Sunday, January 7, 2024

HIs Name was Arvid Lundberg**

Arvid Lundberg was a political cartoonist with the Chicago Herald, whom I met briefly in 1937 and then again in 1940 when I was 26 years old and he was 38. Soon after we started seeing each other exclusively. Arvid was my first romantic love. We dated for three years and our relationship ended badly. After that, I never talked about him, not ever.

When friends and acquaintance asked me if I had any serious boyfriends in my younger years, my stock answer was, “I dated around but there was no one special. There were a few possible guys but I always found something wrong with them or they found something wrong with me.” This answer seemed to satisfy and they didn’t ask any follow-up questions.

But curiously over the years my older sister Rose, the family gossip, had dropped hints to her daughters about me dating a cartoonist when I was young. While I was working on this memoir, one of Rose’s daughters asked me innocently enough, “Aunt Claire, what stories are you writing these days? Have any of them been published lately?” 

I was always writing stories. Some got published so such questions were a usual part of our conversations. This time my answer was unusual. “These days I’m working on a memoir about my life as a single working girl and the adventures I had. Right now, I’m writing about a guy I dated when I was in my twenties named Arvid Lundberg.”

I expected a few follow-up questions, like “Who was this guy? How long did you two date?” or perhaps just a stunned “Wow, tell me more.” But I was flabbergasted at her response, “Was he the cartoonist who created the Little Lulu comic strip? Mom mentioned this but it was all hush-hush. She said you never talked about it because the guy was older and divorced and worst of all, he wasn’t Jewish and Grandma LeBrint broke the romance up and banished you to California.”

“Oh, your mom, she never was one to keep a secret, but I plan to spill the beans about the cartoonist in my memoir. Who knows if I’ll ever finish it, so for now I’ll give you the cliff notes version. I dated Arvid Lundberg from 1940 to 1943 when I was in my late twenties. He was a political cartoonist with the Chicago Herald newspaper. Years after we broke up, he became known nationally for his syndicated comic strip, not Little Lulu, but your mom was close. His comic strip was about a young girl named Pattie. Comic strips about adventuresome young girls were the rage in the 1940s and 1950s. Besides Pattie and Little Lulu, there were also the Little Debbie, and ‘nancy’ comic strips. Arvid was unmarried, not divorced, older than me and not Jewish. It would have been a shanda if I married him. So, my mother sent me to Los Angeles to get me away from him and that ended that.”

I added, “For the rest of the story, you will have to wait and hope that I complete my memoir, or at least the story of me and Arvid and the banishment” and I changed the subject.**



1937 – 1940

I met Arvid Lundberg in 1937 when he gave at talk at my Northwestern University journalism class. He talked about Chicago and national politics and the impending threat coming from Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, illustrating his talk with a few political cartoons that he projected onto a screen at the front of our classroom. Looking at his provocative cartoons and listening to him, I thought, Here’s a man with great knowledge of politics and a wry sense of humor. He’s good looking in a dignified way and I’d love to get to know him. After his talk, I introduced myself and he said, “Let’s stay in touch,” or some standard brushoff. I took him at his word and over the next few years, I was casually persistent, sending him letters commenting on the cartoons I particularly liked. 

Today I’m looking at the Lundberg cartoons I saved, including one titled “Mayor Smelly’s Machine: And His Indispensable Team.” It features a cartoon representation of Chicago’s Mayor Edward Kelly and Cook County Park Chairman Patrick Nash. In the cartoon they are chewing on raw onions while looking at a statue of themselves standing on top of a large block engraved with the words “SOMETHING SMELLS ROTTEN IN CHICAGO.” A few little guys with different skin tones, half as tall as Kelly and Nash, are watching, looking dejected. They represent the Mayor’s constituents, the Blacks, Poles, Mexicans, and other Chicago ethnic minorities who propelled Kelly (and Nash) into power.

During the 1930’s and into the 1940’s, the Kelly-Nash Machine ran Chicago and built the powerful Chicago Democratic party which opened the door for the two Daley mayors (Richard J. and Richard M.) who ruled Chicago with a few interruptions from 1955 until today. Richard M. has a few sons so I expect the Daley dynasty will continue to rule for years into the future. Thinking about the Daley’s’ long reign, in the old-country Jewish manner, I am compelled to say out loud phooey phooey and pretend to spit, to express my extreme displeasure.

Paper clipped to the cartoon is a carbon copy of a typed letter from me to Lundberg, which reads in part, “Smelly is the perfect name for Mayor Kelly. Thanks for shedding a light on the arrogance of Kelly and of Nash who is the power behind the throne. They are gobbling up Chicago’s resources and forgetting about the little guys who put them in power. They smell to high heaven, and I hope they choke on the onions (I mean power) they are gobbling up.”

