Sunday, December 22, 2019

Solstice-Hanukkah-Christmas Prayer

Holy one of blessing, God of many names
at this time of the winter solstice
at this time of the crescent moon
  At this darkest time of the year
we light lights and give thanks, in our overlapping traditions.

Strangely and sweetly
we greet each other in fellowship and friendship
with wishes for health, merriment, good food, good company and Peace on Earth.

Strangely and sweetly
we come together and pray to you 
with thanks for miracles noticed and remembered
  At this darkest time of the year:
for the miracle of the return of the sun
for the miracle of victories over tyrants
for the miracle of a small crucible of oil that burned for eight days
and for the miracle of the birth of a baby who brought illumination into the world.

Holy one of blessing, God of many names
as we light lights
  At this darkest time of the year
generation after generation, year after year
we ask again for Your help Your love Your comfort Your support
that we may be partners with You and with each other
to bring our greatest hope our most desired wish our highest need: Peace on Earth.

Holy one of blessing, God of many names
May it be so. May it be so.

Prayer inspired by “Hanukkah Lights” in the Unitarian Universalist Hymn Book, Singing the Living Tradition

You are welcome to print this prayer and/or copy it into a file and share it. 
This is my holiday gift to all. 

Betsy Fuchs 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Clara's Stories: 1930-1941 Jesus Pena de Alonso

I find fifteen letters and two postcards from Jesus Pena de Alonso of Madrid, Spain. Jesus and I were matched up by our foreign language teachers when Jesus was fifteen and I was seventeen.  Jesus’ first letter is dated November 5, 1930, the last March 11, 1941. He wrote in Spanish and I replied in English. We continued to write on and off after we both completed secondary school. For eleven years!

I don’t remember my Spanish anymore so I had my good friend and neighbor Alex Alvarez, a Spanish speaker and an avid student of history, translate Jesus’ letters into English. Alex told me some about the tumultuous history of Spain in the 1930’s and acted as a consultant to me while I wrote this story. Thank you Alex.

Just like in the U.S. a lot was going on in our two countries during the time Jesus and I corresponded. Of course, lots was going on in our young lives. It makes my head spin just thinking about it. 

In the U.S, we had the depression and FDR and the New Deal and the beginning of World War II. And I became a working girl, more interested in having adventures and pursuing creative endeavors than in getting married. In Spain, political unrest led up to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Jesus attended University and then went to work in his father’s factory. He must have witnessed much of the war, since many of the battles took place in Madrid (the capital of Spain) and the surrounding areas. Jesus didn’t write during the war, and after our correspondence resumed, he mentioned the war only briefly. Who can blame him?

Looking at Jesus’ letters (and envelopes) today, I am struck by his beautiful script.

In his letters, Jesus addressed me as Clara, my birth name. I liked that.

For the first couple of years, Jesus’ letters were friendly and informative. I don’t have copies of my letters to him, but I can infer some of what I wrote in his letters to me. We wrote about our interests – his in football (soccer), swimming, and travel; mine in writing, journalism, and theater. He wrote me about “an ancient royal castle … converted into a museum” and sent me postcards of the beautiful salons in the castle. I wrote about the much younger skyscrapers in Chicago and sent him a postcard of the thirty-four story Tribune Tower. Today thirty-four stories seems like nothing, but in the 1930’s the new skyscrapers were amazing, tall, architectural marvels.

In 1932, I sent Jesus U.S. currency and he attempted to send me Spanish currency but couldn’t.

Dear Clara,
I had written a letter to you, but because I had sent along some currency, the Central Post office refused to mail it.

Alex explained that during the early 1930’s the Spanish government forbade sending currency out of the country due to the on-going political crises.

Jesus’ letters continued along this same line, breezy and conversational, until 1934 when we exchanged photographs. His was a studio portrait and I liked how he looked with his half smile, bedroom eyes (or so I perceived them), slicked down hair, and beautifully tailored suit. I was mildly charmed by the inscription that read (in translation) “To Clara as a token of my admiration and fondness Jesus.”

However, Jesus was majorly charmed after he received my publicity photograph taken for an amateur production of the play Death Takes a Holiday, in which I had the lead role of Graziela.

Claire LeBrint Publicity Photo 1934

From that point on his letters became romantic.

From October 1934

Beautiful Clara,
I don't know how you dare to call me a flatterer after sending me a photograph so superior to anything I may have imagined. Truly, the more I look at your photo, the more difficult it is for me to believe that you are an American woman, as the beauty of your eyes is not surpassed by the Grenadine dolls.

The letter continued with a brief reference to the trouble in Spain “…the police have been using my car, they have even requisitioned many automobiles,” and ended with more affection and devotion towards me.

