Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Have you noticed the bracketing effect? There was a time when my Nieces and Nephews called me just plain “Annette.” Then they began calling me “Aunt Annette” (or “Aunt Pop,” as in Poppins, or other arcane, family favorites). And then one day, when my oldest nephew towered over me, I noticed that he dropped the “Aunt,” and I didn’t argue the point. But I didn’t ask him why, and so I’m left wondering.
I have one family of “grands” who call me just plain “Aunt.” (And don’t let anyone tell you that isn’t heartwarming.) I like to think it’s because they see me as the very definition of Aunthood, the “Cher” of Aunts for whom like all single-name celebrities, one name is enough. But they are too young to ask, and so I’m left wondering.
The children of friends often call me Aunt because their parents tell them to do so. These are balanced by friends’ children whom I did not meet until they were adults and they don’t call me Aunt. My college roommate’s son, for instance, calls me “A,” a nickname I had hoped would die when his mother and I reached voting age. There are other people who make such a point of insuring that their fully grown up children call me Aunt that it makes me wonder whether there’s a message, not an entirely positive one, in the title.
“To Aunt or not to Aunt,” then seems to be the question. And it might be open to just as many interpretations as Hamlet’s “To be or not to be”. Nieces and Nephews have their reasons why they do, or don’t, use an Aunt’s title. Aunts have their own, often quite different, reasons for wanting or not wanting their title to be used. Parents have their reasons for urging their children to use or not use an Aunt’s title. It begins to look like there could one day be a college catalogue listing an advanced sociology course entitled “The Aunt in Context: an exploration of the use of the title and what it reveals about the sociological structure of the extended family.” The following lists, however, are offered on a strictly not for credit basis.
Times When Aunts May Want To Use Their Title
When stopped for speeding…..as in “Because, Officer, my nephew Danny just called me and said, ‘Aunt Jean, Mom isn’t home yet and the coach said that if I’m late for practice, he’ll never let me play in Little League again.'”
When her Nephew is stopped for speeding…..as in “Because, Officer, my nephew Danny was just asking me, “Do you think this is too fast, Aunt Jean?”
When she’s having an IRS audit…..as in “Then I said, ‘Children, how many times has Aunt Julie told you not to use that box of receipts for making cut outs!’…but it was too late.”
Times When They May Not…….
When she is being introduced to her Niece’s urbane and sophisticated literature professor who just happens to look like Liam Neeson…..as in “I’m Victoria’s Aunt Ethel”
On her office door….as in “It should be obvious.”
On her business card…..as in (See above.)
Times When an Aunt May Want to Hear Her Title Used
When she has had six straight 14-hour days at work and feels like a working machine and thinks the phrase, “Get a life,” is not funny.
When she is being introduced to her Niece’s/Nephew’s friends and knows the title is being used to say “You’ll never believe it but this cool human being — for an adult — is my actual Aunt.”
When it is used to accompany another title, such as, “This is my friend, Aunt Barbara.”
Times When She May Not……
The day she has noticed her first wrinkle
The day she has noticed her Niece/Nephew noticing her first wrinkle
The day she gets her first unsolicited letter from The American Association of Retired Persons/AARP
All Capital Letters are considered rude. But the headline for this Sunday’s walk together might sound similarly cross or dictatorial. Let that just underscore the difficulty of finding a brief few words to capture the topic suggested for our conversation by the past week’s events. Take it that this observer of Street Seens has lately been a sort of semi-shut-in continuing the daunting task of liberating her home from the tyranny of papers and all the other things that have, over the years, disguised themselves and crept in to files and folders naively labeled “Keepers.” Join me in affirming that since there are no coincidences in life these fragments that floated to the surface last week could have the potential to enrich kindly readers as much as they have me.
The happy news is that I stumbled upon, found or resurrected some marvelous jewels that I will now share with you and hope you find them soul-nourishing, or laugh provoking, eloquent, renewing or just plain great to come upon as second chances to savor something worth remembering.
Think of what Proust made out of the remembered fragrance of madeleines! And speaking of Proust, that’s as good a place as any from which to start. Once upon a time, now nearly three years past, I sat across the aisle on a Southwest flight to Chicago and when, towards the end of our flight, I could no longer restrain my amazement, said to the man sitting across the aisle that I could not help but note that he was reading Proust. “Have you seen Alain de Botton’s wonderful book on How Proust Can Change Your Life?, I asked. He had not, and so I resolved to get the book to him.
