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Articles by " Bev Scott"
7 Feb
2018

Laura Ingalls Wilder, American Author

Did you read one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series when you were growing up? Or perhaps you watched the “Little House on the Prairie” television show based on her life which aired between 1974 and 1982.

There was only the enormous empty prairie, with grasses blowing in waves of light and shadow across it, and the great blue sky above it, and birds flying up from it and singing with joy because the sun was rising. And on the whole enormous prairie there was no sign that any other human being had ever been there…In all that space of land and sky stood the lonely, small, covered wagon (From Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder).

Laura Ingalls Wilder circa 1885

Laura Ingalls Wilder, circa 1885 (Wikipedia)

Today, February 7 is Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s birthday. She was born in 1867 near Pepin, Wisconsin. In my research and writing of Sarah’s Secret, I stood on the shoulders of this amazing woman who persisted in revising her writing before she achieved the success for the beloved autobiographical sages of the Great Plains. This connection was especially vivid for me in writing Part Two of Sarah’s Secret, much of which takes place on the prairies of Kansas, the setting for Little House on the Prairie. I called up images in my imagination from her writing as I imagined my character riding across Kansas.

Wilder’s family homesteaded in Dakota Territory. Their life on the prairie as homesteaders was grueling with many similarities to the life of my grandparents who inspired Sarah’s Secret. Like my grandparents, who also homesteaded on the Great Plains, the Ingalls family faced severe hardships of blizzards, near starvation and poverty, the challenges that became stories of triumph in the Little House series.

Wilder was also a teacher like my grandmother a few years later. In 1882 Laura Ingalls passed the test to obtain her teaching certificate. At 15 years old she taught in a one-room schoolhouse about 12 miles from her parent’s home. The family friend, Almanzo Wilder, who was sent to bring her home for weekend visits became her husband in 1885. She quit teaching to raise children and work the farm with Almanzo. Her daughter, Rose, was born in 1889. They, too, faced relentless challenges of illness, death and poverty before they ultimately settled and farmed in the Ozarks near Mansfield, Missouri in 1894.

But it was not until the 1920’s with encouragement from her daughter, Rose, did Wilder attempt to write her first autobiography which was rejected by publishers. Wilder was determined to succeed and like authors today, she reworked her writing over and over. In 1932, she published the first book Little House in the Big Woods. She completed the eighth one of the series in 1943 when she was seventy-three. She died in 1957 on the farm she and Almanzo had settled sixty years earlier.

Today, on her 151st birthday, I honor this American woman author writing stories of the challenges and triumphs of homesteading on the Great Plains. Laura Ingalls Wilder is an inspiration and role model whose persistence won her hard-fought success in a male-dominated profession.

I just purchased Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline  Fraser, a historical biography. The description says that the true saga of Wilder’s life has never been told and that this book fills in the gaps in Wilder’s biography. Needless to say, I am anxious to read it. Look for a review in the near future.

What are your memories of the Little House book series or the television program “Little House on the Prairie?”

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31 Jan
2018
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Book Review: “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen

 

Book reviewed by Bev Scott

The Sympathizer Book Review by Bev ScottThe Sympathizer tells the first-person story of a communist spy embedded in South Vietnam during the “American War.” He serves as a loyal aide to “the General” of the South Vietnamese army at the same time he shares information with his communist handlers loyal to North Vietnam. He evacuates with the General when the U.S. pulls out of South Vietnam and ends up in California as an immigrant. Continuing his close connection to the General as well as his relationship with his handlers, he ultimately returns to Vietnam in a futile attempt to infiltrate North Vietnam and is captured and held prisoner. Held in isolation for a year, he is required by the “faceless” Commandant to write his confession before he is freed. This confession is the first-person story of the book.

I began reading this book as part of my preparation to travel to Vietnam last December. The author, Viet Thanh Nguyen has won a Pulitzer Prize and several other prizes for this book, but I found it very hard to read. The focus switches from description to dialogue, from one location to another, from one character to another without punctuation or explanation. Despite the gripping, wry and historical nature of the story, and what many consider brilliant writing, I had to force myself to continue to read it.

