Monthly Archives: July 2018

July 27 – My Novel and the Polish Trolls

by Fran Hawthorne

How could anyone object to my Twitter post on March 29, after my sister and I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan to see an exhibit of long-hidden photos from the Lodz ghetto in Poland? I wrote:

Henryk Ross’s chilling photos from inside the Lodz ghetto in Nazi #Poland at @MJHnews: It’s like seeing what my great-grandmother saw when she was walled in there. (Oops is it now illegal in Poland to say that?)

Well, maybe the last sentence was too snarky, referring to Poland’s new law banning any reference to Polish collaboration with the Nazis — but isn’t that Twitter style? Otherwise, I saw the post as a loving tribute to my great-grandmother, who was murdered in the gas chambers, and hardly a controversial reaction, 73 years after the end of World War II. 

Boy, I didn’t know the ultra-nationalist Polish Twitter world.

Within a day, my previously invisible Twitter feed was flooded with people with Polish-sounding names furiously disputing my words, often writing in Polish. They claimed that “the genocide against the Poles [Catholics] began in 1939 but against the Jews not until 1941” and accused me of stomping on “the blood of innocent Poles.” They said that Polish Jews were Socialists in league with the Soviet Union and asserted that “the ones who betrayed Anne Frank were most likely Jewish.”

Naively, I thought: Here’s my chance to open some cross-cultural dialogue. After all, I had done months of research on Polish history and culture for my debut novel, The Heirs, which is about two Polish-American families in New Jersey in 1999, one Jewish and one Catholic.

But for each of my new posts — even when I acknowledged the factual basis of some of my critics’ arguments — came a dozen angrier replies.

Was my novel unfair? I had tried to portray the nuances of historical Jewish-Catholic relations in Poland through many characters’ lives and discussions. Two American Jewish cousins bluntly face the classic question: “If you were a nice Polish Catholic [in 1939], would you have been brave enough to hide a Jewish child in your attic?”

Was my novel inaccurate? Despite all my research, I couldn’t possibly know as many tidbits of Polish history as would someone who went through 12 years of school there.

“Don’t engage!” my friends warned me. “You’re just feeding them.”

Even worse: The next time I Tweeted about Poland — in mid-June, regarding a new law on restitution for stolen Jewish property – my Twitter feed was hacked and temporarily shut down.

That did it.

From now on, I will Tweet all I want about Poland, and as long as what I say is accurate and not nasty, I don’t care how much the trolls hate me. I just won’t read their Tweets.

But it’s upsetting and a bit scary. Who knows in what dark caves my Twitter handle is now bandied about?

Maybe my next novel will be about unicorns.

 
Until now, Fran Hawthorne spent three decades writing award-winning nonfiction, including eight books, mainly about business and consumer activism. Her book Ethical Chic was named one of the best books of 2012 by Library Journal, and she’s written for BusinessWeek, The New York Times, Newsday, and more. THE HEIRS (Stephen F. Austin University Press) is her debut novel. Read more from Fran at http://www.hawthornewriter.com/
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July 20 – Bluer Than Robin’s Eggs

by Ariela Zucker

“As I remember your eyes,
Were bluer than robin’s eggs.” Joan Baez – Diamond and Rust.

RobinsEgg-ArielaZuckerI watched them for almost three weeks, a couple of robins building their nest. They flew around the front yard for a while. Checked the grassy lawn for its offering of forage. Perhaps consulted with the hummingbirds who inhabited of the lawn for many years, and finally decided to construct the nest in the bush right next to the deck. The bush that I neglected to prune and is now hovering over the drive.

Every morning with my first cup of coffee I would sit, and watch fascinated how they were flying back and forth each time with a new trophy; a blue thread, a twig, a dead leaf, stopping occasionally to chat, while resting on the arch that holds my Dutch Trumpet’s vine.

I was a bit worried about their choice of location, at the tip of the bush, on a rather low branch. Constructing the nest at the section of the bush that seemed fragile, unstable in the wind and easily seen from the front drive. But I calmed myself thinking that they have generations of instincts guiding them so who am I to judge. It was nice to be able to see, from my seat on the deck how the nest grows and forms with each day and becomes an elaborate creation to hug and protect the eggs and then the newborn birds.

But this morning, on the deck a blue egg, fractured is the first thing that caught my eyes. It laid half-open on the floor with its insides oozing out. I knew right then and there that my worries were justified; this was not a good place, not a safe location at all. For a few minutes, I was consumed by sadness and anger.I was surprised by my reaction. Only a broken robin’s egg, I kept telling myself, not a big deal. Light blue, the kind of blue robin eggs are known for. Blue for happiness and rebirth, in this case, became the death of a hope.

