PORTLAND STREET ART – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently spent two days with friends in Portland, Oregon, the Vermont of the West. Pot is legal and the arts are thriving, all over town.

Our friends drove us and walked with us all around town so we got a good overview of the city.

Beautiful design on a billboard in town
This design covered two buildings next to each other

Artwork on the side of a building
The side of another building. I love the whimsy of this one!
Another cool scene on the side of a building
Courtyard entrance to a shop

On our drive through town, I took a picture of an interesting sculpture I saw on the porch of a house. Later that night, our friends drove us to a local tourist attraction – a psychedelic light show that a local resident projects every night. I realized that this was the house with the interesting ‘sculpture’ – much more interesting with the lights!

A GAY FIRST LADY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

A comment made by presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, caught my attention. He said that statistically speaking, the odds are that we have already had a gay president in America. Several presidents were unmarried, but in past times gay men often married and had children because they did not have the option of living an openly gay lifestyle.

While this was on my mind, I came across an article about a first lady who turned out to be a lesbian. Grover Cleveland took office in 1885 – a 50-year-old bachelor who apparently had fathered a child out of wedlock (this fact nearly derailed his campaign). The protocol called for him to appoint his sister, Rose, as First Lady. She was considered a ‘respectable’ single woman who was well educated, a former teacher at a woman’s seminary and the author of ‘serious’ books. She served as First Lady for a little over a year and then was relieved of her duties when her brother married his 21-year-old ward, Frances Folsom Cleveland.

Rose returned to the family estate in upstate New York and a few years later, when Rose was 43, she met Evangeline Simpson on the wealthy ‘social circuit’ in Florida. Evangeline was 33 and had inherited a fortune from her late husband who was almost 50 years older than she was!

The love letters that document their 30-year relationship, begin in April of 1890. Ironically, at that time there was no word in the English language to describe a romantic/sexual relationship between two women. The word ‘lesbian’ was only applied to the Greek poet, Sappho. The field of sexology only came into being in the 1890’s so the terminology would not exist for many more years.

Rose Cleveland

The concept of ‘romantic friendship’ was popular among women of the day but the relationships were often emotional and intellectual but not sexual. However, that gave cover for wealthy white women of the day and allowed them to have open relationships, often even living and traveling together.

The letters between Rose and Evangeline were discovered in 1969 when a cache of Evangeline’s family papers was donated to the Minnesota Historical Society. When the love letters, some quite explicit, were discovered, a memo was sent out suggesting that they are kept from the public. The ban wasn’t lifted until 1978, following numerous complaints. The full collection of Rose’s letters were finally published in a book called ‘Precious and Adored: The love letters of Rose Cleveland and Evangeline Simpson Whipple, 1890-1918.

Rose on right, Evangeline on left

Rose and Evangeline’s relationship spanned 30 years but had its ups and down. Initially, they enjoyed extended visits to each other’s estates and they traveled together in Europe and the Middle East. They didn’t try to hide their relationship and Rose even wrote to Evangeline’s mother about her love for Evangeline. It seemed to have been accepted – but I wonder how many people of the day understood that there was a sexual component to the relationship.

In 1896, after six years with Rose, Evangeline shocked everyone when she announced that she was marrying a popular Episcopal preacher from Minnesota who was 34 years her senior. She didn’t need to marry him for financial reasons and her diary indicates that she was sincerely fond of him. But why she chose marriage over her relationship with Rose is a mystery.

Evangeline with her new husband

After the marriage, Rose and Evangeline continued to correspond but the tone of their letters changed dramatically. No more intimacies and pet names or professions of love. Evangeline’s husband died five years later, in 1901 and the letters between the two women changed character again. The two resumed staying at each other’s homes for extended periods until 1910 when Evangeline’s brother became seriously ill in Italy. Evangeline and Rose rushed to his side and finally lived together in a small Tuscan town.

In Tuscany in 1918, at the age of 72, Rose died after contracting the Spanish flu. Evangeline lived for twelve more years but wrote of Rose’s death that “The light has gone out for me. The loss of this noble and great soul is a blow that I shall not recover from.”