I did finally finish it and valued the Vietnamese perspective it provided. I gradually adjusted to the writing style. I agree that it skillfully draws the reader into the mysteries of Vietnam’s political intrigue. I also appreciated learning more about the impact of selfless commitment and passion to a political cause. The book raises evocative questions regarding the interplay of morality, power and a strong belief in a greater cause while also revealing multiple views on the subject. I am glad I read it.

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24 Jan
2018

Am I an Elder?

Halong Bay, Bev Scott Author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I can say from my own experience that at a certain point people will begin to treat you as an elder and look for benefits that you may be able to give them.

That is your cue to make a shift. You are no longer part of the crowd. Now you have to step up and assume a new place in your community. For you, it is yet another rite of passage, an ascension of state and transformation of you and your life to a level where you can enjoy new pleasures and feel new obligations…

That act requires character and the ability to know yourself without falling into either too high an opinion of yourself or false humility. Normally you develop this capacity for honest leadership over many years. The apprenticeship for the elder begins very young and continues over a lifetime.”

Thomas Moore, in a Nov./Dec. 2017 article in Spirituality and Health Magazine adapted from his Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy 

As I prepared for my first trip to Asia, I had the feeling that I was transitioning to a new segment of my life.

I traveled last month with my daughter and grandsons to a new part of the world for me. It was a special joy to be with them and I loved learning about the people and cultures that we visited. In addition, travel often provides opportunities to learn about ourselves and this trip was no exception.

Bev Scott and Family, Rickshaws, in Asia 2017 Happy Birthday, Bev Scott, 2017, in Asia

I was treated as an elder, as Moore suggests, by many we met and by my daughter and grandsons. In addition, traveling with much younger and stronger companions forced me to face the realities of an aging body. I no longer have the energy, stamina, quick recovery or balance that I have counted on most of my life. I have learned that I need to rest more, calibrate my planned itinerary and keep a watchful eye on the path for those items that might trip me. I need to more carefully monitor my food and water intake.

Yet, in contrast to my younger self who often pushed herself too hard and ended up sick in bed, I maintained my health and energy after long flights, days spent walking and exploring the sites, museums and markets and eating different and unusual food.

Transition Time

I came home ready to explore this feeling that I am at another transition time in my life.

Bev Scott at Word Project Press event, Oct. 2017When I turned 70, I realized that I needed to let go of my consulting and coaching work if I wanted to write the book about my grandparents. I wrote about this decision in an article included in the book, 70 Things to Do When You Turn 70. Now, after Sarah’s Secret has been out for a year and I have worked on promoting it by selecting those activities that served my interests and skills, I find I am casting about for what is next. I don’t plan to stop the work of book promotion, reading, or writing reviews and my blog. But, I am not strongly motivated to write another book, although all the experts recommend that is the way to proceed. There are many other activities that reward and challenge me, light up my spirit and warm my heart.

Who I Am as an Elder?

Yes, I am exploring what I want to do, but I am also reflecting on who I am as an elder at this point in my life.

I have thought of myself as twenty or thirty years younger until I look in the mirror. The image that looks back tells me that I am no longer in the same body. The hair is graying, the face has wrinkles and my body sags in places. But that appearance is no longer so important. I realize that the qualities of my character matter more to me now. I feel more confident and self-aware. I appreciate the lessons learned over my life-time from experience, the insight and, yes, the wisdom. I hope I am neither too arrogant nor falsely humble about my accomplishments. I am grateful for the abundance the Universe has shared with me and I continue to make a contribution back to the world using my skills, energy and resources. I value my spiritual practice, my exercise routine, my health and the special relationships I have with my partner, my daughter and grandsons and my friends.

I am, as Moore suggests, stepping away from the crowd and transitioning to a new stage in my life. I don’t know how much time I have left. But I find that I am thinking more about the finite amount of time life gives us. Whatever that time is for me, I want to spend it with those I love, continue to do the best I can with whatever I commit to do and find opportunities for learning both about myself and about subjects that interest me.

