Friday, January 27, 2017

What a Celebration!

On Wednesday we went to a special birthday party. A one hundredth and third (yes, 103) birthday party. A special birthday party for a special woman.

Betty and her son Clarence
Some time ago our friend Caroll introduced us to Betty Banton. Here are some excerpts of the Press Release sent to our local paper by the president of the Woman’s Historical Club of Detroit, of which Betty is a beloved member,

“ . . . It is anticipated that Betty will receive birthday greetings from former President Obama, Dr. Paula Johnson, President of Wellesley College, the Dunbar Alumni Federation, Dunbar High School, Washington D.C. and others.

Betty was born in 1914 and grew up in Washington D.C. She is a proud graduate of Dunbar High School in N.W. Betty has often recalled how W.E.B. Dubois visited her home when she was a young girl. As a result she was invited to enroll in Wellesley College where she studied the Classics and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. At last year’s installation as President of Wellesley College, Dr. Paula A Johnson, MD, MPH acknowledged Betty as Wellesley’s oldest living alumna.

Betty is the widow of Clarence Banton of Detroit, proudly acknowledged as one of Michigan’s 155 Tuskeegee Airmen. Following WWII, the Bantons established Michigan as home. Clarence was employed as an engineer in the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant, Warren, Michigan.

Betty was a talented and beloved English and Latin (you can see why she and Ernie get on so well, editor’s note) teacher a Highland Park High School for many years. She was highly respected by her colleagues and frequently recognized by the Classics Department of Wayne State University. Her former students, colleagues and others continue to visit her regularly, always enjoying her great kindness and strong wit.

Betty’s body may be frail, but her thinking is intact. She is an avid reader and intently follows current events. She followed the recent election earnestly, proud to be a “Wellesley Woman for Hillary.” She often shares that one of her proudest achievements was being able to vote for Barack Obama not once but twice!

Betty is the mother of Clarence and James (deceased.) She is a member of the Woman’s Historical Club of Detroit and Christ Episcopal Church.”

Eloquent words, but any one with knowledge of the times in which she lived (or anyone who has seen Hidden Figures) can see how groundbreaking her life was. Here we see Wellesley’s oldest alumna showing her support for Hillary Clinton, arguably Wellesley’s best known alumna.

And here is where this post fits in seamlessly with the quasi movie review I wrote in my last post. When I walked into the small party, there was a man I didn’t recognize. He introduced himself as Chauncey Spencer, the son of a deceased Tuskeegee Airman. Caroll had met him at a Martin Luther King commemoration and invited him to the party as a link to the distinguished military unit in which Betty’s husband served. Chauncey honors his father by keeping memories of the airmen alive.  The subject of Hidden Figures came up, because Katherine Johnson's husband had also been a Tuskeegee Airman. I asked Chauncey if he had seen the movie. “Yes” he said. “I know Katherine.”

I attended her 102nd birthday party and hope to be at number 104.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Now That Was a Surprise

A couple of nights ago we went to see the movie Hidden Figures, which we both enjoyed. It was one of those “talk about it later” movies, centering around the contribution of three Afro-American women to the space industry. I read my share of non-fiction books, but I had never heard of this trio, and I can’t imagine why. In the last two days the Internet has yielded so much information on them and their work that I can be kept busy for the next several weeks.

I was not surprised that they had to fight because of their color to achieve their success. This was the beginning of the American space program, the early sixties, still a period of racial discrimination. I arrived in America in 1963, but Los Angeles was not a city of overt racial tension, though I suppose the Watts riots of 1965 put pay to that idea. If I saw George Wallace and his dogs and water hoses on TV, it was rather like seeing the huge snowfalls in the mid-west—not quite real. This movie, by showing the everyday discrimination which these women faced with quiet courage, highlighted their dilemma. There is a wonderful scene where Katherine Goble comes running back to her work station dripping wet after having had to run half a mile in torrential rain from the “colored bathroom” because she was precluded from using the bathrooms in her building. When her supervisor wonders why she is late back from her break her response is moving—and for once effectual. It had not occurred to me that even libraries were segregated, though Dorothy found a way to get her hands on a necessary book on programming with Fortran.

I was not surprised that the protagonists had to fight because they were women. That was the excuse they were given for their failure to earn a promotion or for being unable to attend meetings where information vital to their jobs was being disseminated. And the dress code. Simple strand of pearls! Katherine addressed that one too.

But what did surprise me was that the calculations for the first manned flights were done “by hand.” Alan Shepard and John Glenn were sent skidding off in space with their flight trajectories and even the calculations to get them back to earth figured out on little bits of paper in a blue binder. It was not too far into the program when IBM machines were introduced (hence Dorothy’s need to learn Fortran), but early on huge blackboards were covered with equations and symbols and then checked and rechecked. At the time I don’t think I ever thought about it and of late I just assumed everything was calculated by computer. I have become a denizen of the computer age.

There are so many reasons to go see this film (when the Oscars roll around you will be glad you did) and until then Google is your friend and you can meet and see photographs of three outstanding women, Katherine Noble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Noteworthy Day.

No, not for the reason you think. But since we spent ages trying to remember the date we were in Washington for an inauguration, it might be worth while to note that this year, 2017, the inauguration fell on January 20th.

