Friday, April 14, 2017

Finding Out


The morning before I entered first grade--kindergarten had yet to reach small-town Indiana--my parents drove me to the county courthouse in Valparaiso. In a room with an impossibly high ceiling, the judge granted me a new last name to replace one I didn’t even know I had.
After court, we stopped at an ice cream parlor. As I gobbled a mocha chip sundae, my parents instructed me not to tell my little sister my mother had been married before, or that I was only her half-brother.  Instant glee! I had a secret to hold over her.
Except for that day, my parentage was never openly discussed. My mother, Lee, had been married to a silk-screen artist named Milan when I was conceived. We received child support from him for a few years, even though she had gotten remarried to Bill, the only Dad I knew. 
Still, as a teenager I realized my evolving looks were being scrutinized for a family game of “Who’s Your Daddy?” Unlike Milan, I didn’t look Serbian. Unlike Bill, I didn’t look Eastern European Jewish. Both of them had dark hair. I resembled my maternal uncles Bud and Norman —light-skinned, light-haired, with ancestry they called early American.
Vlae, Bill, Tempra, Lee, Christmas 1962

Bud, Dad, Norman, my Grandfather Lyle --When lapel pulling was the height of style 
Once a great-aunt on Dad’s side, visiting from Canada, remarked on my similarity with blond relatives she remembered from Ukraine. But Aunt Freda, a practical immigrant who had little use for my artistically minded Mother, couldn’t see any resemblance to their family.
I can’t say I wondered about it much, except for this: If Dad wasn’t my real father, was I still half-Jewish, or all Christian? Neither of my parents was religious, but they had relatives who were, and the two families were never invited over at the same time.
One night when I was a teenager, my father came home from a long day at his import crafts store. Mother was just back from a horseback ride. Dinner was not being prepared. A vodka martini or two later, the fight began. A hand-crafted Tonala serving dish, bought back from Mexico by my father, flew through the air and shattered against the wall.
“You know she was married before, right?” Dad yelled. “She doesn’t work and she doesn’t keep house either. She acted the same way with her first husband.”
My sister ran to her room, crying. The secret was out. A few years later, they divorced. Neither remarried.

In the 1990s, Dad retired to New Mexico. He had house built and furnished it with Mexican and Native American crafts. Mother visited him for extended periods in the winter. They liked to cross the border at Juarez, shop for hand-crafted furniture and decorations, and hit up Chihuahua Charlie’s for margaritas. They would return buzzed to Las Cruces, get into an argument, and retire to separate floors. She wanted to move in. He said no.
Dad, who had started smoking as a nine-year-old dead end kid, developed lung cancer. That summer, he finally brought up the unmentionable subject.
 Genetic testing was just becoming readily available. “I thought about getting the test and having you get one, but at this point it doesn’t make any difference.”
I agreed. Milan had rejected my inquiries when I was a young man, so screw him. Either way, I only had one Dad.
After Dad died, Mother moved into the house my sister and I had inherited.  She made it even more of a showpiece as well as a shrine to him.
In 2011, when she was eighty-two and I was fifty-seven, she poured my coffee into a Tonala mug on the deck overlooking the saw-toothed Organ Mountains.
“Vlae, I had the test done and I paid for one for you too.”
For the first time, she told me the story. During World War II, she, Bill, and Milan began working together at Chicago’s Polk Brothers electronics store. A love triangle developed.
At seventeen, she married Milan, a decade older. She didn’t love him but was taken by his Old World courtship and her desire to get out of the house of her autocratic father. Her mother cried.
Still, she never lost contact with Bill. When he returned from the Army, they picked up on their old affair. In July 1953, she packed up her bags and they hightailed it to a summer hotel in the Indiana Dunes.
I arrived the following Easter Sunday. The timing was such she didn’t know if Milan or Bill was my father. 
Now, she wanted an answer before she died. A company called 23AndMe promised to identify one’s ethnic heritage. I spit into a barcoded tube and mailed away the sample.
Three weeks later, I opened the envelope.
 “Forty-three percent Northwest European, forty-three percent Eastern European Jewish, fourteen percent other.” So Dad was my Dad. I fist-pumped “Yesss...”
What would have happened if we had known when I was growing up? Maybe he wouldn’t have been so distant. Maybe I would have felt Jewish instead of celebrating Christmas and ignoring religion the other 364 days.
I phoned Mother. She started to cry.
“I wish Bill could hear this,” she said. “It would have meant so much to him.”