What are your thoughts about this transition to elderhood and your aging process?

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16 Jan
2018
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Book Review: “Clancy’s Song” by Ken Hultman and Natalie Hultman

Clancy's Song, book reviewed by Bev Scott

Reviewed by Bev Scott

This is a delightful parable which takes place on the Freedom Cattle Ranch. The soil is fertile and the all-grass diet, supplemented by hay when necessary, supports an organic or natural experimental operation. The story stars four Herefords, Clancy, Beamer, Tank and Gordo, all born on the Day of Light. They were each born into different sects on the ranch which are carefully monitored to keep the hereditary line for each sect pure. The requirements necessary to maintain purity provide the context for the message of the parable.

All the cattle are kept in their assigned territory with their sect; they are not allowed outside the electrical fence, in the frightful territory of “Despairia” where other animals live who kill each other; and they cannot get within 100 feet of the entrance to Bovina. The two-legged creatures or guardian angels select certain cows to go to Bovina, which is the beautiful life beyond the physical existence on the ranch, to live with Father Taurus forever. It is considered quite an honor to be selected to go to Bovina.

New calves must learn and follow the Ten Hereford Laws, attend services to pray to Father Taurus and learn from the bull who is their father and leader of their sect what is the expected and rewarded behavior. Clancy belongs to the “Faithites” who are expected to totally trust Father Taurus; Beamer is a “Lovite,” expected to be pleasant and loving; Tank is a “Holyite” who must participate in the rituals; and Gordo is a “Servite,” dedicated to a life of good deeds.

The story follows each calf as he learns his lessons, tries to meet the expectations of his sect and in turn becomes disillusioned and cautiously challenges the rules. When the four Herefords find each other, they become fast friends alarming the herd leadership. As they explore the ranch, pursue adventures and encounter a bull who has been ex-communicated, they gain insights about the limitations of the rules, the sect expectations and even the reality of Bovina.

The message of Clancy’s Song is in the cattle ranch metaphor which transparently describes what many of us abhor in our own human “ranch:” today’s political divisiveness and ethnic and racial slurs. We are reminded to ask questions, be open, learn all we can, avoid rigidity and judgement, hold others with love and respect and have fun! Good reminders of what I would like to do on my own “ranch.”

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28 Dec
2017
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Book Review: “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

 

The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond TutuThis book records a delightful conversation between two spiritual masters of our time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, facilitated by Douglas Abrams. This conversation celebrated their special birthdays and is offered as a birthday gift to others with an invitation for more joy and more happiness.

Many awful things have happened to the Dalai Lama…exiled from his home and from what is precious to him…yet people experience a compassion, joy and a mischievousness when they speak with him. He offers another angle to look at his exile as giving him new opportunities. He shares a Tibetan saying ‘Wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.”

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu are moral leaders who transcend their own traditions and speak with a concern for humanity as a whole. They want to ensure that they include the over one billion people on the planet who are non-believers. Everyone has a right to become happier human beings and to be good members of the human family. That does not depend on religious faith to educate our inner values.

Their lives model the way. Yet, the Archbishop has never claimed sainthood and the Dalai Lama considers himself a simple monk. Their hope in humanity is inspirational as they refuse to choose the cynicism and despair that threatens to overcome us all. The joy the two of them express does not come from living easy and comfortable lives but rather from facing adversity, oppression and struggle. They argue that lasting happiness is not found in the pursuit of any goal or special achievement or in fortune or fame but only in the human mind and heart. They hope that readers of this inspiring book will find it.The Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The Archbishop said that “Joy is bigger than happiness” since happiness is often seen as dependent on external circumstances, joy comes from a state of mind and is rooted in the purpose of life. The Dalai Lama said that one of the great questions underlying our existence is “What is the purpose of life? After much consideration I believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness…The ultimate source of happiness is within us. Not money, not power, not status…Sadly, many of the things that undermine our joy and happiness we create ourselves.” If we create most of our suffering, it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy. It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives and the reactions we bring to situations and relationships.