January 20th also happens to be the birthday of our granddaughter Blake. She celebrated her 12th birthday today. She is a wonderful big sister to little Joe and can make life a little easier for Lucy and Peter by reading to him while they take care of little Gigi. In this photo she is at school and taking her turn to be “Principal for a Day.” I just love the outfit and I think she could pass for Principal of St. Clare of Montefalco. A year to go before becoming a teenager, so keep on being your sweet self, Blake.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

MLK Weekend: as Usual

As usual Andrew took advantage of the extra day off school to come and visit us. This time he brought all six of his children. As a birthday present he had bought a ticket for Linus, son number two, to see a hockey game at the Joe Louis arena, one of the last before the Redwings move to a new home. And, as usual, I worrited (wasn’t it a character in Dickens who used that lovely word?) all evening as they drove the 500 miles to Detroit on the Thursday evening after leaving school at mid-afternoon. It was close to mid-night when they arrived—but in spite of their late arrival, they were all up before me in the morning.

As usual, Andrew’s siblings wanted to spend every possible moment with him and their children wanted to spend every possible moment with their cousins, so there was a lot of toing and froing. Fortunately the weather cooperated so there were a couple of excursions to the park to let off steam.

This is the group on Sunday night before Andrew and his family left to spend the night with the five “Canton cousins.” The day before there had been another grandson here, but he left to return to college for a new semester. The third boy down on the right is the birthday boy. Can you believe the smart, talkative and altogether adorable little girl in the striped shirt is the granddaughter who had such a rocky start in life? It really wasn’t fair for Ernie to tell her there was an alligator at the bottom of our laundry chute and that he needed to be fed. I retrieved a lot of oranges from the dirty sheets.

Note to self: this is not an attractive photo. Figure out how to use your new camera. Fast.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Fifteenth Day of Christmas or Thereabouts

I make my own timetable for when I put my Christmas decorations away, and this year it is because I am expecting a houseful this weekend.

I have written before about the birthday gift I get every year from my daughters—they come to put up my Christmas decorations and we all have lunch together. Of late they have been bringing their daughters with them. In the interest of making things go smoother earlier in the week I bring up from the basement the boxes and bags of the decorations I have amassed over the years. It was so much harder this year. Stairs are not my friend, especially the metal-edged basement stairs where I have at least twice taken a tumble. So I told the girls that maybe they should cull some of the wreaths and garlands and bows and baubles and that they were not to tell me which items were going to disappear, nor would I tell them what to get rid of. They took me at my word. I also said we would put nothing outside which necessitated climbing a ladder in the middle of winter.

So farewell to the outside decorations (just a few lights on the low hedges.) Even the mantel decorations were not as fancy as these in a photo from a few years ago.

Today there were far fewer boxes to take down to the basement and even so I have left one or two for the resident handyman. Last year we bought an artificial tree: a small one and I love it. No more needles to clog up the vacuum cleaner. I was sad when we made that decision, remembering the years when it was such fun for the family to go out and buy a tree together and to position it just right in its stand.

Soon everything will be packed away ready for next year, although I do intend to finish the patchwork tree skirt I started four years ago.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Yet Another Era Bites the Dust

Yes, a mixed metaphor, but you get the idea.

When we arrived in Detroit in 1966 it did not take us long to make the acquaintance of the J.L.Hudson Company. In downtown Detroit (and yes, there was a vibrant downtown) there was the flagship Hudsons store. Check out the link: it is mind boggling that the city which has become synonymous with crime and decay once boasted such a jewel. I have so many happy memories of riding up and down the escalators, of wandering around the classy and extensive fabric department, of eating at the fabulous restaurant—and the day in 1966 when we were Christmas shopping going to a huge bank of telephones with a dime clutched in my hand to call the obstetrician's office for the results of my first pregnancy test. We bought clothes there, we bought furniture: in fact it was possible to buy pretty much anything.

When the children came along it was a little harder to make the trip downtown, involving as it did the parking garage and the maneuvering of strollers between floors. But by this time the era of the Mall had begun, and there was a Hudsons out at Eastland Mall in Harper Woods, about twenty minutes from our house. That became our store of choice, anchoring the Mall which also contained a J.C. Penney store. Over the years we heard that the downtown store had come on hard times. Our friend Charles who often came to stay and always combined his trip with an excursion to Hudsons reported that whole floors were being closed down, until eventually came the great implosion.

We could still purchase whatever we needed at Hudsons in the Mall, although the store changed hands, becoming Dayton Hudsons, then Marshall Fields and eventually Macy*s (sic, they love their little star.) There were bigger Macy*s stores at the up-scale Somerset Mall and at Lakeside but all of these required a longish drive.

The writing was on the wall. Two of the four floors at our Mall store closed down and so it was no surprise when I looked in my Facebook feed last night and found this article. I am very sad. I don’t see myself driving way across town too much and I grieve the lack of stores close to my zip code. Whenever chain retailers consider Grosse Pointe as a site for a new store, I am told they draw a circle round the area to see what their customer base would look like—and find that 50% of the circle covers the lake. Circumstances being what they are, I am shopping on-line more and more, but I do not find that a satisfactory way to shop for clothes.

Goodbye Hudsons, Dayton Hudsons, Marshall Fields and Macy*s. I enjoyed knowing you.