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

One Question Stays or Goes From 'Is You Is' To 'R U Mine'

Insecure guys in relationships ask a certain question.

For the Arctic Monkeys, it's "R U Mine?" a rock song released by the UK band in 2012 that became a gold record despite (or because) the fact the title was written in text-speak instead of English.
Not that it's the first time that question became a hit.

The U.K. punk band The Clash scored in 1982 with "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" which became the band's only No. 1 single a decade later. It still sounds good today. The lyric "Don't know which clothes even fit me" says all you need to know about that particular relationship. Next time, pick up your underwear, Joe.

In 1967, Paul Revere & The Raiders, an American band with the British Invasion sound, scored with "Him Or Me" -- What's it gonna be?

Long before that, bandleader Louis Jordan topped the "race charts" in the 1940s with a raucous sound that helped pave the way for '50s rock-and-roll (which, unfortunately, ended Jordan's time at the top). His slang-slinging hits include the raucous "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?" from 1944, which reached the top three on the R&B, pop and country charts, a rare triple for anyone, especially a black artist at the time.

One can imagine that if Jordan's girlfriend was an English teacher, just the title of that song would be enough to produce a curt "I am NOT."

This is a pretty universal sentiment, the dude asking the intentions of the girl, usually with a rival lurking in the shadows.

I don't know of any songs where a woman asks that specific question--Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" wants to know something subtly different.



Monday, August 1, 2016

A constitutional amendment for a Trump administration

Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech raised the chilling thought of a furious Donald Trump in the Oval Office at 3 a.m.: "A man you can bait with a Tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons."

Ever since the night before Richard Nixon resigned, when the idea that the depressed, heavy-drinking president would pull something crazy did not seem farfetched even to his defense secretary, I've wondered about our system of launching nukes, which is so dependent on one person.

Under the National Command Authority, the president has sole authority to order a strike, but the secretary of defense has to confirm the order. This at least theoretically guards against a president who has lost his sanity. But if the defense secretary doesn't go along, the president can fire him and immediately replace him with the chief deputy, rather like Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre" in which he ran through two attorney generals before he got to one who would fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.

My proposed constitutional amendment would state: Except in direct response to an attack on the United States, its armed forces, or treaty allies, the president must receive the consent of Congress prior to initiating military action against a foreign power. 

This amendment would stop any president from launching most attacks, but allow for retaliatory strikes against, say, North Korea, when every minute would count. If a president did order a non-retaliatory strike, the defense secretary or the Joint Chiefs of Staff would have the duty to refuse to obey an unconstitutional order.

It would also strengthen the War Powers Resolution, which requires Congress to authorize military force within 48 hours of taking action but has been circumvented by presidents of both parties--including by President Obama in 2011 in Libya, an action defended in Congress by none other than Hillary Clinton.

This amendment would help keep our country out of wars no matter who was president--and if one particular person becomes president, it would let us get better sleep.  



Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Brock Turner should have written this letter

Now that Brock Turner has become the despised symbol for campus sexual assault in America, the narrative has sprung up that he got a very light sentence because of his status as a privileged white male athlete.

That's true, but another powerful dynamic was at work in the courtroom--Turner's obvious softness.

Prosecutor Alaleh Kianerci was so worried about the jury sympathizing with the former Stanford student she felt it necessary to say as she began closing arguments, "There's an elephant in the room. It's hard to look at Brock Turner and not feel badly for him. Brock Turner may not look like a typical rapist, but he is the quintessential face of campus sexual assault."

