Real People, Real Stories

Rosie the Riveter courtesy of theAtlantic.com.

A trip to the doctor for a sinus infection this week left me sitting in a waiting room filled with strangers. Nearly all of them were like me or like people I know – white, middle aged or elderly. The one person in the room who was different was an elderly Amish woman.

If I had been asked to start a conversation with someone in that room, she’s the one I was most curious about. And it occurs to me that I am naturally drawn to people who are different than me.

I’m interested in where they’re from and how our paths crossed. What’s their world view? What do they enjoy? What do they wish people knew about them? I often am surprised at what I learn from talking to those who have a worldview different than my own.

Maybe that’s why it’s such a shock to me when people dismiss those who are different or, worse yet, bully and discriminate against them.

I like human stories and sometimes share them on Facebook – the Louisiana brothers who survived D-Day and who lived to be old men; the elderly woman who smuggled hundreds of Jewish children out of Germany; and the many strong women who we call Rosie the Riveter have all appeared on my Facebook page. I often give attention to those who can no longer speak for themselves or who don’t make it into the history books. Sometimes I share stories of people who do have a voice but who often are ignored.

More recently, I’ve been sharing the stories of people of color. Maybe no one is reading or watching the videos but I like to at least give them a platform. It’s healthy to hear the human side of the story as opposed to the headline version of what’s happening in the world.

I’m convinced of two things:

1. It’s easy to hate people you don’t know.

2. People who think they hate history believe that it’s all about memorizing dates, places and names of people long dead. And that’s not what matters most when studying history.

If you think about it, we are living history right now. That Amish woman has a story to tell that will be a valuable thread in the fabric of our history someday just as the female biracial pilot who told her story on YouTube does. Just as you and I do.

Someday, historians and kids in schools across the nation will study 2020 American history. Wouldn’t you like them to know how you lived and contributed? What you think of our world today?

Go look for the people and the stories that don’t make the history books. You never know what you might find.

All Aboard: A Streetcar To The Past

This streetcar was manufactured in New York for the Columbus Consolidated Streetcar Railroad in Columbus, Ohio. That was in 1888. It was converted to electric power a few years later before it was sold to the Lancaster Traction Company in 1896.

It remained in service until 1937 when the city switched to a bus system. Thousands of people came to a celebration to take one last ride.

Today the streetcar is on display at Ohio History Connect, our state’s historical society.

You can go aboard and even have a seat if you like. This was my second favorite thing to see at this museum. My favorite is a temporary exhibit about the fifties in America. Read about it here.

February Reading

The last couple of months have been an extremely productive reading time for me. Adventure season will be underway soon and reading time will be more scarce but for now I’m focusing on a few simple rules – always carry a book, turn off the tv, and choose reading over mindless activities.

It’s worked well so far although many were quite easy this month as my brain has been on overload. Here’s the February pile.

You don’t want to read a review of them all but I will point out a few even though I loved every single one.

Dear Photograph by Taylor Jones

This is a delightful book based around a simple concept. Hold up a photo from the past in the place where it was originally taken. Then write a sentence about what that photo means to you. It’s an easy read but thought provoking at times. It’s also fun to pull off the shelf when you just need something a little different.

Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine

This title was written for a young audience so it was an easy read but one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long time. It tells the story of how the director of a Holocaust museum in Japan tracked down the fate of a little girl who was sent to Auschwitz. The museum had received the girl’s suitcase which had her name printed on the side. That’s all the director had to work with – the girl’s name – to unravel the story of what happened to her and her family.

This is difficult subject matter but the story is told respectfully and I am grateful that I stumbled into this book.

Survivor’s Club by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

CBS This Morning featured a moving segment about the Holocaust last month. It talked about how this horrific event is being forgotten by younger generations and about the increase in people who believe that it didn’t happen at all.

They interviewed MichaeL Bornstein whose photograph was taken in 1945 when he was carried out of Auschwitz in his grandmother’s arms. He was just four that day and had known only loss and misery in his short life. The fact he survived the camp is nothing short of a miracle as the Nazis killed most children on the day they arrived.

The reason he told his story is that he saw his likeness – the picture he uses on the book cover – on a website that denies the Holocaust. He knew then that it was time to educate people and to combat the deniers.

This is a family memoir and incredibly personal but it is exceptionally told. It is heartbreaking and uplifting. Read it.

The Melody Lingers On by Mary Higgins Clark

This author recently died after a prolific decades long career which resulted in dozens of books I’ve never read. When a suspense addicted friend learned of this oversight I was strongly encouraged to put my nose in one of her books immediately, if not sooner. This book is fast paced with a great story line and a twist. I enjoyed it and would certainly read more of her work.

A Fools’s Errand by Lonnie Bunch III

Lonnie Bunch is the Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I read this memoir after seeing some interviews with him when the museum opened. He is a fascinating man and an engaging conversationalist (at least in interviews) and I would love to have a museum tour with him. The book tells a fascinating story but it was written by an academic and can be dry at times. Hang in there though.