I figured he wouldn’t remember me from letter to letter, so I reminded him that we met briefly when he gave a talk at my Northwestern journalism class in 1937. As I did in all my letters, I asked if I could talk with him about how to get into journalism. Looking at the letter, I realize how naive I was about Chicago politics. You can throw one set of bums out and another set gets elected. Kelly and Nash out, then the Daley boys in. But in the 1930s how was I to know?

One day in spring 1940, to my surprise and delight, I got a reply from Lundberg. Ma saw the envelope first, and when I got home from work, she handed it to me and asked, “Nu Clara why are you getting a letter from the Chicago Herald?”  It was from Lundberg! His last name was handwritten on the envelope above the Herald logo. I may have blushed or had a small secret smile on my face but I kept my composure and answered, “I’m not sure Ma. Now and then I write letters to the paper responding to some article of interest to me.” She seemed satisfied with this answer.

These many years later I can’t find the letter, but I read and reread it many times. I remember it was handwritten and went something like this.

Dear Claire,

Thanks for sending letters now and then. It’s nice to hear from someone who understands what I’m trying to get across in my cartoons. You asked if we might get together so I could give you pointers on how to get into the news business. Sure thing. Give me a call at (phone number, long forgotten) and we’ll find a time to meet.

Sincerely, Arvid Lundberg

 He gave me his phone number! He wanted to meet me! The next day I called the Chicago Herald and felt very important asking the switchboard operator to put me through to Mr. Arvid Lundberg. She asked about the nature of my call. I replied proudly, “This is Claire LeBrint and Mr. Lundberg requested I call so we could discuss jobs in journalism.”

Arvid seemed pleased to get my call and asked a few questions: Where I worked. My answer: At my dad’s print shop on LaSalle Street, across from the Chicago Board of Trade. What was my job. My answer: Office work, girl Friday stuff. How did I like the journalism classes, to which I gave a very short answer, “I liked them.” He suggested that we meet after work, downtown. I answered formally, “Yes thank you. I would greatly appreciate meeting you.” Arvid suggested we meet at Eitel’s coffee shop in the Northwestern Train Station just west of the Chicago River on Madison Avenue. The station was across from the Chicago Herald building and not far from Pa’s print shop. 

**NOTE: These chapters are from my book now titled "Twists and Turns: An Imagined Memoir based on the life of Claire LeBrint Metzger 1914 – 2002." Fictional Clara, the narrator, is 80 years old and is writing her memoir in the year 1994. Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory, is my Aunt Claire and I have been working on stories based on her life for almost 10 years. Finally all the stories are done and  compiled in book form! I plan to publish "Twists and Turns" in paperback and Kindle versions sometime in 2024. Until then, I'll post excerpts from the book monthly on my blog. Enjoy!

To access all the stories I've written and posted on my blog about Claire/Clara, CLICK HERE

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

A Goofy Mistake Vermont 2023


It was Spring 2023 and I badly needed to go on a vacation adventure, after the Covid enforced home-time and several visits (as usual) to my sisters, Judy who lives in Baltimore and Sue who lives in Los Angeles.

On the Road Scholar website I found the trip, “Wildlife, Walking & Hiking in the Green Mountain State," scheduled for October. Looking at the photo next to the trip description, I thought October in Vermont, trees changing colors, what a perfect 2023 adventure. Home base, where we adventurers would stay, was the Gray Ghost Inn in West Dover. Vermont. The best way to get there from Chicago (other than driving) was to fly into the Albany New York Airport (ALB), which was 90 miles from Gray Ghost. Road Scholar recommended the Dover Valley Cab company for transportation to and from ALB.  When I called Valley Cab, Chris the driver/owner confirmed that he could pick me at ALB, drive me to West Dover, and take me back at the end of the trip on October 19.

On October 14, the first day of my Green Mountain adventure, I texted Chris to confirm my arrival time. He responded that he would be driving a black “gangster car,” and asked that I text him after I got to ALB. That I did and Chris showed up about ten minutes later, in a large black SUV with tinted windows and his company name tastefully displayed on the passenger side. Off we went to the Gray Ghost Inn. We chatted some and the two-hour travel time went by pleasantly. When we crossed the boundary from New York State into Vermont, most trees had lost their leaves! And the colors on the remaining trees were muted. I was mildly disappointed, but Chris explained that the leaves had turned a few weeks before, due to a very rainy summer and fall.