The trial itself only attracted a few journalists from local media (I attended some of it and wrote a blog post, but unfortunately missed the sentencing due to my son's graduation). Yet since the sentencing, Turner has become nationally infamous, even more than the ex-Vanderbilt football players who gang-raped an unconscious woman

That's because Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky imposed only a six-month jail sentence along with three years probation.



                                      Brock Turner's mugshot. Even here, he looks soft.  


He'll likely serve only three months at Elmwood jail in Milpitas, with the standard 50 percent off for good behavior. Jail authorities have him in protective custody in a single cell. Given the obvious danger from much tougher fellow inmates, they could have faced another huge lawsuit if they put him in general population.

If Turner had wanted to avoid prison without relying on an overly sympathetic judge, he should have pleaded guilty, as the victim said she had expected, in her eloquent statement.

With two witnesses who didn't know either party testifying they had seen him humping a half-naked unconscious woman, it was obvious before and during the trial he was going to be convicted. Maybe his father and his lawyer were giving him bad advice, or maybe he just couldn't admit to his tearful mother he was, in fact, guilty.

Instead, he offered a weak defense about how the victim offered consent at every stage, recapitulated in his statement to the judge before sentencing.





Oh, come on. Besides the improbable whisper in her ear, his testimony was not believable because he failed to mention getting consent or her reactions when he was interviewed by police the morning after his arrest, after he'd had a few hours to sober up. Instead, he "remembered" it when testifying more than a year later.

Since the trial, the main narrative has been Turner was spared prison because he was a white, privileged Stanford athlete. That certainly didn't hurt, but as Stanford football fans know, it didn't save Eric Abrams, at the time the school's all-time leading scorer. And remember Ma'lik Richmond, the black teenager in the Steubenville rape case, was rightly punished less severely than Trent Mays, his white co-rapist and the bigger football star. (The pair committed the same act as Turner, except in Ohio it's called rape and in California that term is reserved for penile penetration. Thus, Turner avoids being legally branded a rapist because he wasn't in his home state.)

Another factor is that the judge is an ex-Stanford athlete who looks like an older version of Turner. Under the Donald Trump theory of judicial prejudice by ethnic association, should this have been enough for the prosecution to have him disqualified?

Still, I think the main reason the probation report and later the judge went easy on Turner has been largely unremarked upon. He came off as weak, a baby-faced 20-year-old who couldn't grow a beard, a person who would be preyed upon in state prison by much tougher inmates disposed to attack sex offenders.

His father was generally at his side outside the courtroom, often with his hand on the shoulder of Brock's omnipresent navy blazer. A woman friend from church in his hometown who testified as a character witness on his behalf embraced him and rubbed his shoulders in the hallway, both of them near tears. His entourage treated him as though he was facing cancer surgery and needed to be bucked up.

He wasn't some cocky football player, like Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey in the Vanderbilt case, who felt entitled to anything he wanted. In my opinion, it was just the opposite. He was a weak character led by peer pressure.

Turner wrote a BS statement to the court blaming a campus culture of alcohol and promiscuity, and saying he ran away not because the two hero Swedish students riding their bicycles stopped to yell at him but simply because he thought he was going to throw up. (At exactly that moment--what a coincidence!).

           Lake Lagunita's Scary Path, where the bicyclists were riding when they saw Turner. 


Based on both his statements and evidence presented at the trial, here's what he could have written to the court if he had been honest with everyone, including himself.


On January 17, 2015, I attended a party at Kappa Alpha house. I was really drunk. I had seven Rolling Rock beers and two swigs of Fireball. I was looking for an opportunity to hook up because that's what I've seen my friends on the swim team do at parties, and they encouraged me to do it too. Only they aren't as socially awkward as I am.

