four. One person would have a hard time outlining all five classes. There was just too much material.

Larry in law school

Larry was assigned Torts as his subject to outline for his study group. When they met around exam time, everyone brought their ten or so page typed outlines. Everyone except Larry. He brought a single legal sheet of paper with, basically the chapter headings of the text book hand written on it. That was all he needed to study for the exam. He had ‘learned’ the material as he went along during the semester.

His fellow classmates were livid. Larry didn’t understand what their problem was. He didn’t even know how to write a detailed outline. The four other study group members had to divide up the Torts material between them and go home and outline the class themselves. Larry got an A in Torts. None of the others did. They were not happy with Larry!

So I have first hand experience with the wide range of learning styles that people can have. I am, unfortunately, on the slow end of the learning curve. But at least I now understand why. It’s not my ‘fault’. That’s just the way my brain works. I don’t beat myself up about it any more or feel bad because of it. I’m jealous of faster learners, but I accept that this is just who I am.