The Gray Ghost Inn did not disappoint. The sprawling inn with a wide front porch was painted a bright yellow. Inside was a welcoming entrance area, with comfy chairs and a smiling innkeeper, who introduced herself as Cary and greeted me warmly. I looked forward to our 6:30pm Road Scholar get-to-know-you social hour followed by dinner. But when I gave Cary  my name and asked to register for the Road Scholar trip, she said that it wasn’t scheduled to start until October 15, and she didn't have a spare room for me that evening . . . and I wasn’t on the list of Road Scholar attendees for the program starting the next day.

Uh-Oh what was I to do?

Cary found me a room at the Big Bears Lodge, a half mile down the road and called Chris, who came back quickly and drove me the short distance to the Lodge. After I got settled, I looked at the Road Scholar itinerary that I had printed from the computer. It listed activities for Day 1, Day 2, through Day 6, but I couldn’t find the start and end dates listed anywhere. I signed into my Road Scholar online account and under upcoming trips, there it was “Your departure to Vermont is in a year” and as clear as could be the dates for my trip Oct 14 to Oct 19, 2024.

Oy. Not only did I arrive on the wrong day, I arrived in the wrong year!

After some panicky thoughts, I called Cary and told her about my problem. She said she would contact the Road Scholar Coordinator and see if they could get me into the 2023 group starting the next day, Sunday October 15. I called my sisters, each in turn, and wailed away. They listened and that helped a little bit. But what helped even more was Cary's call back when she told me that I could be added to the 2023 group and she would have a room at Gray Ghost for me on the next day, Sunday.

What a relief! and I wrote in my journal:

“A big mix-up on my part – I signed up for 2024 and here I am in Vermont but mostly it’s fixed and I won’t miss any hikes or walks. Just a half day walking around West Dover on Thursday afternoon and a farewell dinner that night (the 19th) and breakfast (the 20th).

Sunday around noon, I got a ride to Gray Ghost from the Road Scholar Coordinator Carina. I registered with Cary, and got settled in my room. I was tired from my previous day’s excitement, took a nap and then went down to the common living room. The rest of the group started trickling in and as we got to know each other, it seemed that I was the only one there for the walking/hiking trip; the other folks I met had come for a week of Bridge. I figured there were two groups and asked Carina how many were signed up for Walking/Hiking.

“Oh no,” she said, “This week is for Bridge-players only. You can stay and join them and we’ll work out a way to have the money you paid for your 2024 trip cover the cost. I’m sorry to tell you that you missed the Walking/Hiking group by a few weeks. They were here earlier in October.”

No no no!. How could this be? I’m not a bridge player and even if I was, I didn’t come to beautiful Vermont to sit inside for six days.

“It’s not an option for me,” I replied. In a kind gentle manner, Carina advised me to make arrangements to fly home the next day. I got on it quickly and fortunately, when I called United Airlines and pressed the number that the automated voice told me to press for transfers and cancellations, I got a real person who assured me that he would stay on the phone with me until my transaction was completed. Twenty minutes later, for the cost of $377, I received an email confirmation for my flight home on October 16 at 5pm. I called Chris and he was available to take me back to ALB in the morning.

What a relief, but not really, as I wrote in my journal:

“I want to be home. I don’t like all these complications but at least I get a little bit of the Road Scholar experience. But what about dinner today and breakfast tomorrow? And what will the Bridge people think of me?”

Cary, bless her heart, invited me to join the Bridge players for dinner that evening and for breakfast the next day. At dinner I sat with a very nice group, and explained my situation. A few suggested I consider staying for the week. I politely declined. After dinner, they went off for their first evening of Bridge and I went off to bed. At breakfast the next morning, when I once again explained why I was there and why I was leaving, Bruce, a Bridge-playing breakfast companion, said, “Betsy you just made a goofy mistake.”

A goofy mistake. Such a nice way of looking at this experience.  And on the plus side (and I always look for the positive in situations), I fell in love with Vermont and the Gray Ghost Inn, and I still have my 2024 Wildlife, Walking /Hiking trip to look forward to. Another positive: though it was too late to see the trees changing colors during my short stay in Vermont, the trees in Chicago started changing colors just as I got back. This year, they were glorious, as was the weather in the days after I got back, and I was able to get in some walking and hiking in Autumn 2023 here at home.

However, positive spin or not, I’m sad and disappointed about my mistake, and there now is one more thing my 79-year-old brain has to watch out for and double and triple check -- dates of upcoming trips. That is of course, in addition to trying to remember where I put my glasses and keys in my small one-bedroom condo, and confirming several times over dates and times of zoom gatherings I sign up for and these days, the many IRL (in real life) activities I am delighted to be able to I enjoy.