On the dance floor, I found this woman who was a graduate of another college and we started talking. I should have known she was drunk because she wasn't speaking too coherently, as that recording of her phone message for her boyfriend shows, but I didn't really think about that. I asked her if she wanted to go to my dorm room and she said Yes. I led her and somehow we ended up falling down on an incline near these trees behind a Dumpster. She didn't get up right away and I knew she probably couldn't walk as far as my dorm. I saw my chance and started kissing her and she seemed OK with it so then I took off her underwear and she didn't say No.

By then I knew she was drunk, because what sober woman wants to have sex with a college freshman she doesn't know while lying in public in the dirt and pine needles? I fingered her for awhile.  I didn't know I was getting dirt inside her. Then I got on top of her and started thrusting at her with my pants still on. I was trying to decide whether I could get away with taking my pants off in a public place when these two bicyclists came along and started yelling at me. I looked at her and realized she was unconscious and thought "Oh shit, Brock, you really f-- up now." I started running, but they chased me down and held me down till the cops arrived. 

After that, I made a statement to police, but it wasn't very good so I reimagined it for my testimony a year later so it would seem like she was very responsive and was giving me consent, and had an orgasm. 

I've had a lot of time to think about this. I admit I was acting like an animal. There's a lot of peer pressure for guys to get drunk and laid in college, especially for a guy like me who isn't socially adept and has a hard time meeting women. But I knew right from wrong, or else I wouldn't have run, so that's no excuse. 

To the victim, I apologize for all the pain I caused you. I read your victim impact statement and it was incredibly moving. I'm so sorry you're having problems getting your life back together. I'm a Christian and I've been praying you can have still have a great life. 

My life is basically wrecked with all the national publicity, the lifetime sex offender registration, the end of my swimming career and the fact no medical school will accept me. I apologize to my mother and hope you can stop crying eventually. It's not your fault. 

Your honor, please give me the lightest sentence you think is appropriate. The sooner I'm released the sooner I can go back to Ohio and live with my parents. My friends and family are in Dayton so they can help make sure I continue my college education, complete my sex offender management program and try to find a decent job in an industry that will hire convicted felons. 

I'll never drink again and I'll never sexually assault anybody. In fact, I'll tell any prospective sex partners about what happened and get their written consent before we have sex, because I need to be extra careful. 

To the victim, I promise not to set foot in Northern California after my sentence is over unless the probation officer orders me to, so you won't have to worry about seeing me again. Thank you. 

In his actual statement, Turner wrote: "I would make it my life's mission to show everyone that I can contribute and be a positive influence on society from these events that have transpired. I want no one, male or female, to have to experience the destructive consequences of making decisions while under the influence of alcohol... I want to let young people know, as I did not, that things can go from fun to ruined in just one evening."

He could start by facing up to the truth.
























Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Brock Turner case: Heroes were needed sooner

                                                      'Scary Path' along Lake Lagunita 

Unlike most campus sex attackers, Brock Turner was caught because of alert, brave witnesses. The problem is, the heroes came too late.

The former Stanford swimmer, convicted Wednesday of three felony counts of sexual assault against an unconscious, intoxicated woman, faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The law allows lesser sentences, even probation since violence was not alleged, though it's hard to imagine that as the outcome when sentencing occurs June 2.

As a Stanford alumnus and sports fan, I was interested in the case and attended some of the trial, including closing arguments. My impression was that conviction on two of the counts--sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person and penetration of an intoxicated person--was all but certain, and I was somewhat surprised he hadn't taken a plea bargain. Maybe none was offered.

The third count, assault with intent to rape, didn't seem as clear, since Turner never took his pants off. Two counts alleging rape were dropped before trial. The jury deliberated for two days before convicting him of the remaining three.

His mom cried and stamped her feet when Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianerci asked that he sent to prison immediately, which the judge denied. The victim cried and smiled.