Then life intervened, and I could not safely send the book to Tom Post who had moved on from his office at Forbes. Next, in a notable non-coincidence I stumbled upon news of this amazing person on LinkedIn and learned that he is an Author and SVP Content Strategist for a firm that offers counselling to client executives on the art of “storytelling” that lies at the very heart of successful marketing. Now, I need to find a bricks and mortar bookstore that will set up what I hope will begin an alliance between two champions of highly imaginative insight captured in the pages of a book that qualifies as a definite “keeper.” I even found the handwritten note from Mr. Post that recommended how I might take some next steps in my own pursuit of writing.
This mixed bag of sayings and observations came via radio waves, file folders, television interviews, pulpits and sources as varied as they are unsurprising to this person who becomes surer by the moment that there are no coincidences.
Hudson, Ohio is a singular place and it was a reference from Hudson-born Farrell Fitch-Cosmas that made me take a second look at a print-out I requested her to find about her childhood neighbor from Hudson. The New Yorker “Double Take” that (again no coincidence!) was entitled, Magnificent Jewels featured a multi-carat square cut sapphire (making it in my estimation, a double-barreled “no-coincidence”) signaled the magazine’s offering of “Eighty-Five from the Archive: Ian Frazier.” And so, I rescued for the real “Keepers” file an addition to the many “Shouts and Murmurs” written by Frazier that have given me so many laughs courtesy of one described as a master of “the tough representation of Idiocy.” That same humorist also said, “Words are charms…It’s like a song you didn’t know you knew.”
Writing in a different vein of the death of Crazy Horse, Frazier told of the Chief’s refusal to lie on an army cot when he breathed his last. Lying on the floor of an Army office, Ian Frazier described him and the scene in these words,” With his body he demonstrated that the floor of an Army office was part of the land, and that the land was still his.” It fortified my own conviction regarding the proposal by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to rescind President Obama’s order to protect Native Americans’ sacred lands and instead “return them to the states.” That, I think, goes what might be paraphrased as “a bridge not far enough.” Wouldn’t it be far better to return them to their original occupants?
On the positive side of the ledger during the semi-imprisonment imposed by the work of “clearing” was the chance to hear a video interview with Walter Isaacson. The iconic media executive and biographer of giants such as Einstein and Steve Jobs ended a conversation with an encouraging observation that is especially consoling in our turbulent times. He expressed his belief that in the worst of times (and he cited the period of McCarthyism, when lies were the rule of the day) that there seems to be a saving “gyroscope” at the heart of our brave adventure of democracy, that somehow rights our nation and resets it on its path to achieving its Founders’ hopes. I think I remember that Isaacson told his readers that the last word of Steve Jobs, was “Wow.” I choose to believe that that leaves us realizing that the great inventor, at the end, came face to face with the Supreme Creator. And was in awe.
Last Sunday was observed as “Good Shepherd Sunday” and so in the Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer, the gathered community heard the following words from the Gospel of John. They came as the climax of a description of the contrast of a true shepherd committed to the safety of the sheep, “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” That is the motto of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, who since 1849 have been dedicated to going wherever there is need, from the streets of Beziers France, to classrooms, court rooms, community centers, hospitals, even the United Nations offices for NGOs. I don’t need files or papers to have those words be a permanent part of my life.
Some of the words I found written or recurring in memory during this period of winnowing through the records and memories embodied in the “too much paper masquerading as things I need to keep” evokes smiles, and even laughter. For example, the brilliant James Agee’s observation in his novel, A Death in the Family. There, the central figure characterizes the difficulties of speaking with his brother in these words, “It’s like putting socks on an octopus.” Every bit as memorable as his script for African Queen!
So, the challenge of “socking” the octopus of 8+ years of excessive “saving” continues. I celebrate the validated “keepers” and promise myself that I will use them as the litmus test of future “data storage.” And I remember the innocent remark of a young man struggling under the weight of the too many books a friend had hired him to remove from the fourth-floor walk-up he was leaving, “You know, Mister, all this information would weigh a lot less if it were in your head (or I might add, in your heart), and not in books.”
With all due respect to actual librarians, archivists and the Library of Congress, I think he got it right. Stay tuned, and wish me well…preferably, verbally or via mental telepathy.
Even as I write those words, I conclude that a gerund just isn’t up to the challenge. It’s the lovely conjunction of Easter and Passover, so I want to write about Hope. That requires an active verb. Something with muscle, with courage. Because Hope is hard work. But so worth it.