Friday, January 20, 2023

The Best Advice: CALM DOWN PATSY

FROM MY MOTHER: Mom had a small 4” x 6” picture frame that contained a colored poster with the words “By the street of by-and-by one arrives at the house of never.” After mom's death, I got the framed poster and for years it had a prominent place among family pictures on a shelf in my house.

 These were words Mom and I took to heart and most times whatever we were thinking of doing, we would “Do it now” and not procrastinate. Good advice for me for many years.

But... now that I'm old and tired more often, I'm OK with putting things off. And sometimes I get to them and other times not. This is true even though I know my days are numbered and I know that if I don't do :whatever" now, it may never get done. I'm OK with that too.

FROM MY FATHER: Dad carried a small silver triangle with the words “This too shall pass” in his pocket for as long as I could remember. I don’t know what happened to the pocket piece but during his life, Dad showed it to me frequently.

These were not words for me to live by. Not at all. Never. I was born in 1944 and all my thinking life I knew about the Holocaust and about the Jews and others who were rounded up by Nazis and Jew-haters and for them the horrors would not pass. Their inevitable end was death.

 So much for Dad’s advice.

 However, I recently heard a Rabbi tell this story that involved Dad’s favorite saying. 

A powerful king asks his assembled wise men to find something that will make a happy person sad and a sad person happy. The wise men traveled the country far and wide. Finally, one came upon a peasant who told him to return to the king with these few words: “This too shall pass,” meaning when you are feeling happy or experiencing happy times, know it won’t last, and conversely when you are feeling sad or experiencing sad times know that also won’t last.

 “This too shall pass” is true under normal circumstances. But under major terrible irreversible circumstances, these words were and still are useless as words to live by.

Curiously Mom and Dad's favorite words to live by are opposite. From Dad, "Just wait it out, whatever bad circumstances happen. Things will change." From Mom, "Get going. Time is passing. Don't wait. If you don't do it now, you may never do it and you'll be sorry." But most curious of all, the best advice for me today came from an unusual source many years ago.



About forty years ago, my partner Cheryl and I were at dinner at the home of friends who had a four-year-old daughter named Margretta. 

The conversation was lively. All four of us were talking about this and that and suddenly Margretta interrupted us saying loudly and as forcefully as an insistent four-year-old can “CALM DOWN PATSY!” We looked at her and looked at each other and didn’t understand what she meant, so we continued talking. Again, Margretta said even more loudly “CALM DOWN PATSY!!” This time we stopped talking and all of a sudden it came to me that she was addressing me, meaning to say to me: “CALM DOWN BETSY!”

 I have been known to talk loudly and insistently and must have been annoying Margretta big time. I shared my insight with Cheryl and Margretta’s parents and we had a good laugh. Over the years I’ve told this story many times.

 But why, you might ask, today would I identify Margretta’s directive from so many years ago as the best advice? Today at age 78, if I do things that take too much energy, if I walk too fast for example, or try to do too many things at once, or maybe get too excited about this or that, I get out of breath and my heart feels like it is beating too hard. When this happens, I say to myself “Calm down Patsy” which amuses me greatly and reminds me that I must slow down and remember to breath. 

If I can, I will stop what I'm doing and sit down for a while and breathe, just breathe until I -- “PATSY” -- am able to calm down and resume what I was doing at a more reasonable pace. And I send thankful thoughts to forty-plus year old Margretta wherever she may be.


Saturday, April 9, 2022

Clara Stories: 1937 War Postcards from My Spanish pen-pal Jesus*

My correspondence (since 1931) with my Spanish pen-pal Jesus was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War which started in July 1936. Though there were no letters from Jesus that year, I continued to write to him infrequently. I hoped to hear back even though I understood that the war slowed down (or stopped) mail between America and Spain.

 Then one fateful day in 1937, a postcard arrived. Today, many years later, I I'm looking at the postcard dated May 1937. 


When I see its provocative drawing of a red hood (which looks a lot like a white KKK hood) plus a flag displaying the Communist Hammer and Sickle, the encounter between me and Ma comes back in vivid detail.

Ma and Pa were immigrants from Russia. Ma came to America in 1905, from a small town near Odessa in the Ukraine. Ma was sent here by her mother to get her away from the frequent and ferocious pogroms against the Jews. For Ma anything and anyone Russian (except Jews from Russia) was bad and dangerous to our well being. She despised the Soviet Union (which included the Ukraine) and by extension Communism. 