Turner, 20, who had Olympic dreams in freestyle and backstroke, came off at the trial as a mild-mannered, polite kid (he looks younger than his 20 years), not a cocky, entitled Jameis Winston type. A former girlfriend testified he was "extremely respectful."

But that's not what the evidence showed.

He attended a party at the Kappa Alpha fraternity along Lake Lagunita on January 18, 2015. He wasn't a member of the fraternity--Stanford freshmen live in dorms.

A group of young women showed up at the party. Only one was a Stanford student. Her friend brought along her older sister, a recent college graduate who had attended Gunn High School in Palo Alto. They had been drinking champagne and whiskey.

Turner, who had consumed seven beers and a couple swigs of whiskey, went up to the younger sister and kissed her with no warning, one of the women testified. He admitted he was out to hook up.

The woman who was a Stanford student got so drunk her friends, including the younger sister, left to take her back to her dorm, leaving the older sister alone slightly after midnight. Mistake. The victim has no memory of what happened, but we know from her cell records that she called her boyfriend on the East Coast and left an incoherent, rambling two-minute message.

Turner testified he asked the woman if she wanted to go back to his dorm, but once outside, they slipped and fell on a rough patch of ground--there were leaves and pine needles around--and they just started making out. He says he asked her at every step if she wanted to continue, and she said yes. So he rubbed her breasts and started fingering her sexually.

Next thing we know is about 1 a.m., when two Swedish graduate students cycled by on what's known as "Scary Path" because of its bumps and ruts.

They saw Turner thrusting his hips, dry humping a woman who was naked below the waist and appeared to be unconscious. One of them, Lars Peter Johnson, got off his bike, approached, and yelled at Turner "What the fuck do you think you're doing? She's unconscious."

Turner got up and ran. Johnson chased him down and held him on the ground while his friend Carl Arndt checked on the unconscious victim. Someone called 911. The police arrived and arrested Turner. They tested him and found DNA on his fingers that matched the victim.

The average person imprisoned for sexual penetration with a foreign object serves about 55 months, according to CDCR data. So Turner will still be a young man when he gets out of prison, but his life isn't likely to have a happy ending.

  • He was expelled from Stanford. He may be able to get a college degree, even while behind bars, but he won't be admitted to a medical school as he once dreamed.
  • He won't be an Olympic swimmer. USA Swimming bans sex offenders for life.
  • He won't be able to coach.
  • He faces lifetime registration as a sex offender. The only way to get out of it is to wait at least 10 years from the time he is released from custody, get a certificate of rehabilitation from a judge (requiring a lot of evidence) and have the governor pardon him. Even then, since he was convicted of multiple felonies, he'd need approval of the California Supreme Court.

Most likely, he'll go back to Dayton and live with his parents, who were extremely supportive during the trial.

A cursory reading of Ohio law indicates they may have to move, if they live within 1,000 feet of a school. Everyone in his neighborhood will know a sex offender lives there. Neighbors who know his parents probably will be supportive, but newcomers might not be.

Sex-offender registration is the scarlet letter of the 21st century.

Maybe his parents can set him up with some kind of job. Some woman might agree to marry him, but she'll know their children could be teased and hassled. He's a fool if he ever touches alcohol again.

Do I have any experience with his situation? A little. When I was at Stanford, many years ago, I remember a guy who talked a lot knocking on my door and telling me the girl in the room across the hall was totally drunk. I was studying and sober.

I went across the hall. Her door was unlocked. I lay next to her on a mattress and kissed her on the cheek. She smiled and said something to me, not coherently, and I realized I could probably do...whatever. I thought "this is wrong" and walked out.

I don't know what happened to her, but thinking back on it, I should have called an RA before the chatterbox gave the next guy the word.

We all know a lot of guys at many colleges could be found guilty of sexual assault too, except they weren't so drunkenly stupid as to take their victim near a bike path and be stopped by two grad students, whom Kianerci called "heroes."

But in many of those cases, there must have been witnesses at the party who could have stepped in before the man lured the woman to his room. They could have been heroes too.