The kind of Hope I celebrate today is many things. Here are some signs that will help you tell the real thing from the counterfeits. Running through them is the image of light. The lunar calendar reminds us that the great celebrations of hope are dated from the appearance of the Full Moon and the number of days that follow it and the coming of Spring. Hope then is a lightsome thing. A brilliance that comes to banish darkness.
For starters, it is as different from daydreaming as thinking about the need to exercise is from going to the gym and doing it; as getting on the bike and pedaling; as getting into the pool and swimming those laps. At its best, hope moves us to do something and not just think of how good it would/will/might be to do it.
Hope is forward-looking, but the goal should be neither myopic nor measured in light years. And the validity test is that it usually involves taking some kind of action. It is the hunger to sit in the shade on a hot day that comes with today’s planting of a shade tree; or pricing and ordering the retractable canopy to install above the patio table. Wishing that you had done what your neighbors did three years ago definitely doesn’t qualify.
Hope is courageous. It is the decision of bereaved parents to donate their child’s organs so that other people’s children might live. It is the military veteran’s acceptance of a prosthetic limb and the determination to walk again.
There are heroes of hope, but be aware they are more about overcoming real reluctance than Hollywood hype. They include the Moses who had a moment of Hollywood ending when the basket in which he was floated to escape a purge of Jewish children came to rest near a royal enclosure and he became a Prince of Egypt. But that didn’t last and soon this reluctant hero was recruited by a God he only heard, but never saw, to go back to where there was a price on his head and galvanize thousands of people to follow him and thereby escape slavery. At a time when he probably didn’t even know whether he was a failed Prince or one of them, he had to figure out how to be eloquent in spite of his speech impediment and convince these masses as reluctant as he, to follow him to a better life. And when, some four decades later he didn’t even get to go with them into the promised haven, he didn’t whine or sulk.
Or consider the reluctant hero who gave up his carpentry practice to walk the byways of a divided land wracked with political divisions and convince the people he met that this essentially homeless man was telling the truth about a better life. That it was within their reach and didn’t involve overthrowing one despotic regime for another. He was betrayed by his best friends, picked a successor who turned out to be an abysmal failure but to whom he never said, “You’re fired.” Since hope often calls for bravery, in the course of meeting a deeply degrading end, He was even brave enough to express some passing hopes that He could be spared its tragic ending. But setting a high bar for the greatest of heroes, He kept to the script, met its demands, and never lost His gift for loving even the unlovable.
But lest we be discouraged, or lose sight of the road immediately before us where most of the demands for hope are met, let us recall that all of the demands for hope that are met are to be celebrated and applauded. Tales of tragic heroes and heroines should not make us forget that Hope often involves humor. One of the infallible signs of its presence is the ability to laugh at ourselves. It happens when having over-promised and under-delivered we can see the situation for what it is and understand the wise advice from John Chancellor which I invoked in our very first joint exploration of “Street Seens.” Remembering it as I remove the current egg on my face I hear again the words, “if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” So, I join in the Divine Good Humor and am reminded that, a good laugh is one of the languages of hope.
With renewed respect for the gerund I devalued, here’s hoping that in the words of a favorite Irish toast come true for you as I wish, “May the best days of your past be the worst days of your future.”
“I’m trying to avoid listening to the news lately.”
“I ask my Mother/Husband/Wife not to turn on the TV in the morning.”
Have you been hearing comments like these lately? I have. And I’m struck by the fact that they come, mostly unsolicited, from an amazing range of speakers: varied in their ages, educational backgrounds, ethnic origins. Taken together, they suggest an atmosphere of concern or anxiety that moves a remarkable diversity of people to come together to present a remarkably unified picture.
Since I am one of those people, I feel a certain responsibility to try to figure out what is going on. What is the undercurrent felt along such a wide spectrum? And how can I rise to the challenge and warning I’ve heard from no less a soul than Socrates, that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” On the face of it, the beginning might be to invite the person who has told me of his/her decision, to consider how he/she and I might make some positive response: come together to seek a “better way” of filling up what is wanting in the silent zone we have created.
For me, it all came back to silence, and why, when, and whether I am using it as an option to anxiety; or as the ostrich alternative of not looking instead of analyzing; or as simple relief from dealing with a flood of diversion that interrupts an honest effort to understand. All those leave out the issue of “what next”?