Pa was from the cosmopolitan city of Kishinev, Bessarabia Russia, and like many young men at the time he had been conscripted into the Tsar’s army for fifteen years of service. By 1907, Ma and her American cousins in Chicago (on her mother’s side) raised enough money to pay the required ‘”ransom” to get Pa out of the army and bring him to the U.S. This arrangement was contingent on his agreeing to marry Ma,  his first cousin (on their father’s side). Before Pa’s conscription, he had been active in one of the many Jewish Socialist organizations in Kishinev. Pa was sympathetic to Communism, and after the fall of Imperial Russia, he hoped that the Soviet Union’s noble experiment with Communism would make a better life for all who lived there.

Pa wasn’t alone in his sympathies. In the 1920’s and 1930’s there was a strong Socialist movement in the U.S. and a smaller but devoted membership in CPUSA (Communist Party USA). Also, some Americans, including my sister Rose and her husband Len, supported the Republicans (“Reds”) during the Spanish Civil War. Support for Socialism and Communism all but disappeared in the U.S. when the world learned of Stalin’s ruthless totalitarian rule and when the Red-scare perpetrated by McCarthy happened in the 1950s. 

 The red postcard arrived during the day while I was at work, and Ma saw it first. When I got home that evening, she was at the door waving the postcard at me, yelling, “Clara, Clara why are you making tsuris for our family by still writing to that man, that goy who I see now is a Communist and a Russian sympathizer?”

 I grabbed the postcard from Ma, excited to get something from Jesus, but like Ma I was shocked by the drawing. I knew that Trajeta Postal de Campa translated to “Campaign Postcard.” On the back of the postcard there was a pre-printed section on the top which started Condiciones Para Ganar La Guerra, “Conditions to Win the War” and ended: Del Manifesto del C.C. del Partido Comunista, “Of the Manifesto of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.” I’m sure that Ma looking at the postcard knew what Jesus was mixed up in, what with the Hammer and Sickle on the front and Manifesto! Partido Comunista! on the back.

  Ma was pacing back and forth and said in a trembling voice, “Wait til Pa comes home and we will put a stop to this thing you have with that man. You told me you were no longer writing to him and now, he writes about being a Communist. You must burn this postcard. It’s gerferlekt (dangerous) for us to have it.”

 I snuck a quick look at what Jesus wrote. His brief message contained the usual chiding and questions and reminders: “I haven’t heard from you lately… Write soon… How is your writing going? Send me something of your work…” Nothing about the war. But there was a censor’s stamp on the front of the postcard, so all he could write was pleasant innocuous things.

 Pa came home, late as usual. He worked long hours at The Central Press which was located near the Chicago Stock Exchange. During the Depression, especially after Franklin Roosevelt became president, Pa and his Swedish-American business partner LeRoy Dickenson got lots of work from stock brokers. Then as now, except at the beginning of the Depression stock brokers make out like gang-busters. I wish I had been more of a risk taker and had invested in the stock market during my lifetime. I could have made out like gang-busters too, or I could have lost my small financial nest egg. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Water over the dam, as they say and in the 1930’s I was glad to be working, contributing to the family’s finances, with a little money left over to buy a pretty dress now and then and to pay for my evening journalism classes at Northwestern.

 Ma gave the postcard to Pa and shared her fears about Jesus, not ever calling him by his name. Pa looked at it carefully, quietly. Pa was always quiet when Ma began ranting. He was mild-mannered by nature and kept his opinions, this time about the Soviet Union and Communism, to himself.

 As always Ma’s word – along with Pa’s silent assent – was final in our house. Like Pa, I stayed quiet. But I continued to write to Jesus. Our correspondence made my life interesting and his flattery and support of my writing nourished my spirit. And I was intensely curious to learn more of his experience in the Spanish War.

 Perle, who was four years my junior, listened to Ma’s ranting from her room. Perle was quiet like Pa and often stayed out of sight. Perle was about to graduate high school and would be helping Ma around the house during the summer. She never went against Ma directly, but agreed to be my co-conspirator and intercept any additional mail from Jesus.

 One month later a second postcard arrived. Perle set it safely aside for me. 

This postcard was dated June 19, 1937 and I am surprised that what Jesus wrote about the war got past the censors.

Esteemed friend Clara: Taking advantage of a forced rest by means of an inopportune gunshot wound to my arm, I hasten to reply to your letter. I don't ask that you pardon my tardiness since you will understand the circumstances we Spaniards find ourselves in, and I do hope you will not blame me.