Suffering, even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion. It is how we face all of the things that seem to be negative in our lives that determines the kind of person we become. Even in pain we can find some positive experiences, some opportunities and some blessings. “Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.”  They both say that the way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others. It is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.” Being joyful is about being more empathetic, more compassionate and more engaged with the world.

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

With this foundation for happiness and joy, the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop discuss with insight and from experience how to heal and turn away from the obstacles to joy such as fear, stress, anger, grief, despair, envy and suffering. Then they offer a path to happiness through the Eight Pillars of Joy: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity. The message of this lovely book is that it is a cycle: the more we heal our own suffering and obstacles, the more we can turn to others to help their pain and suffering and, amazingly, the more we turn away from our own selfish issues toward the concerns of others, the more we can transcend our own suffering. This is the true secret of joy.

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21 Dec
2017

Christmas Traditions in 19th Century America

Christmas Traditions in 19th Century

This is the second in a series of explorations of the holiday traditions at the time of my grandparents, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This blog was first published on 12/14/15.

As this Christmas season bustles with tree decorating and shopping, gift giving and holiday parties, and children’s letters to Santa Claus, I wonder what Christmas was like in the time of my grandparents in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. We often think that the traditions of Christmas have been handed down through the many generations of our multi-ethnic heritage. I discovered that most of the holiday celebrations and activities we observe today emerged in mid-nineteenth century America.

Christmas Holiday Barely Noticed

Americans, religious or not, northern or southern, barely noticed the Christmas holiday as late as the beginning of theChristmas Tree nineteenth century. The “creation of an American Christmas was a response to social and personal needs that arose at a particular point” in our history, concludes Penne Restad in History Today. The customs that emerged, addressed the insecurities, conflicts and confusion created by the civil war, urbanization and industrialization.

Christmas was not a holiday in the early colonies of the Puritans. In fact, the holiday was anathema and illegal for the Puritans who considered it raucous and sinful. They also banned any celebration because “Christmas” does not exist in the Bible nor did they believe that Jesus was born in December but rather in September. Christmas is often traced to the effort by Pope Julius I who chose December 25 to celebrate the birth of Christ to co-opt a Roman pagan ritual characterized by food drink and revelry. Thus, the lack of any theological justification for Christmas allowed the holiday to emerge in America as an event to be celebrated by the diverse ethnic, mostly Christian, immigrants to this country.  The ‘American’ Christmas holiday captured the sometimes conflicting themes of “commercialism and artisanship, as well as nostalgia and faith in progress, that defined late nineteenth-century culture,” according to Restad.

Albert_Chevallier_Tayler_-_The_Christmas_Tree_1911Popularity Grew

The popularity of celebrating the Christmas holiday grew after the Civil War, and the message of peace and goodwill resonated with many Americans who yearned for reconciliation and unity. By the end of the nineteenth century many of the familiar components and traditions as described by Robert McNamera in “The History of Christmas Traditions” of our modern Christmas had begun to take hold throughout the country. German settlers had introduced the tradition of the Christmas tree. It became popular outside German communities after Prince Albert, the German-born husband of Queen Victoria decorated a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in the 1840’s. Decorating Christmas trees and the commercially boosted practice of giving gifts and sending Christmas cards blossomed in the 1870-80’s.

Santa Claus face, rosy cheeksSt. Nicholas was considered the patron saint of Early Dutch settlers who practiced the ritual of hanging stockings. Clement Clarke Moore wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” often called “The Night Before Christmas” in 1823. Thomas Nast, a famous cartoonist is credited with creating in 1863, the modern portrayal of Santa Claus showing him on a sleigh and introducing the notion that Santa lived at the North Pole keeping a workshop with elves. In 1897 a young girl wrote to a New York newspaper and received a response from editor, Francis Pharcellus Church. It became the most famous newspaper editorial ever printed. The eloquent editorial asserted in an often quoted sentence, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Santa_Coming_Down_the_Chimney_Drawing

 

Christmas Traditions Firmly Established

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the popular traditions of Christmas celebration were firmly established broadly throughout the country. Ethnic Christian and Jewish communities added their own traditional twists. Families from humble circumstances found ways of sharing the joys of the season with handmade Christmas decorations and gifts, writing Christmas letters instead of purchasing cards and cooking more modest meals to share with family and neighbors.