Furthermore, dear friend, I continue to maintain much serenity, as I have never had the joy of having at my side someone as precious as you. My most respectful tribute, Jesus                

Being compared to a Grenadine doll (from Grenada, Andalusia Spain) seemed a high compliment. Alex found a picture of a 1950’s Spanish doll and made a Xerox color copy for me. Color copying – what a marvel of technology. We both agreed that this must look something like the “Grenadine doll” Jesus referenced. What a compliment Jesus gave me!

Little did I know that Jesus’ romantic feelings would grow into an obsession and possessiveness toward me.
From February 1935
. . . I have a sister who was also taken with the idea of becoming a writer like you and who now has abandoned those ideas because she is soon to be married. Has the thought occurred to you of doing the same?

As you have asked me to advise you in the past, I hope you will allow me to advise you now not to leave the house, so you will find no diversions, you will speak to no one, you will be dressed in your oldest dresses. And if you will be following these suggestions, I believe that when the time comes, you will be spared the inconvenience of marrying the man who would have to murder your husband.

I knew that Jesus’ letters indicated he was “crazy-in-love” with me. But did he really imply that I should stay home, alone, away from all guys and that if I should happen to marry, he would come to the U.S., murder my husband and expect me to marry him? I thought Alex had gotten the translation wrong. “It’s right for sure,” he told me and added, “I even had a Spanish teacher friend of mine from Sauk Valley Community College double check my translation and she confirmed I got the crazy-talk right.”

You might be asking yourself why I continued writing to Jesus.

I was having fun doing some heavy-duty flirting in my letters to him, goading him on, encouraging his growing attachment to me. We girls did that kind of thing, and my girlfriends loved to read his crazy letters. It was our own personal soap opera and I loved being the romantic lead.
Besides, Jesus was far away, as he wrote in another letter when he was again pondering whether I was married or not, “If it happens that you now have a husband, tell him that he lives because of the distance between Madrid and Chicago.” 

There is so much in Jesus’ fifteen letters, and I was getting tired from reading them and thinking back to when I received the letters. But before I put them away, I decided to skim through the rest and a few sections of letters jumped out. First was the letter Jesus wrote after the Spanish Civil War ended.

From September 1939
. . . I am sure you can easily understand the many circumstances which have prevented my writing to you during these trying times.

And then I found the only letter where Jesus referred to experiencing the war, where he used the war as a reason to threaten my male friends. In my letters to him after the war ended, I must have casually mentioned the guys I was seeing (not seriously) and continued teasing him, flirting with him. No harm done, I thought. Not so for Jesus.

From June 1940
. . . As to those two boyfriends . . . after three years of being witness to war and guns and shooting and killings, they would not pose the same obstacles as was the case previously.

That letter frightened and shocked me when I received it in 1940, as it does to this day. His threats were no longer funny. The amusing soap opera had become a horror story.
It took me a long time to reply to that letter, as Jesus wrote in March 1941, when he chided me that he “was not able to read (my) last two letters because (I) didn’t mail them.”  True I wrote several letters that I tore up and I have no idea what was in the letter I finally sent.
But I finally was done with Jesus and wrote him one last letter. I remember that my message was short and to the point and it went something like this.

It is not acceptable that you continue to make threats against my gentlemen friends. You have no right to claim me. You are not my boyfriend, fiancé, nor will you ever be my husband.

This correspondence is over. Please do not write me anymore.

Claire LeBrint

Jesus Pena de Alonso of Madrid, Spain must have gotten my message loud and clear. He wrote no more letters and you better believe I was relieved.

But, as they say, it was fun while it lasted.

This story is from Clara’s Stories: An Imagined Memoir Inspired by the life of Claire LeBrint Metzger. The novel is a work in progress and Claire, the narrator, writes her stories at age 80 in 1994 .

The Clara Stories are dedicated to
Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory 
b 1914 - d 2002

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Africans, My Summer 1965 Vacation

A young man came rushing into the auditorium and onto the podium. He wasn’t expected. Prior to his arrival, the audience was busy chatting and there was a happy buzz in the room. The man stood tall and dignified and interrupted our chatter, saying loudly in a heavily accented voice, I am Enzokee Naidoo and I am here to talk to you about my homeland, the apartheid country of South Africa.” He stopped to make sure he had our attention. He had it. We were spellbound by the authority this man conveyed. We knew that what he was about to say was something we had to hear.

It was summer 1965 and I was at a conference in Vapnagaard, a small town not far from Copenhagen, Denmark. I was 20 years old and had recently received a small inheritance of $2500. At the same time, I found a brochure about a conference in Scandinavia, with the purpose of fostering international understanding by bringing together people from many countries. My $2500 would cover the cost of airfare plus conference tuition. I decided to go, but this was my first trip out of the U.S. and it took a lot of courage make this decision. My hopes were modest: to make some friends and to have some adventures.