 You needn't be distressed for the fact that it takes me longer to respond to your letters than I would like, but given that, don't cease sending me letters which I await anxiously. As regards my being able to write to you, now I must limit myself to a brief reply as they need to use the typewriter.

 Continue sending your letters to my house [in Madrid] as that is how I have been receiving them in the past. I will always appreciate you. Jesus

I pardoned his tardiness, but was distressed about his “inopportune gunshot wound.” I have no other letters or postcards Jesus might have sent during the Spanish Civil War.

*Note: This is an excerpt from the book in process Clara's Stories: An Imagined Memoir Inspired by the Life of Claire LeBrint Metzger. Fictional Clara is writing her memoir at age 80 in the year 1994. The real Claire LeBrint Metzger was born in 1914 and died in 2002, and was the beloved Aunt of Betsy Fuchs.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Rose "Fewkes," Leonard "Fooks" and me


My mother and father, of blessed memory, couldn't agree on how to pronounce their last name. It is spelled F-U-C-H-S. Mom called herself Rose Fewkes and Dad called himself Leonard Fooks. I pronounce our last name Fewkes.

One year while attending services at Beth Emet Synagogue (Evanston, IL), I announced that I was saying kaddish for my father Leonard Fooks. Bekki Kaplan, Beth Emet’s Executive Director, apologized to me, “I’m so sorry I’ve been saying your last name wrong all these years.” “Nope” I replied. “That’s how he pronounced it, so that’s how we pronounced his last name.”

My parents agreed to disagree about their last name. No problem there. But not on political issues. Dad was the rational one who could marshal arguments based on facts he got from Time Magazine and from the Chicago daily newspapers. Mom was the opposite. Not irrational rather she formed her opinions based on her heart and her life experiences. Dad vocally and angrily tried to get Mom to buy his arguments. Mom let him know that her views stood and his well-formed arguments didn’t convince her to change her way of thinking. Here’s one example of how their differences played out: Mom voted for the “senior” Mayor Richard J. Daley because he was personable, and she felt he took care of Chicagoans, like he was our benevolent uncle. Sometime during Richard J’s six terms in office, Dad ran for Alderman of Chicago’s 39th ward as an Independent candidate in opposition to Daley’s Democratic machine. (Dad lost, of course.)

What about me? I learned from listening to their different views on politics that there was validity on both sides. The senior Mayor Daley was personable and took care of us White folks in Chicago, but Daley supported policies that kept our city segregated, kept services unequal and kept patronage strong. Still… the city functioned.

For better or worse I see both sides of the political divide, even today. I know that many Trump supporters and anti-vaxxers are ill-informed about some things; you may think about all things. But they are not stupid and I would never call them “a basket of deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton did. They are our fellow citizens and I believe that many of them have been hurting financially and have been scared for a long time. I believe that like you and like me, they want to ensure that their children will succeed financially and be able to afford a car, a house, and to have children of their own.

And I contend that many Americans believe the government doesn’t have their best interests at heart. Case in point, Congressmen and women who have good insurance, good pensions, etc. etc. and large “war” chests that keep them getting re-elected. Another case in point: who in their right mind understands why our so-called great democracy has the president chosen by electors, not by the popular vote?

Ask me in person to share my political views, or expect me to join you in your strong and vehement criticism of those others and I often I keep quiet. I don't want to debate you. I have my reasons for not getting involved in the discussions of who is right and who is wrong on major issues of today. Some are rational, Some are based on my heart and life experiences. But writing safely on my blog, I can tell you that my way of thinking, seeing both sides, is still with me even though it’s shaky these days  -- what with the Covid Delta variant and especially since the Supreme Court decision on September 20, 2021 to not hear the Texas Roe v. Wade case.

Mom called herself Fewkes. Dad called himself Fooks. They were OK with that difference. But how I wish they had learned to accept each other’s views, or at least listen respectfully.

That’s what I try to do.

About the photograph of my parents: As they grew older, they lost interest in their political disagreements, and instead were in total agreement about the national and international places they wanted to visit, including to Banff National Park, Canada in 1981.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Talking Back to Myself: How I Learned to Sail and Soar

My dad sailed with his pals on Lake Michigan in the 1930s. I have the photos to prove it. 

I inherited his love for sailing and at ten years old, I was sailing alone / on my own in a small 13-foot sail boat. My dad taught me during the summers we spent at Cross Lake just north of Antioch, Illinois. He was a good teacher and the lake was little, but always he or my mom would be on the shore watching out for me.  I loved being on my own on the water, gliding along quietly, sailing and soaring with the wind.