What Are Your Family Traditions?

Do you have special traditions in your family? Are there special decorations that have been handed down? Do you have favorite foods that are served at Christmas dinner? Did Santa or St. Nick visit your house? How do you imagine the holidays were celebrated by your ancestors? Please share your traditions and stories below.

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12 Dec
2017

Being Grateful Makes Me Happy

 

“Every day, think as you wake up, ‘I am fortunate to be alive.  I have a precious human life.  I am not going to waste it.’”  The Dalai Lama

baby and father, hands, bev scott author, being grateful makes me happy

being grateful makes me happy, blog, bev scott author

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is the season of gratitude. I express my gratitude for friends and family around the Thanksgiving table. I am grateful for the news and greetings I receive from those who live far away. I enjoy the exchange of gifts and goodies, the fragrance of the beautiful decorated trees and cookies baking in the oven at this holiday time.

Like many of my neighbors, I am concerned about the poverty and homelessness around me. I see strangers huddled in doorways, panhandling on the street, pushing shopping carts of belongings. I whisper a prayer “for the grace of God there go I.” Gratitude allows me to recognize how fortunate I am, to appreciate my life and all that I experience. It gives me an opportunity to shift my perspective toward all the abundance I have in my life instead of feeling sorry for what I lack or the problems I have.

Gratefulness Makes Us Happy

The renowned neurologist and author, Oliver Sacks, wrote shortly before he died,

…my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being a thinking animal on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”[i]

Despite his diagnosis of metastasized cancer Dr. Sacks was grateful for his life and he was happy. Brother Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk and scholar is quoted in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, saying, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful.  It is gratefulness that makes us happy.”

The Benefits

Indeed, research endorses that perspective and suggests there are many benefits that might motivate us to be grateful more often, even every day. At least forty research studies identify over thirty ways in which gratitude can benefit our lives. Amit Amin categorizes them into Emotional, Health, Social, Personality and Career benefits, all of which contribute to happiness.

Different benefits are probably more appealing to different age cohorts. For me personally, I like the health benefits of improved sleep, living longer, increased energy and feeling good. Since I am retired the benefits for my career are less motivating, but if you are still in the midst of yours the career benefits of gratitude include being a better manager, achieving your goals and being more productive. If you are a young person and concerned if you are well liked in your social circles, consider that being grateful open doors to relationships, deepens friendships, increases your self-esteem, and develops your personality in life changing ways.

orange tabby cat, in lap, bev scott author, being grateful makes me happy

outstretched arms, sunset, bev scott author, blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can all appreciate the emotional benefits of gratitude: being more resilient and bouncing back from stress, reducing aggression and being less likely to retaliate, feeling good, less envious, more relaxed and enjoy happier memories. Many of us also, will like the benefit of improved relationship with partners and spouses. Amazing how many benefits gratitude can bring to our lives! Are you convinced yet?

When and How

Maybe you are wondering how to go about it or how to remember to be grateful as you lead your busy stressful life. Gratitude doesn’t require us to be religious, to have any particular skill nor have a gratitude gene. Feeling grateful can happen in the unexpected moment of seeing a beautiful sunset or getting a hand-written note of thanks from a friend. We might experience gratitude when the health scare turns out to be benign. We can experience gratitude in prayer or meditation. Brother Steindl-Rast leads us through “A Grateful Day,” reminding all of us that this is not just another day in our lives.  “It is the one day that is given to you…today.”

Take five minutes daily to express your gratitude for the day that is given to you, for the abundance in your life, and for the experiences that inspire you by writing in a gratitude journal. Will the demonstrated results of daily gratitude described above motivate us to take that 5 minutes? Maybe it is easier to just to use the first few waking minutes of your day to reflect on what brings you gratitude. Or when you see a beautiful sight, taste a delicious bite of food or hear an inspiring piece of music to pause and express your gratitude.