We were 35 men and women of all ages, from the U.S., Norway, Denmark and Sweden, Pakistan, and England, and there was one young man from Nigeria who was my same age. His name was Jim and like me, he was shy and a bit star-struck by the others who seemed to be worldly-wise and socially adept. We both hung back and observed more than we participated.
Some conference participants posing for pictures
In the center: Jim from Nigeria and Mr. Meinke, the Conference Leader

This evening like all others at the conference, the group had gathered at 7 p.m. sharp. Previous evenings we had listened to lectures on a variety of subjects by course participants and a few evenings we heard talks by our conference leader Mr. Meinke about his special interests: Soren Kierkegaard, Nordic folk-schools, Danish farm cooperatives, and international understanding. Other evenings we had recitals by local Danish musicians. Nothing terribly captivating and we always hoped the lectures or musical entertainment would end quickly so we could go out into the warm summer evenings and sing songs and do folkdances from our various countries.  Even Jim and I got into it as we all messed up the words to the songs in the different languages and clumsily tried to learn the dance steps. It was very funny and evoked lots of laughter from everyone. 

This evening, we never got out into the summer night. After Enzokee Naidoo got our full attention, his words spilled out in a rush. “Dr. Meinke asked that I talk to you. And I agreed though I don’t have much time. I must talk to you who come from all over the world about the situation of the Blacks in South Africa.”

We were hypnotized, almost holding our breath listening to this man, to his words. He continued, “The situation is horrible and one of these days it will explode into violence.  We Black South Africans are getting better housing and education and rising materially, but we are strictly limited as to the height to which we can rise. And this combination of improvements with limitations is too much for us to endure.” He told us of the measures taken by the Whites to ensure that the Blacks would stay in their place. Sadly, with anger in his voice he said, “I cannot return to my homeland of South Africa. If I return, I will be taken prisoner for my stand against apartheid.”

Enzokee was slowing down and Mr. Smith, a school teacher from the U.S, took the opportunity to ask, “Why can’t the Blacks in South Africa attempt non-violence in their struggle against oppression?” 
Enzokee was in a hurry to leave but he gave Mr. Smith a pitying look and replied, “How can you know what the situation is like?  How can you know all the attempts we made that failed?  How can you judge when you sit here nice and secure?”

After our speaker left, it was as if an electrical charge had run through his audience. Many got out of their seats, talking all at once, talking over each other, some suggesting solutions to the problems of the Blacks in South Africa. Some crying, some making angry accusations at others whom they didn’t agree with. Jim and I sat quietly, observing. This was all new information to me; I was naïve and uninformed. Shockingly I was only vaguely aware of racial problems and the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. and knew nothing of apartheid in South Africa.

Thinking back, I’m sure that Jim must have had thoughts, opinions, and reactions to Enzokee’s talk and how it related to life and politics in the newly independent country of Nigeria. However, no one took any notice of Jim or asked him to speak. Today I wonder: Was this our version of White privilege? Did we even know of the concept of White privilege in 1965?

The flurry of conversations continued around Jim and me, and got louder more out of control until finally Mrs. Johanson, a Dane of about forty, climbed on a chair and said authoritatively in clear English with her lilting Danish accent, “Sit down and be quiet. One person talk at a time.”

Mr. Keystone from England took the floor and talked for close to an hour, telling us about the year he spent in South Africa as a reporter for a London newspaper. We were quiet. We were listening and we took in, as best we could, the last sentence of his talk, “The solutions you’re proposing for a peaceful settlement, or for slow progress, they won’t work. The White apartheid government is entrenched. It is as Enzokee said, ‘There will be a battle to bring down apartheid, we just don’t know when’.”

Mr. Keystone had succeeded in calming the group down slightly. At some point Jim left to go to bed but some of us – me included – stayed together past midnight. The others were talking, trying to adjust their thinking. I remained quiet, trying to take it all in. In truth I had no idea what to do with all the information and opinions and strong emotions swirling around me.

There was no laughing or dancing or singing outside that night.
In the days that followed, our normal life at the course continued, touring during the day, lectures or music at night. My expectations of having an adventure at the conference were met. As far returning home changed by Enzokee Naidoo or any of the others I met, sadly or perhaps to be expected, it didn’t happen. Before my summer adventure in Scandinavia, I was apolitical and back in the U.S. I returned to my normal way of being: head in the sand, still apolitical. But I was primed for my next adventure, which happened in 1966 after college graduation when I moved to San Francisco. That is another story for another time.


The First Republic of Nigeria was formed in October 1963, barely two years before the conference. In January1966 a military coup deposed the government of the Nigerian First Republic. In July 1966 there was a counter-military coup followed by years of unrest and inter-religious wars.

On April 27, 1994 apartheid ended in South Africa after several years of negotiations between the governing National Party and the African National Congress. 

POSTSCRIPT:   This story had been published on the website which unfortunately no longer has a presence on the web. I am most grateful that the folks who hosted the site accepted my story and I am sad for the loss of  access to the many creative and beautiful and meaningful stories that appeared on Kaleidoscopewojo.