What about this new silence? How can I start to make it a plus rather than simply a minus? I started by revisiting the lyrics of the classic Simon and Garfunkel song The Sounds of Silence that became a sort of anthem in the 60s. To my surprise, a careful reading of the lyric portrays silence as a sort of isolation. Shutting out the din, but not really replacing it with a positive alternative. But I don’t think that is what all the folks currently avoiding the bombardment of news really symbolize.
For many of us, the impulse to stop our ears to one more report of diversion or one more “answer” that has nothing to do with the question hungering to be answered, there is a deep-seated longing for sanity to triumph. Like the green shoots poking their brave little heads above the earth in this urban village on a raw and rainy April morning, there is some sense that we need not let hope be stolen.
In a world more “contained” than the multi-media reality shows that try to convince us that the Emperor has clothes, Emily Dickinson looked out her Amherst window and saw that
Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all, And sweetest in the gale is heard; And sore must be the storm That could abash the little bird That kept so many warm.”
Now there’s a twitter worth hearing.
Next, I went back to a file of treasured “keepers” and there found an essay by the writer Pico Iyer on the Eloquence of Silence that he wrote in the 1990s. Another green shoot of hope. In it he notes that “We all know how treacherous are words, and how often we use them to paper over embarrassment, or emptiness, or fear of the larger spaces that silence brings.” He quotes a young Nigerian novelist who observed that when chaos is the god of an era “clamorous music is the deity’s chief instrument.”
Judging from my own increasingly challenging wish to maintain workable levels of optimism and serenity I am coming down on the side of eloquent silence. I am heartened by Iyer’s common sense observations that while words can push us to “positions we do not really hold, the imperatives of chatter; words are what we use for lies, false promises and gossip. We babble with strangers; with intimates, we can be silent.”
So, I am not going to question or regret my decision or that of so many friends and neighbors to disconnect from the babble from time to time. We are in good company with the Quakers of our world, or the Thomas Mertons. I love that Iyer calls silence “an ecumenical state, beyond the doctrines and divisions created by the mind.” I will trust that on a day when nuclear options – legislative and technological – threaten, it can prepare the soil for the sort of reasoned dialogue for which its opposites create such a profound yearning.
And even if his name is Mr. Turvy, (who knew there were so many magical Uncles in the six sequels P.L. Travers wrote from 1934 to 1989!) I firmly believe he is the Mary Poppins relative who can be credited with the rare gift of being able to fix “everything but broken hearts.” And more to the point, I have evidence that he is alive and well and working in this urban village’s zip code.
Here’s how you can recognize the aforementioned “fixer.” When you have an issue that has no obvious “go to” person to address it, you decide on a sort of hunch, that you will listen to the third-party endorsements of your neighbors. Or you might just decide to launch a test balloon to see whether Marco or Nick or Lyle might have some talent developed in their primary businesses that would prepare them not to laugh when you come to them with an unpredictable request.
Nick Bender of Ciel Bicycles
In short, these are the “tip-offs” that a local entrepreneur is living proof that Uncle Albert lives. And better still that he can invest that skill in providing unexpected solutions to your problems. Here are some examples. A person in this village depends upon well engineered crutches to support the mobility of her amazingly active life of teaching and socializing. Now here’s the surprise “Uncle Albert” effect. She told me that one of the vital secrets for her peace of mind and security is found in the unlikely precincts of a bicycle shop. A bicycle shop?
Having been launched into the realm of the unexpected by her fulsome praise of the bicycle shop and its proprietor, I had a lightbulb moment. I can’t imagine how the cycling expert has helped my neighbor. But I can imagine how a cycling guru might be able to solve a problem closer to home. Now that I look at them with my neighbor’s insight, I notice that the cables that allow a bicycle to put on the brakes have a remarkable similarity to those that keep a walking device from rolling down the length of a city bus, destroying its value as a defense mechanism. The wise advice of a practical therapist was that such a device was a handy way to protect against the extreme enemies of navigation to be met on the streets of this urban village. It functions as a sort of “wake up call” to distracted walkers focused on texting and makes sidewalks ravaged by subway construction less challenging.
That’s what brought me to Ciel Bicycle Stores to meet Nick Bender, the Uncle Albert of two-wheeled devices and all their supporting mechanics. Believing it was worth a try, I stopped at the shop on East 65th Street and wondered aloud whether the bicycle/rollator relationship was worth pursuing. Fortunately, I thereby found by just opening the door, a Brown University alumnus who decided to apply his pre-med degree to a more varied set of mobility issues. While I sat, and became the center of a most energetic frolic of the resident French Bulldog Pogli, and his current amour, a 4-month old kitten, Nick worked his magic and I set off with my reborn/re-secured “Rolls Royce.”