Another approach is to sign up for a daily gratitude message from Deborah Purdue which comes in on your email to remind you each day. Sign up for these beautiful messages with gorgeous color illustrations at www.graceofgratitude.com.  Being grateful doesn’t cost anything, takes very little time, gives you many benefits and makes you happy.

calendula, single flower, bev scott authororanges, bev scott author, blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am grateful to you who read my blog and support my work as a writer. Thank you.

[i] Oliver Sacks, “My Own Life” in “Gratitude”, Alfred Knopf, 2015.  Also published in New York Times, Feb. 19, 2015.

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13 Nov
2017

Thanksgiving, The American Holiday

Autumn Bouquet to Celebrate Thanksigving, Bev Scott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you know that Thanksgiving did not become a permanent official national holiday until 1941 when Congress established the fourth Thursday of the month of November as Thanksgiving Day?

Today, Thanksgiving is a most American holiday tradition in which we gather with friends and family to share a sumptuous feast and express our gratitude.   Many of us assume Thanksgiving in North America began with the Pilgrims story of Thanksgiving.  The roots of our Thanksgiving can be traced back to the ancient traditions of celebrating the bounty of the harvest.  I also discovered there were earlier ceremonies by other British colonists and Spanish explorers in North America before the Plymouth celebration of 1621.  Although Thanksgiving in the colonies became a regular event by the middle of the 17th century, the first national Thanksgiving was proclaimed in 1777 by the Continental Congress.  The early Presidents continued to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving but it was not an official holiday.  In fact, by the middle of the 19th century Thanksgiving was limited to individual state observances and had evolved from the religious and civil day of commemoration and giving thanks to a family holiday of feasting.  President Lincoln was convinced to declare a national holiday in 1863 in an effort to unite the war-torn country.  Lincoln’s successors proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day each year until it became a permanent official holiday in 1941.

In researching my family history and writing the story of “Sarah’s Secret”, I often found myself thinking about life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries compared to my life today.  Since I did not inherit any family traditions of Thanksgiving, my curiosity led me to explore some of the history of one of this favorite of American holiday which combines the ancient traditions of harvest festivals and the religious observances of the Puritans grateful and giving thanks for their survival after a year of sickness and scarcity.

Without family stories or traditions, I used my imagination about how my grandparents might have celebrated Thanksgiving Day.  Since it was not a firm national holiday and observed differently by state, my grandparents might not have even celebrated Thanksgiving as struggling homesteaders.  Certainly, after my grandfather died leaving my grandmother in dire and impoverished circumstances, her ability to provide an extravagant feast would have been very limited.  Yet, the tradition of acknowledging God’s blessings, giving thanks and expressing gratitude would have been important to my grandmother, who had a strong Christian faith.  I imagine that when the President of the United States did declare a day of Thanksgiving, which may or may not have been in November, that she probably commemorated the day.  She may have cooked something special, maybe a wild game or fowl caught by my grandfather or her oldest son.  I am convinced that she would ensure that she and her family offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings in their lives.  Since her birthday was November 24th and often fell on Thanksgiving, I also imagine that she probably ignored or discounted any celebration of her November birthday as too frivolous and extravagant.

Greetings! And Happy Thanksgiving, from Bev Scott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful not only for my comfortable twenty-first century life, but I am also grateful for the opportunity to write about the strong courageous woman who was my grandmother.  Although her birthday this year falls on the day after Thanksgiving, I will honor her especially for her inspiration.  I have so much respect for this proud woman who was left a widow and raised her five children while she struggled with illness and poverty.

Do you have inherited family traditions on Thanksgiving?  What do you imagine your grandparents or great grandparents did to celebrate a day of family feasting or to express gratitude and give thanks in their faith on Thanksgiving Day?

(Previous versions of this article have been published in “The Writing Life” in 2015 and 2016.)