 Some people say the solution is to teach boys, "don't rape." Definitely. But that's not totally going to solve the problem given the ubiquitous nature of alcohol and the hookup culture.

There were plenty of people around the KA party. Any one of them could have told the party organizers: "I saw this drunk guy go up to a girl (the victim's sister) and just randomly kiss her, you should get him out of here."  Or later, "Hey man, don't grab her hand and lead her away, she's drunk."

Parents and colleges should stress that every single person attending a campus party needs to take responsibility for watching out for everyone's welfare, especially people who are drunk. Keep women from being sexually assaulted and men from ruining their lives.


















Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ted Cruz proposes ban on hockey

Seeking to deflect the controversy over his Canadian birth, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz today proposed a partial ban on hockey.

"I have no sympathy for Canadian sports," the Texas senator said. "I believe Americans are exceptional and we should only watch our native sports, not foreign imports that are played with a hard rubber cylinder instead of a round American ball, eh?"

Under the Cruz plan, no federal support could be provided for community hockey rinks or for the men's and women's Olympic hockey teams.

In addition, 19 of the 23 National Hockey League teams based in the United States would be forced to disband. Only the four U.S.-based members of the NHL's famous Original Six--the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers--would be allowed to continue.

"I am a strong supporter of the theory of originalism propounded by the late Justice Antonin Scalia," Cruz said in explaining the exemption. "Unlike me, Donald Trump will nominate liberal Supreme Court justices who won't favor the original meaning and may even enjoy soccer."

Cruz was born in Canada but claims that because his mother was a U.S. citizen, he is eligible to become president under the Constitution, which specifies only "natural-born citizens" can qualify. Republican front-runner Trump disagrees and has threatened to sue Cruz so the issue can be decided, or to fight a duel with hairpieces as the weapon.




Besides Cruz, several other presidential candidates have made sports-related proposals.

Trump has decried the three-game suspension of Cincinnati's Vontaze Burfict for a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit on Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown and called for a return to the traditional NFL culture of total violence, even allowing players to return to games if they can't remember their names. He calls his plan "Make Football Great Again,"

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has proposed a ban on baseball interleague play, possibly because she doesn't want to have to face embarrassing questions about which team she actually roots for when the Chicago Cubs play the New York Yankees.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders refuses to watch any game involving a team owned by "the billionaire class," which means he can only view intrasquad scrimmages of the community-owned Green Bay Packers "and possibly the New York Mets, since the Wilpon family lost a lot of money to that greedy crook Bernie Madoff, who, I might add, I was suspicious of since 1991."

Florida Senator Marco Rubio frequently refers to his immigrant father, who fled from Cuba to the United States "because those are the only two countries in the hemisphere that like baseball better than soccer."

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has also made a detailed sports proposal, but no one seems to remember what it is.

<satire font>







Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lee Kershner 1928-2016


                                                       Lee Kershner, circa 1956 

Mother never did anything the conventional way.

Born Gloria Lee Pritchard, she decided as a girl she hated her first name and went by Lee. When she was twelve, she decided while on a swing she would have one boy and one girl and name them Vlae and Tempra--and she did. I believe my first name is unique.

As a teenager, she fearlessly roamed the ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago until late at night. At seventeen, she was an usher at a major production of "Porgy and Bess", which of course had an all-black cast. She developed a crush on one of the actors. She was told she was putting him in danger in an era when interracial relationships could get a black man killed. When she wouldn't stop talking with him, she was fired.

She dropped out of high school to marry an artist of Serbian descent, shocking her rather proper family, which was of English-Scotch origin by way of central Illinois farm country.

A few years later, she fell in love with my father, a window-display designer she had met while working at a department store. (Both my parents were quite talented at design, a trait lost on me). She divorced her husband to marry him. My father, dazzled, told me she had been as beautiful as Jackie Kennedy and as intelligent as Simone de Beauvoir, to which I might add, as willful as Katherine Hepburn.