On a return trip to take some Android photos, I found Nick at work on what he said was his favorite sort of project, one he describes as “finding a way to solve a problem for which there is no easy solution.” Nick was at work rebuilding a gear changing mechanism that the manufacturer placed at a lower level and the bike owner wanted to have nearer the handle bars. But that would not be achievable by just moving the gear from point A to point B. So, Nick figured out that he would have to build a new gear mechanism from scratch. He had just achieved that when I visited Ciel. That’s the thing about “Uncle Alberts”: they specialize in creative answers to unexpected questions. So, evolution moves on and the son of two physicians imagines and performs highly imaginative operations. www.cielbikes.com/
Marco Andrade of Marco Shoe Repair
I call Marco “the Uncle Albert” of shoe repair. Like Mary Poppins’ uncle he seems truly to be able to fix everything but broken hearts. And I wouldn’t rule that out, given his unfailing “can do” attitude. When his own heart was broken by the fact that his beloved dog Chulo’s walker dropped his leash when threatened by Upper East Side traffic, Chulo disappeared into the winter snow and traffic.
But true “Uncle Alberts” don’t retreat into regret. So, Marco prepared a flyer with Chulo’s photo, contact numbers and the promise of a “Good Reward,” and papered the streets and local newspapers with them. Many weeks later the phone rang and a kind woman who lived in the West Village reported that she had seen the ad, and thereby rejoiced that she had solved the mystery of how this obviously cherished pet had found his way to her door and would soon enjoy a homecoming. “Soon” was an understatement. Marco turned the key in his shop door and virtually flew the scores of blocks to reclaim a pal as resourceful as he.
Marco Andrade, the craftsman whose eponymous shoe repair establishment is to be found on Second Avenue near 63rd Street, descended from the Third Avenue shop presided over by his father. When Marco opted to move here from his native Ecuador with dreams of attending art school, his father urged him to pursue a different form of creativity. As one who had himself been first a mechanic and next a self-taught photographer, Marco’s father taught his son the shoemaker’s art. Although Marco now sketches and draws at every opportunity, he earns his living and his customer’s gratitude as an artist in repair and reconstruction.
I met Marco when I dared to present a handbag so ancient it could, if human, had qualified to vote. In its long life, the once elegant black cross body bag with just the right number of compartments, had visited dozens of airports and trade shows, freeing my hands and allowing me to negotiate the various challenges of life on the streets of our urban village and the mind-numbing demands of convention centers in more than a handful of states. Noting that Marco advertised an ability to “repaint” the soles of shoes that started life with a certain crimson designer panache (or any other you might prefer). Again, the phrase, “It may be worth a try” brought me in Marco’s door. And once again, I found a craftsman who didn’t laugh but threw himself into the miraculous transformation of a gently greying leather bag reborn as a glamorously black 21st century beauty.
That was just the tip of the iceberg. When a well-meaning friend insisted that my walking companion of a “Rolls Royce” would indeed fit into the sleek trunk of her sleek little car and smilingly slammed down the trunk lid, I was left with a paraplegic. And then, you guessed it, Marco to the rescue. “I can fix that,” he said when “the patient” and I went to his shop to collect the shoes he had brought from torturous to downright comfy. And fix it, he did, revealing the unique combination of the mechanic’s skills and the artist’s eye that he inherited, and now advances every day. If this were a math formula, I would interrupt the narrative by noting: Point Two of the Uncle Albert Recognition standards: For him, nothing is impossible!
My discovery of another “Uncle Albert”, this one named Lyle, occurred when I first began writing Street Seens. I told our publisher that I was so curious about the gardens that “frame” my landmark parish Church of St. Vincent Ferrer. When she determined that I knew nothing about how any garden grows, she warned me that the creator of our nearby horticultural miracles did not seem to be eager for self-promotion; and she warned me that he might be more interested in speaking with his trees, shrubs and flowers than in being interviewed by me. Warned, but not deterred I approached Lyle Steele one August day and asked if he might consider answering a few questions about the genesis and flourishing of the gardens so many find enriching, inspiring and altogether amazing.