 After I graduated college, at the age of twenty-two, I defied my parent and went solo to San Frsancisco to live and work, most likely inspired by the song California Dreaming – that was all I knew about that beautiful city. While there I sailed on Lake Merced in a one person Sunfish and also sailed a few times on the San Francisco Bay with a youth hostel group. At the end of one year, I returned to Chicago to find a mate, get married and become a responsible adult.

 Soon enough I married a fellow Chicagoan and we settled down. Now and then I’d meet someone who had been sailing on Lake Michigan, but in a strident internal voice, I told myself, Your time for solo adventures is over, and added apologetically, Sorry. You can’t go sailing.  I never questioned the voice. I wanted to be a “good wife,” in the best early 1970s sense: putting my husband’s wants and needs first, internalizing his unspoken message “You can’t go off on a solo adventure; it is would put our marriage in jeopardy.”

The marriage didn’t last and in the 1980’s I fell in love with a woman. We would have married if it had been legal. Still I wanted to be a good partner to Katy, wanted to please and support her, and my inner voice continued to warn me not to go on solo adventures.  Except once when against her expressed displeasure, I got up at the ungodly hour of 5am to take Tai Chi classes at the lake. My little assertion of independence felt like rebellion. You might be asking: wasn’t I already a feminist and rebellious, living with my ladylove? Bravery takes many forms and it took all the courage I could muster to take the classes, going against what I perceived as Katy's wishes. 

Katy and I were no longer together when I found information about Brooke Medicine Eagle’s “Singing the Sacred” camps in Montana. Attendance at the camps promised excitement, enchantment, a real adventure. Still my inner voice said, No. You can’t go. This time I talked back, Yes you can. You can go to this camp, on your own / alone. Remember, you did things like this years ago and you can do it now.

Twenty-two women attended the camp. We slept in tents and each day we were awakened by a camper who drummed outside our tents and sang:

Waken, Oh awaken, from your dreaming, birds are singing in the tree-tops…

Waken, Oh awaken, something’s coming, something beautiful for you…”

Our days were beautiful, full of singing and chanting, while we walked to our meals, when we were outside, on rainy days sitting in a circle in a Yurt, and once in a deep dark cave where our songs echoed against the walls and ceiling.  Sometimes we would sit in the tall grass and drum and sing for hours. In this photo I'm on the far right, playing on a big drum, with a short hair and sun glasses. Other times Brooke would share Native American teachings with us. 

Before camp ended, Brooke gave each of us a name to reflect our new selves. Mine was “Soars with the Drum Call.” Brook explained that I could “soar” beyond my life as it had been and the drum call would remind me to listen to my own heartbeat, to my own true self.

The name might have been inspired by our horseback riding experience. I had shared with the group my life-long fear of horses which went back to a summer at Cross Lake. I was nine or ten years old, small and short for my age. I had been lifted onto the back of a horse which seemed very high up and very scary. Right away, I asked to be taken off. My friends spent the afternoon horseback riding, while I waited in the car.  My camp sisters encouraged me to get back on the horse. I was still short and small; the horse was big and most likely someone had to help me get on up on the horse. I was uncomfortable in the saddle but it was lots of fun.

I got back on a horse in Montana. It was time to get back in a sailboat in Chicago. This time my inner voice said joyfully, Yes you can. You can go sailing.

I signed up for lessons at Burnham Harbor, just south of downtown Chicago. We would learn to crew with others, sailing on a 25/30 foot boat. Signing up for the lessons was easy. Getting to the lessons was hard. My inner self was freaking out, How will I find Burnham Harbor? Where will I park when I get there? I’ll get lost and be late and they will sail without me. I left home early, found the harbor easily in plenty of time for our first on-shore class.  I continued to freak out, worrying, Will I ever learn what to call things on the boat?  Will I be able to tie the knots?  I can’t tell which way the wind is blowing.  Will I be kicked out of class? I’m 55 years old and stupid compared to the youngsters in my class.

 I hadn’t even gotten on the boat yet! 

Over the course of the eight-week class, I learned some of sailing terms. I never learned how to tie knots and was never able to identify which way the wind was blowing but they let me on the boat anyway. The teachers were at once patient and impatient and never kicked me off the boats. And I learned to sail! Actually what I learned was to be part of the crew.