Photo of Rose with Evangeline on right and book cover on left

In today’s climate, Rose and Evangeline would probably have moved in together when they first fell in love and would have shared a peaceful, happy and uninterrupted 30-years together. At least they never felt shame or ostracism or persecution for their love – which probably would have been the case if they had been men. It’s nice to know that women had an acceptable social ‘cover’ for lesbian relationships, even in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Thankfully people don’t need to disguise or hide their love anymore, no matter what the sex or race of their chosen partner.

INNER RESOURCES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother used to tell me how important it is to have ‘inner resources.’ I nodded and agreed but never really understood what she meant. As a retired person, I finally get what she was talking about.

Coincidentally, my husband, Tom, always preached to me that I had to be comfortable living alone. I lived home during college and I spent a total of four months living alone during law school before I moved in with my first husband. That’s it for my entire life. After law school, I was married. Married with kids, divorced with kids, remarried with kids and now retired and married with no kids at home, just dogs.

I didn’t think that Tom’s mantra about being able to live alone, applied to my life.

Now I realize that my Mom’s ‘inner resources’ and Tom’s ‘living alone’ are really the same thing. While retired, I’m technically not alone, but for a good part of each day, Tom and I ‘do our own things.’ Tom loves video games and can play them for hours and hours. He also voraciously reads the news and watches news on TV for hours a day. He has projects around the house and on the boat. He has inner resources and can be alone. In other words, he has the ability to entertain himself, by himself for long periods of time, every day.

I don’t do video games though I watch a lot of Food Network and HGTV shows. I read the news but much less exhaustively than Tom. That leaves a lot of hours each day to be filled while Tom shoots bad guys and solves the problems of the world.

I used to be an avid reader so I could entertain myself endlessly with the books piled up on my nightstand. I always had a tower of books I wanted to read waiting patiently for me to get to them. I didn’t know it until I was recently diagnosed, but I have always had ADD. It has gotten worse since menopause, which is common. So now it’s hard for me to sit for hours and read. It’s hard for me to do anything for hours without getting up and walking around or doing something else for a while.

I’m often antsy.

The ADD medication worked wonderfully and I could sit still and read to my heart’s content. But the medication also kept me up till the wee hours of the morning and I had to stop it if I wanted to sleep normally again. I may go back to taking a pill once or twice a week, but I have other medical issues I have to square away first.

So now I’m left with hours and hours a day of unstructured time I can’t automatically fill with a good book. Writing blogs has occupied a lot of my time as has writing for and promoting my audio theater group.

There are still days that contain periods of ‘nothing to do’. That’s where the inner resources and being able to be alone come into play. I somehow manage to find things to do that don’t just kill time. I come up with projects around the house or errands to run or I spend extra time working with the dogs on their obedience training (sit, down, stay and come is as far as I’ve gotten so far). I text and call friends and stay in closer touch than I used to be able to and I read in short increments.

I actually enjoy days when I don’t have to leave the house. They are comforting in some ways and also prove to myself that I have what my mother worked so hard to instill in me – inner resources!

I’m comfortable with myself and happy in my own company. I can stay occupied by myself when I need to.

Thanks, Mom!

SOME THINGS SHOULD GET EASIER WITH AGE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I believe that one of the benefits of age and experience is that romantic relationships should be easier than when we were young.

When I was young and married for the first time, I was insecure and didn’t know how to stand up for myself. But I was way too rigid and sure of my opinions and views and way too intolerant of people with other perspectives. I was hypersensitive to any slights or criticisms yet unsure how to express those feelings constructively. Looking back I realize how difficult I was, in many ways.

When I met Tom, my second husband, at age 49, after 25 years of marriage and two kids, I was a different person. More confident and not willing to put up with shit from people, yet easy-going and accepting of differences. Tom and I bonded instantly over the similarities between both of our mentally ill exes.

We got along seamlessly and talked until 3 AM on our first date. We spent the next weekend together and from that point on, we were a couple. That was 20 years ago. We didn’t marry for three and a half years, mainly because my kids were still living at home. But we knew we were till death do us part from the very beginning.