I found myself mourning the loss of one blue robin egg, the death of a future bird. Perhaps in a world full of misery, and anger, it is the simple daily things that in the end get us.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

July 16 – Do Gerbils Go to Heaven?

by Kali´Rourke 

Girl Feeding Gerbil

(c) Can Stock Photo / zsv3207

Our Pastor told a story in his recent sermon, and in it, a little boy’s hamster had died and he asked his father (a fellow Pastor) if “Timmy” had gone to heaven. The boy was told in no uncertain terms by his father that nothing that has not professed faith in Jesus Christ shall enter the gates of heaven. I am paraphrasing, but you get the gist.

We were all a bit appalled to hear that blunt and dismissive statement from a father to a grieving son, and our Pastor said that he took the little boy aside on his way out and told him that Timmy sounded like a great hamster and he was sure that he was now playing in heaven.

Sounds like a platitude, doesn’t it?

I think of it as a large part of my faith. If I choose to believe in a benevolent God that loves all of us and wants the best for us, then I also choose to believe that all creatures, (even the series of gerbils we had for our daughters since there were allergic to nearly everything else) are destined for heaven. No, I am not a theologian and would never claim to be one!

Our daughters have both grown up into animal lovers (Thank you antihistamines!) and they could not imagine a heaven where Minx, Indy, and Cloud and whatever companions they may have over the years will not come running to greet them in doggy and kitty joy someday when they are all together again.

This brings me back to gerbils and heaven.

Yes, they are shorter lived creatures than our canine and feline companions, and yes, the bond is much shallower, but each of our gerbils over the years had names, were petted and cared for and we had small funerals for our little friends when they passed from this life, wishing them well and many chew toys in their heavenly home.

Their passings were somewhat gentle introductions for our little girls to the concept of death and how we must accept and respect it because it comes to everyone in time. They were the opening to important conversations and knowledge that parents pass on to their children.

The gerbil’s names and specifics have escaped me, brushed cloudy by the passing of so many years, but today I take a moment and say a prayer for all of them, sending it along with thanks for being such wonderful little friends to two girls who grew up to be compassionate women who have room in their hearts to love and care for many.

God bless the gerbils.

Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, philanthropist, and a proud Seedling Mentor. She blogs at Kali’s Musings and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome. This post originally appeared in Kali’s Musings.

July 12 – Ties To The Past

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The author wears her own apron, created in 1965.

My fascination with aprons began when I cooked alongside Mother. “Put on your apron!” she insisted. I tied one of her aprons around my waist and immediately felt a connection, a type of kinship with her and other women, for there was a time, not so long ago when wearing an apron was commonplace and synonymous with femininity and domesticity. My mother and my grandmothers put on their aprons the moment they entered their kitchens and wore them throughout the day while preparing meals and tending to household chores.

Grammy’s Tulip Apron

All three women were also seamstresses often making their own aprons and expressing their personalities and individuality with them. Grandma Stainbrook made colorful, loose-fitting bib-style aprons with deep pockets. Grammy, on the other hand, created dainty, pastel-colored half aprons that complemented her outfits and accentuated her tiny waist. Mother was practical and preferred making a bib-style apron, wearing it to protect the dress underneath. She reserved her fancy half aprons accented with ribbon, lace, and appliques for holidays and entertaining.

Mother used her bib-style apron for almost everything; dusting furniture, drying my tears, picking up hot pans, and wiping the sweat from her brow. Her bottomless apron pockets were always full and housed clothespins, handkerchiefs, bandages, loose change, my jacks, and my brother’s marbles.

At 14, I enrolled in home economics class where I sewed my first garment; a half apron of my own. I bought the apron pattern for 65 cents but didn’t have enough money to purchase fabric. So, I used the remnants of mother’s kitchen curtain material; a white fabric covered in delicate yellow roses. During that first semester, I learned sewing basics; cutting out a pattern; pinning it to the fabric; cutting the fabric, and basting the garment. I learned to thread the sewing machine, maneuver the foot pedal, and guide the material under the advancing presser foot. By semester’s end, I’d sewn my apron to the waistband; attached small, rick-rack covered pockets to it; and hemmed it.