The next summer, I took more sailing lessons and got a little better at crewing and took part in some evening races on Lake Michigan.  We never won a race, but it didn’t matter. We sailed at sunset; all the boats had colorful spinnaker sails ballooning out, catching the wind, sparkling in the late afternoon golden sunlight. We were sailing. Soaring. I was in heaven! Later that same summer, I took private lessons on a Sunfish in Wilmette Harbor. During my fourth lesson, I sailed by myself, with the instructor nearby. But I was alone / on my own. Loving it!

I stopped sailing because of health problems, but kept soaring. In 2001 I went on my first trip out of the country by myself, to a Yoga retreat in Cancun, Mexico.  While there, I wrote in my journal: “Action starts with bravery. Bravery for me at this time is traveling to a new country by myself.  I’m scared but I do it.”

I'm 77 years old now. And my heart beats steadily for which I am most grateful. And my inner voice still speaks to me, these days softly and graciously saying, At your age it's perfectly ok to stroll along the lake  front with friends and enjoy watching the sail boats. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Clara's Stories: 1913-21 Early Memories of My Siblings*

In the early decades of the twentieth century, some professional photographers traveled the neighborhoods, bringing ponies to fancy up the pictures. Families paid extra to show off the kids on and around the pony. “What a photo to send back to the family in the old country,” my mother would say, adding “Won’t they be impressed!”

After our family got a Kodak camera in 1924, we took our own photos, at home, at Lake Michigan, anywhere and everywhere. But before then on a few rare occasions, we had formal photographs taken by a professional photographer. In one, I’m sitting happily on a pony with a tooth gapped-grin on my face, wearing a long-sleeved slightly oversized white dress with a peter pan collar.

In front of me and the pony, my older brother George stands, wearing a white shirt, dark colored knickers and athletic shoes. Next to George are my “twin” older sisters Mary and Rose. They weren’t twins, but that’s what I called them. They were one year and a few months apart in age and different in stature and looks, but like twins they lived in their own shared world, to the exclusion of everyone else, especially me. The photo isn’t dated but I would guess I was 3 1/2, George 5, Rose, 6 1/2 and Mary 8. The twins are both in white knee length dresses, with white stockings and they are holding hands.  Around the same time, the twins, at the insistence of our fully Americanized same-age cousins, learned how to stop speaking English in a Yiddish sing-song kind of way. And the cousins taught them how to dress properly for school, in bright white starched and ironed blouses, clean pressed skirts, with their shoes polished daily. 

In another professional photograph, taken before I was born, a very young Rose and Mary stand side by side. Rose has a serious look on her face; Mary’s is more quizzical. Rose is fair skinned favoring Father’s coloring and has a chubby baby face and fat arms. Mary who is a bit taller than Rose is swarthy, taking after Mother and if once she had baby fat, it’s gone. They are wearing not-quite-matching white dresses that hang almost to their ankles and large white bows in their hair. Most likely these dresses, and the ones we girls are wearing a few years later in the pony picture, were bought to last through growth spurts and were saved to wear only on special occasions. Mary and Rose have almost identical brown leather high-top shoes and are holding little porcelain dolls, also dressed in white. Just like the pony, these dolls must have belonged to the photographer. At home all we had were Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls that Mother made out of old flour sacks.

The twins got to hold the dolls. I got to sit on the pony. Lucky me! Or maybe lucky them because in 1921 Mary and Rose had a second professional photograph taken of the two of them, dressed like twins in matching outfits, looking self-assured and a bit smug, especially Rose with her head cocked to the side.

Neither George or I, nor three-year-old Perle had our pictures taken professionally in 1921.

The twins had each other and I had George, who allowed me to tag along as soon as I could toddle after him. And shortly after George went to full-day school at age six in 1918, I had baby Perle who was born a few months later. From then on until I went to full-time school in 1920, I had Perle to play with. When she was a baby, Mother let me feed her and dress her and rock her and when she got a bit older, Perle toddled around after me.  Perle was so much better than a borrowed porcelain doll or the home-made Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls.

So, in our family among the siblings, Mary and Rose made a twosome. And for a time there was me and George, then there was me and Perle.

Thinking back to this sibling configuration, I realize this is how we stayed into our adult lives. Mary and Rose together, the married women with husbands and children. George the only boy making his way on his own. And me and Perle, the two unmarried spinsters palling around, that is until 1965 when Perle tragically died too young at age 47 and 1967 when I finally married for the first and only time at the ripe-old-age of 53. 

*Note: This is another story from Clara’s Stories: An Imagined Memoir Inspired by the Life of  Claire LeBrint Metzger.  At this time Clara's memoir ian on-going work in progress by Claire's niece Betsy Fuchs. 

The Clara Stories are dedicated to
Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory 

b 1914 - d 2002