Tom and I on our first trip together early in our relationship

Our relationship has been as easy and positive as our prior marriages were difficult and negative. We understood what was important in a relationship – two ‘normal’ people who respect and accept each other as we are; who enjoy and appreciate each other without reservation, and who support each other 100% no matter what. All the rest is window dressing (except making each other laugh and the passion part, which goes without saying). Maybe we should have known all this in our twenties, but we obviously didn’t. We thought we could ‘help’ or ‘change’ our spouses. That rarely works.

My relationship with Tom has been smooth since day one because when there’s an issue, we talk about it and it’s over. We don’t hold grudges or bring up past issues. We deal with the issue at hand and never attack the other person. Then we immediately go back to friendly behavior with no anger residue. All of this is basic ‘Relationship 101’ advice. But I think time and experience helped us understand the importance of these maxims.

Another trip before we got married

I have two friends, one in her mid-fifties and the other in her late sixties, who have been dating online. Each had a recent nine-month to one-year relationship that ended a few months ago. Both of these relationships were difficult and up and down with lots of negative mixed in with the positive.

I felt that these men were wrong for my friends because they weren’t a good fit. It wasn’t ‘easy’ for them to be together. These women saw the negatives but didn’t want to give up on the positives. One woman kept questioning if she should break up with this guy and the other actually did break up, at least two or three times. I just don’t believe that if a person is right for you, things should be that full of angst at our ages. No roller coasters for the fifty and over crowd if you’ve found ‘the one’.

Luckily both women have met new guys with whom things are going smoothly and quickly. One had a first date on a Saturday night that lasted till Tuesday! Way to go! The other said she felt so comfortable with this new guy after just a few dates that it felt like they’d been together for a long time. That’s what I’m talking about! Both women have slipped easily into relationships with major positives and no major negatives. No obvious ‘red flags’. They both feel as if this is too good to be true but they’re going with the flow and enjoying every minute.

This is the first time with these friends that I feel they’ve found the right guy for them. At this stage of life, it should come relatively easy if it’s right! I wished for them what I had with Tom from day one and I think my wish for them has come true.

NEVER AGAIN? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I am Jewish and grew up with parents and grandparents who watched the rise of Hitler and his systemic persecution and eventual annihilation of the Jews of Europe.

I was brought up with the fighting words, “NEVER AGAIN!” I was educated, probably too early (by the age of nine or ten) about the horrors of the concentration camps. I also knew about pogroms first hand from my grandparents – the organized massacres and looting of Jewish towns in Eastern Europe and Russia. The worst of the pogroms took place between 1919 and 1921, when thousands of towns were razed and the populations decimated in brutal and sadistic ways. This level of anti-semitism explains the cooperation the Nazis received in Eastern Europe by locals when they wanted to round up Jews and send them to camps or kill them on the spot.

From the time I was nine or ten, I would lie in bed and plan what I would grab to take with me when the knock came on the door to take us away to an unknown fate along with other Jews in the community. It breaks my heart to think that my childhood had these strong elements of distrust, insecurity and outright fear.

But as I got older, I came to believe that it could never happen in America. I called my parents and grandparents paranoid when they pointed to instances of anti-semitism in the States. I poo-pooed their fears and felt confident in the near total assimilation of Jews in America from the 1970s and 1980s on.

Many Jews in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s thought they were “safe” because they were, say, ‘Germans first’, and Jews only second. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter. Sigmund Freud, a Jew, lived in Austria and was sure that as an ‘Austrian’ and a famous scientist, he was safe from persecution. He believed that the Nazis wouldn’t touch him. He had to be dragged onto a plane to get out of Austria in time – his was one of the last planes allowed to leave without Nazi sanction. And, in fact, his name was on a list to be picked up by the Gestapo and shipped to a concentration camp.

Sigmund Freud

I just finished working on a deeply moving project for my audio theater group, Voicescapes Audio Theater. We dramatized the experience of one Jewish town, Felshtin, in Ukraine, which suffered a particularly horrible pogrom in February of 1919. The town never fully recovered. And those who didn’t escape the town and emigrate elsewhere in the aftermath of the pogrom were all wiped out by the Nais in 1941, only 22 years later.