Mother’s Holiday Apron

There was something satisfying about taking a piece of fabric and turning it into a beautiful apron. I felt special, for sewing my own apron was a sort of rite of passage into womanhood; and proudly wore my apron every chance I had. In 1965 aprons were a part of being a woman and a homemaker; however, when the women’s movement took hold, aprons seemingly disappeared from favor and the feminine landscape.

But aprons remain important, for they are historical garments reflecting how women functioned in society; how culture viewed them; and how they saw themselves. I recall the apron-wearing women in my life; the stories behind their aprons gave life and meaning to the fabric itself. Their aprons are statements of what they represented to their families and serve as reminders of recipes, values, events, and traditions from gentler, less complicated times. I remain fascinated with aprons, for each one has a unique story to tell with its own ties to the past.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

July 6 – China…Up Close and Personal

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

(c) Can Stock Photo / kentoh

Just a week ago my only encounters with someone born in China were dining out at a local Chinese restaurant or dining in Chinatown in San Francisco, California. As a child, I was admonished to clean my plate because there were starving children who lived in far-off China. Their bony ribs became an image that haunted me. A fourth-grade teacher taught us about many of the traditions of the Chinese. I was horrified when I learned that the feet of Chinese women were bound.

However, just last week I found myself sitting amongst folks from all ethnic and racial backgrounds as we listened to the stories of what life is like living at the Mexico/Arizona border or living in the midst of daily fighting and turmoil in Palestine. We were all seeking Common Ground in the midst of a political climate where policies divide us with the rhetoric of hatred and disdain for the different.

To my right sat a very vivacious young Chinese woman. We exchanged names. She became curious about my being a Quaker when this tradition was a topic of discussion.

“So, what brought you to the U.S.?” I asked. Pei Pei had met a young American man in China and they now live in his home state of Idaho. “Come and join us at Quaker Meeting,” I proposed. She accepted and our day was spent sharing our traditions from both cultures. Her feet were not bound and her ribs were not showing. I challenge all of us to seek Common Ground with those we perceive as being different from us.

“Pat” was raised on a farm, and thus developed an imagination pondering the nature of the universe. Words held the magic of stories. Other cultures intrigued her. She is a retired Chaplain/Pastoral Counselor/Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who lives in a retirement community with her husband and their cat “Spunky.” 

July 3 – Full Circle

By Linda HoyeLandscape

We stand atop a small hill in the middle of a field on the Saskatchewan prairie: me, my husband, my cousin, and her husband. I met this cousin for the first time today; she and her husband have graciously taken us on a drive to see the land where our grandparents farmed. The warm wind that blows across this land uncovers truth today.

I was adopted as an infant–chosen was the word used by well-meaning folks back then. What they didn’t understand was that in order to be chosen, an infant first had to be unchosen; rejected. That’s a burden I’ve carried for almost sixty years and one that still gets in the way from time to time.

The parents who conceived me are long gone from this earth, and my Mennonite grandparents who farmed this land probably never knew I existed. Nevertheless, I feel as if I have come home here.

All around, in every direction for as far as I can see, there is green. It is the most beautiful place I can imagine. Lentils grow here now; a modern-day crop on land that once provided a living for my family.

This is the place where my birth mom was born and grew up. It was passed down to their oldest son, and he raised my recently-connected-with cousins here. A slight indentation in the earth is the only indication that a house stood here at one time, and a grove of trees left standing nearby is the melancholy beacon of all that once was.

To the untrained eye it’s just endless green prairie, to me it’s a mending of a mother-daughter connection that was severed when I was relinquished to adoption. A number of years ago I stood at the gravesite where my birth mother was buried, now I’m here on the land where she was born.

I stand firm in this place; I feel roots take hold. I read once that we carry place in our DNA; if that’s true there is certainly something of this place in me. I have no trouble believing it.

We wander back across the field to the car and, Mennonite style, (men in front and women in back) get in. Conversation with my cousin flows easily and gently. I continue to get to know her and come to understand something more about this family; my family. Stories I’ve heard snippets of, and things I’ve imagined, become real.

We dive a short way along gravel prairie roads, turning left, then right, passing the site of the old school where only a tall wooden swing set remains, and arrive at the Mennonite Brethren church. A little farther down the road, we stop at a little cemetery and there we find the graves of our grandparents. I take photographs of the worn stones and then we head back toward town.

It is about as close to a perfect day as I can imagine.

Linda Hoye is on the other side of a twenty-five-year corporate career. A writer, photographer, gardener, and somewhat-fanatical grandma, she lives in Kamloops, British Columbia with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier. Find her online, where she posts a few words and a photograph early every morning, at http://www.lindahoye.com.