 

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17 Oct
2017

Learning More About My White Privilege

Eyes and Perception of the Word

I have opposed discrimination and racism beginning when I was in high school at the time of the lunch counter boycotts in the South. I wanted to ask retail and service establishments if they would serve “Negroes” in our very white town in Montana with only three known African American families. I was conducting this survey because I was afraid it might create problems for those families.

Later in my thirties, living in Detroit, I was confronted daily by the impact of racism on the population in this majority black city. I volunteered with an organization that provided anti-racism education workshops to churches, community groups, non-profit organizations and businesses. Through interactive workshops, deep discussions and sometimes painful feedback from black colleagues, I learned about my white privilege, how much prejudice and racism I carried and the many ways our culture has institutionalized racism. I also learned how much I didn’t know about the African American experience in the United States.

I now live in California and find myself learning more and again. Not only is there so much I don’t know about the black experience, I am pretty ignorant about the experience of being brown (Mexican, Hispanic and Latino/a). Although I did have one personal experience…as a high school student when I was asked to leave a restaurant because the staff thought I was Mexican. (I tanned easily and my hair wasn’t gray as it is now.)

I was reminded of that humiliating experience recently when I attended a one-woman show, performed by Irma Herrera, “Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name.”  She taught the audience the correct pronunciation as “Ear-ma.”  Proud of her Mexican and American heritage, Irma recounted experiences from her life requesting nuns, professors and strangers to accept the Spanish pronunciation of her name. Through poignant stories and humor, she told us how pronouncing her own name had often resulted in insults, pain and the denial of her identity. She recounts experiences of rejection and humiliation which brought back the memory of my lone experience of rejection based on an assumption and stereotype. I remember being so embarrassed and mortified in front of my friends. However, I refused to leave and my friends stood up for me. That experience so many years ago certainly increased my sensitivity to discrimination based on color and stereotypes.

I left Irma Herrera’s show with my own emotional tenderness. But most important, I had a clearer understanding of the historical context of the discrimination and racism experienced when growing up brown in this country. With the mirror she offered, I was forced to re-evaluate my thoughts, actions and biases once again.

Latino woman with catrina

Last weekend, I saw the film “Dolores,” a provocative documentary about the civil rights icon and labor leader, Dolores Huerta. The film provides a personal story of Dolores Huerta’s involvement in the founding of the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez in the context of the economic, social and physical violence experienced by the farm workers in California.

From these two recent experiences, I recognize again how my white privilege contributes to my ignorance of what it is like to be brown or black in the United States (or Native American or Asian American). I am grateful to have financial security, respect and a supportive community. I don’t have to worry about the police response to me because of my color. I grew up with a good education. I have been able to purchase homes without redlining. I have not experienced discrimination based on color in my career.

I continue to learn that my life privileges have protected me from the institutionalization of our country’s racial biases. My experience of gender bias, however, is more direct and personal. But that is a different blog.

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12 Oct
2017
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Book Review: “The Underground River” by Martha Conway

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

The Underground River by Martha ConwayMae Bedloe is the seamstress and all-around support for her more famous cousin Comfort Vertue. In 1838 they are in search of new opportunities in the theatre for Comfort who has booked them on the steamboat Moselle headed to St. Louis. After six days on board the Moselle, it sinks on the Ohio River.

While Comfort is hired to give lectures for an abolitionist, Mae ultimately finds work with a struggling acting troupe that performs on a floating theatre. Mae makes a place for herself with the troupe helping with costumes, ticket sales and other support tasks. As she takes on more assignments, and finds acceptance from members of the troupe, her confidence grows. I enjoyed the character development as Mae moves from a quiet and reserved subordinated cousin to an independent competent young woman taking risks to ferry slave babies to freedom.

The story is engrossing and a “page turner.” What a surprise when Mae boldly steps on stage putting the acting troupe in danger in order to take morally correct but illegal action. I found myself cheering Mae for her boldness and moral commitment at the same time I worried about her survival. The author, Martha Conway provides a well-researched historical context of another divisive time in our history which foreshadows the bitterly fought Civil War a few decades later.

I highly recommend this book.

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