We had the personal recollections of the pogrom from survivors, who told their stories in 1937 in order to preserve the memory of the town and its people. I took their poignant words and turned them into a powerful script which we performed with a violinist, sound effects and a power point display of photos. We got a standing ovation from the descendants of the Jews of Felshtin.

Voicescapes performance

Shortly after our wrenching performance, I heard about a synagogue shooting in San Diego, CA, by a white supremacist, which injured three or four, including the Rabii, and killed one. There had been an even more lethal shooting in a Philadelphia synagogue six months before. These incidents of violent anti-semitism hit me harder than ever because I am still raw from a year spent engrossed in the horrors of pogroms against the Jews.

Remembering the image of avowed Nazis marching in Charlottesville, NC, in 2017, shouting “Jews will not replace us!”, I get a chill to the bottom of my soul. This, unfortunately, IS America today.

Charlottesville rally, 2017

My parents and grandparents were right in understanding that there is, and always has been, a wide and deep swath of anti-semitism in the U.S. As late as the 1980s, there were apartment buildings in New York City, a very Jewish, diverse and liberal city, that didn’t allow Jews. One was across the street from where I lived. There were also still law firms that were all gentile or all Jewish because the two groups were not always allowed to mix in one law firm. This is also from personal knowledge and experience as a young lawyer in the city at this time. That was not so long ago.

Today we’re seeing white supremacy rising and getting the Presidential stamp of approval. Detention camps are being set up at the southern border for the vilified ‘immigrants’ from Mexico and Central America. If Trump wins a second term and gets to have six more years to reshape America in his xenophobic, racist and anti-semitic image, where will we be? Ready to put other nonwhite or otherwise not ‘totally American’ people into these camps? Are Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews next? Then will they come after the evil Democrats and liberals?

It has happened before. Many times. Can it happen again? Here?

THE GREAT MOLASSES FLOOD – By ELLIN CURLEY

I’m a history buff and I particularly enjoy learning about the odd, unusual occurrences that often don’t make it into the history textbooks.

For example, On January 15, 1919, a freakish but deadly accident occurred in Boston. A massive, 50-foot tall tank storing molasses which were used in the production of industrial alcohol, ruptured. It created a giant wave of molasses that engulfed everything and everyone in its path.

The molasses swamped one of Boston’s busiest neighborhoods, killing 21 and injuring 150 people. (NOTE: Each newspaper originally claimed a different number of people died or were hospitalized. It apparently took a while to get the numbers correct and finalized.)

Globe headline – the great molasses flood

The statistics of the flood are gruesome. 2.3 million gallons of molasses created a black tidal wave 25 feet high and 160 feet wide that traveled at 35 miles per hour. This generated enough power to crumble small structures, knock the firehouse off its foundation and rip away a supporting beam for the elevated train tracks.

Two city blocks were quickly under the glue, so to speak. People outside drowned and suffocated as did people trapped as their homes and basements quickly filled up with the unforgiving goo. Others were swept away with the sticky tide. It was more deadly than a similar amount of water would have been because it was thick and sticky and trapped many people who might have escaped from a flood of water.

Boston, MA – 1/16/1919: Smashed vehicles and debris sit in a puddle of molasses on Commercial Street on Jan. 16, 1919, the day after a giant tank in the North End collapsed, sending a wave of an estimated 2.3 million gallons of molasses through the streets of Boston. Twenty-one people died and 150 were injured. (Boston Globe Archive)

During the summer of 1918, residents began noticing leaks in the giant tank. Being a typical corporation with little governmental regulation, the company responded by painting the tanks brown instead of grey. That way, you could no longer see the molasses seeping through the cracks in the tank. It was a literal cover up!

Local historical marker from the event

The litigation that followed the disaster lasted six years. The 1925 verdict held the company responsible. It was ordered to pay to the victims’ families the equivalent of 9.2 million dollars in today’s money — or then, about $7000 per family .

One of the company’s defenses was a claim that the tank rupture was caused by an anarchist’s bomb.  But there was no bomb nor any anarchists.