Mother--we didn't call her Mom as adults--taught me to read when I was just two. As she tells the story, she was reading at a summer resort in the Indiana Dunes, when I came up and pointed in the book and said "What's dat?"

"That's an O," she said.

"Dat's another O," I said, pointing. By summer's end, I knew all the letters.  I could read the comics in the Chicago Tribune by the time I was four and of course was far above grade level when I got to school in the wind-sculpted Indiana Dunes, where we had moved full-time. There wasn't much choice other than to read--we weren't allowed to watch much TV.

Concerned about the quality of schools, my parents moved to the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, which had a society that put pressure on people to act in certain upwardly mobile ways. They reacted differently to those expectations, and their marriage was never the same.

Both my parents told me that God didn't exist, but we still celebrated both Jewish and Christian holidays, the one with Dad's side, the other with Mom's. We never invited both sides over at the same time. Mixed marriages and atheists were both unusual in the suburbs back then. My fifth-grade teacher became so disturbed when I said I didn't have a religion that she telephoned Mother for an explanation.

In the early 1960s, with two young children, Mother went back to work, first as a secretary at Northwestern University business school. I had one of the few moms at Ravinia School who worked. Next, she and my father started a gift shop in Highland Park, William & Lee Ltd., which offered the first turquoise jewelry sold in the area. Later, she became executive secretary (and de facto leader) of the Chicago Farmers Association, satisfying her passion for the preservation of rural America.

In 1966, we rented a gentleman's farm in Half Day (which doesn't exist legally anymore), on the banks of the Des Plaines River. My sister had a horse, I had a motorbike and canoe. We had a pool. We couldn't really afford it, but that was living!

My parents were intelligent people, devoted to making sure their children got the secure childhoods and paid-for college educations they didn't. However, their personalities were volatile and they got into huge, scary fights, fueled by alcohol. They divorced in the early 1980s, but continued to see each other socially until my father died in 1997. Neither remarried. It was a true love-hate relationship.

In retirement in Las Cruces, N.M., Mother got involved in land use and immigration issues, supporting the expansion of parks and the Mexican American community. Her politics turned around twice: She went from near-communist in her youth to a pro-Reagan member of the Republican women's club in Lake Forest, Ill., to a supporter of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders (even though she opposed same-sex marriage).

She always dressed well, kept her weight, and was expert in the arts of makeup. About ten years ago, when she and her Aunt Tee were walking together in Las Vegas, a young woman came up and said "I won't mind getting old if I can look as good as you two."

Late in life, she took up genealogy. She could trace her family back to the Mayflower, and had ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War. Her great-grandfather Tandy Pritchard, believed to be one-quarter Choctaw, fought for the Union at Vicksburg.

The last time I visited, in early January, Mother, who had stayed at 110 pounds for sixty years, was losing weight and knew something was wrong. A couple weeks later, she was diagnosed with cancer  She had talked for many years about how she would not get into a situation where her mind or body deserted her. She had squirreled away some narcotics, and told us she was going to end her life.

My sister and I urged her to at least get a proper prognosis to see if treatment would help, but she rejected the idea and told us not to come visit. A few days later, she took her life, alone, at age 87. It seemed as though she almost welcomed the cancer as it gave her impetus to ensure she would never become dependent on anyone.

I think it's better to give a likely-fatal disease a good fight for awhile, if only to make loved ones feel better. But ask me again when the time comes.

She was one of a kind. Along with many people in Illinois, New Mexico, and elsewhere whose lives she touched, I'll miss her.




                         Clockwise from top: William, Lee, Tempra, Vlae, Christmas 1962 

I love this photo from when Polaroids were the hot new technology. It seemed like magic--I ran over to the camera and waited 60 seconds for the image to be developed!


Here is her obituary in the Las Cruces Sun-News. With a few additions, it's just as she wrote it and gives a sense of how she thought. You can also sign the guest book.