There are some beautiful stories within these chapters – humorous, sad and enraging at times. He began this museum with nothing. No staff, no money, not even a desk to call his own or a phone extension to reach him. He persevered, engaging celebrities, politicians and common people to find the money, artifacts and willpower to keep going.

The museum isn’t meant to attract just African Americans. It tells the story of America and the important place of African Americans within that story. One of my favorite stories was of the shoe shine man who refused payment because he wanted Lonnie to put the $8 toward the museum. When Lonnie insisted on paying, the elderly African American man said “Don’t be rude. I am not sure what is in a museum, but it may be the only place where my grandchildren will learn what life did to me, and what I did with my life.”

I’m officially dying to go explore.

* * *

I started reading David McCullough’s “The Pioneers” but set it aside for a while. I will be captivated by this book someday but my head wasn’t in the game and needed something a little easier!

What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Remembering Mr. Prusas

There was a man who I crossed paths with years ago while I worked my way through college as a student assistant in the university library.

He was a well dressed elderly man who came in early every morning. He read things like the New York Times and financial magazines. No fluff. He never checked out anything and rarely spoke to anyone.

I became friendly with him but knew very little about the man aside from what I learned from a supervisor. His name was Dr. Zenon Prusas but we just called him Mr. Prusas. To me, he was the nice man who liked to be the first to read the Wall Street Journal every day.

Looking back, I wish I had the opportunity to know him better and recently Googled him on a whim. Sadly, I found his obituary – not surprising as I figured he would be close to a hundred by now.

Being a sort of connoisseur of fine obituaries (yes, it’s weird but don’t judge me) I was pleased to see that someone had taken the time to honor a life well lived by telling his rather colorful story.

Mr. Prusas was born in 1921 in a small village in eastern Lithuania. He was forced from his homeland by the Russian invasion during World War II and immigrated to the United States.

He landed at the Mead Corporation’s Central Research offices in 1955 where he became an industry expert on pulp and paper technology. Colleagues described him as “a national treasure.”

Mr Prusas loved the outdoors and personally planted over a thousand trees on his own property. He published much professionally but also wrote a book about his family’s experiences during the Soviet and Nazi invasions and occupations of his homeland.

Mr. Prusas left many lasting marks on this world but I loved learning that he was a tireless advocate for the freeing of his native country from Soviet occupation. After Lithuania gained independence, Mr. Prusas organized and sponsored the creation of a monument in the center of his boyhood town. It is dedicated to the Lithuanian freedom fighters.

He died almost eight years ago but lives on in so many ways. In fact, I don’t think Mr. Prusas wasted a minute of his time on earth.

All these years later, I can’t help but wish I had been braver and tried harder to get to know him. My job experience as a reporter taught me that people often are open to questions about themselves – I suspect, if the opportunity were presented today, I could get some really good stories from this man.

Wherever he is, I hope Mr. Prusas has found peace and that he’s still always the first to read the morning paper.

Bad Habits

Lexington with St Paul Church in background

Of my many bad habits, one is making pictures without recording subject matter. This photo is from a trip to Kentucky a few years ago and popped up in my Snapfish account while looking for something else. It took some thinking and a quick Google search to figure out that it’s St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Lexington, Kentucky. The perspective is  through the glass of a very nice hotel room window.

It strengthens my desire to not just record my surroundings but to document where I am and to tell as many stories as possible. Meanwhile, I’m still wading through the 7,000 pictures (that’s not a typo – 7,000 pictures) pulled from my iPhone last month. If I ever get caught up with sorting through that mess, I’ll start weeding through the digital and print pictures from the past.

What are your bad photography habits? I can’t be the only one that has them!

Remembering Dr. King and the National Civil Rights Museum

Today we celebrate the life, teachings and sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If he had not been cut down by an assassin’s bullet in 1968, he would be 91 now. He would have elderly children, grandkids and great grandkids. It’s hard to picture when you consider the timeless images of a young man like the one above.

Here he is with his wife and first child. It brings to mind the famous quote that we all have heard.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

You have to wonder how much different the world and our country might be had he lived longer.

Today I thought we should visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. First of all, Memphis is one of my favorite places because there is music and history and culture and mac and cheese at every turn. Seriously, the abundance of homemade mac and cheese is pretty spectacular.

But it’s also home to this museum that beautifully and skillfully tells the story behind the movement.

Among other things, the museum has preserved the Loraine Motel where Dr. King was murdered. You can see his room and the balcony where he stood when bullets were fired from a boarding house across the street. Incidentally, you can tour that boarding house as well.

Visiting here was a sobering, humbling experience that sort of put a damper on the fun of all that music and food. But friends, I would go back today if given the opportunity and I would highly recommend it to you as well.

Facing history gives us the opportunity to learn from our past, to humanize those people we read about in text books and to hopefully do better tomorrow. And if nothing else, a place like this instills in us a new sense of empathy and understanding that we may not have known on our own.

Want to visit the National Civil Rights Museum? Click here for details. If you wish to ponder the teachings and thoughts of Dr. King, this is a good source for quotes.