Damage from the great molasses flood – Boston 1915

In 2015, a Civil Engineering Magazine published an article that concluded that the walls of the tanks had been too thin and that the builders at the time should have known this.

This story is reminiscent of the tragedy of the Titanic, which sank in 1912 because of faulty design and inferior materials, including rivets. The iceberg caused the rivets to burst, flooding a fatal number of chambers in the Titanic’s hull. Just before the 1919 molasses flood, people heard popping sounds as the rivets on the tank popped and the contents of the tank exploded onto the street.

I love quirky historical stories like this one. I hope you enjoyed it too!

IDIOCYNCRATIC DRESSING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Women are known for their love of shoes and bags. Many women buy shoes for specific outfits and switch bags frequently depending on what they’re wearing. I’m not one of those women.

For everyday, I have one black bag for fall and winter and another bag, either blue or beige, for spring and summer. I never change bags unless I’m going to a dressy or formal event, in which case I use one of maybe two or three black dress bags (some inherited from my mother). I just don’t relate to purses. To me, they’re not an important part of my wardrobe. They are just daily luggage.

A winter bag and a summer bag

As for shoes, I do have quite a few pairs, but they’re mostly either black for winter or beige for summer. I have several pairs of boots, both short and tall, flat and heels. I also have several sandals for when it’s hot. Add in a few ballet flats and low heels (I never wear high or spiked heels) and there’s my shoe wardrobe. Very basic and unexciting. Again, I don’t really care what’s on my feet as long as they generally match the season and the occasion. I occasionally get compliments on my shoes, which is surprising but actually very gratifying.

Another female fetish that I’m not into is nails. I rarely get manicures, partly because my nails break and crack so frequently that I rarely have more than a few t the same length at the same time. So, putting a colored polish on them is like putting lipstick on a pig. I do it for special events or if I have more than six nails of reasonable length. Even then I only use clear or nude shades of nail polish.

My usually plain nails

I never do pedicures. First of all, I feel uncomfortable when strangers mess with my feet. Secondly, I never understood why women want to draw attention to what I see as our least attractive feature. Besides, feet are usually covered up by shoes for most of the year, at least where I live. The few months when we all wear sandals might make sense but I still don’t like brightly colored toenails.

I have a friend who never wears makeup but always has meticulously manicured hands and feet. So her hands and feet are ‘enhanced’ and draw attention but not her face? I don’t get it. I’d rather wear some makeup on my face and ignore my limbs. My face is what people should be looking at when they talk to me.

On the other hand, I am a costume jewelry fanatic. My neckwear and earrings overflow two large drawers and one small three drawer jewelry box. And that doesn’t include the two drawers full of costume jewelry left to me by my mother. Her earrings were all clip on, which I can’t wear, so I just kept her neckpieces and bracelets. These tend to be much dressier than I would wear every day, but I do use them for special occasions. It’s a real treat to go ‘shopping’ in the ‘Mom drawers’ when I need something special and dramatic to wear.

My ‘small’ jewelry box for everyday wear

When I get dressed, I go through my arsenal of earrings and decide which one goes best with what I’m wearing. Usually, I have many to choose from and this extends the time it takes me to get dressed – often by a lot.

Sometimes I try several on and eliminate one at a time till I find the winner for the day. Other times I have a ‘favorite’ pair of earrings that I wear whenever it goes with my outfit. Either way, earrings (and to a lesser degree, necklaces) are a big deal to me. So I usually have ratty nails and embellished ears!

I also have an extensive collection of tops – shirts and tees mostly and quite a few tunic tops. I treat myself to a few new ones each season, even though I don’t need them.

They, along with earrings, are my vices – and are the only things I spend money on these days. All other purchases have to go through the ‘do I really need this’ test. This is the one place where I let ‘I want it’ be the main criterion for purchase. For my husband, it’s electronic equipment and video games, which end up costing a lot more than my annual splurges. So I don’t feel too bad about my excesses.

Everyone has their own special likes and dislikes and ‘can’t resist’ items. So I guess I’m no quirkier or stranger than anyone else. I just feel like I am!