The Garden at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer
I offered to put together a few questions he might consider. Not only did he not laugh at me and my amateur’s questions, but he returned to me multiple pages of pure gold, marked by everything from impish humor to sensitivity to the surprising description of what he called the “community” over which he presides, and how it challenges and rewards him. Having begun by saying it was like presiding over a group of mischievous school children, he amended the description to say that it was perhaps more like presiding over a community of homicidal sex maniacs, all bent on grabbling the most of sun, soil and space for themselves and their relentless drive to reproduce. That definitely got my attention. There it was: proof positive that I had found an “Uncle Albert” of garden design.
Like our other two, this “Uncle Albert” came to his current niche from a world far away: that of publishing in the prestigious world of Manhattan-based business media/publishing. I was learning that it takes bold and brave decisions to release one’s inner Uncle Albert. I will invite you to return to the archives of www.womanaroundtown.com to revisit the story that grew from a summertime exploration of his responses to my questions and his lyrical insight about the history and growth of the six gardens that are his gift to our urban village. (Maybe he illustrates why I associate the Uncle Albert gift with the laughing Ed Wynn character in the film Mary Poppins!)
Which brings us to a third tell-tale sign that you have encountered an Uncle Albert (even though his website reads www.lylesteelecustomgardens.com). He doesn’t laugh at you when you suggest exploring a new path of inquiry or discovery or doubt that he will find, plant and grow the “holy grail of lotus” on East 65th Street.
And like the other magical spirits portrayed here, he does deal in fixing everything, including broken hearts. I learned that recently, when he invited his list of email contacts to join him in a search for new homes for the two elegant Siamese-blend cats a dear friend had to part with when moving to an assisted living facility. The last time our paths crossed, he was braving the cold winter weather to meet with a potential adopter of his dear friend’s cats. May that hope have taken root and bloomed, as does all that he touches in the gardens that touch me and his grateful neighbors in our urban village.
One week ago, on a Saint Patrick’s Day spent here in the Manhattan of my adulthood, the urban village in New York City where we regularly meet, a parade of memories and impressions flooded into my mind. The theme unifying them was the difference between division and difference. That’s especially important since we are all meeting, seeing and living with the fallout of hyphenation in the America of 2017.
Not surprisingly, Irish-American came to mind as a 200-plus year old parade of examples of what that hyphenation stands for, made its way up Fifth Avenue between walls of snowbanks deposited by the week’s earlier blizzard. Behind banners naming counties that divide the land of the single Island of Ireland, but increasingly do not divide thoughtful people who take their stand on the productive truth that difference, when embraced, can enrich the hearts and minds of people who differ in large ways and small.
I must confess that I did/do not delight in all the symbols adopted to express the hyphenated reality of Americans defining themselves by their ties to Ireland. So, as a registered/card (or passport)-carrying hyphenate I give myself leave to register my reaction to some of the activities I observed on Saint Patrick’s Day 2017. And to comment on them knowing I do not speak for Ireland or the US.
A prime example was the “greening” of the pond in front of a White House designed by a brilliant architect who can only be described as an immigrant (from Ireland). I would have wished that the architect of the 2017 greening of that pond might have redirected the funds and a very well-funded propaganda machine would have been applied to life-saving work to cure the lethal water supply of Flint, Michigan and elsewhere. Or to “walk back” the potentially devastating dismantling of standards that honor and respect the sacredness of waters our land’s original dwellers experience as ritually holy.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am a hyphenate, in fact several: a first- generation Irish-American thanks to a mother born and grown to young adulthood, much in the period before six of the 32 counties of her birth island took on a new and separate name (hyphen omitted at that time, in a political climate de-emphasized later by President Mary Robinson). The other half of my hyphenated self owes its debt to a second-generation son of Ireland who grew to young adulthood in rural and later urban Illinois. He served in the U.S. Army in a war still judged to be in opposition to an evil even more evil than war itself.
So, they became a hyphenated couple with four hyphenated offspring including this late appearing addition who went on to serve Ireland’s Trade Board in New York City. As a dual citizen with undivided loyalties I went on to form a marketing communications practice privileged to position and promote world class brands to their global constituencies. One case in point was an invention for which the hyphenate hand-held was a selling point for what at that point was the world’s first wind-and sun-powered generator. The only division those multiple hyphens were inserted to establish was between the Hymini and any other gadget that claimed to be “just as good as.” They illustrated the positive values of being hyphenated, as my parents’ choices and commitments illustrated in my own life. I lived every day my life with the gift of knowing that I was blessed by the fact that two people who were from significantly different worlds found wondrous ways of tapping into the strengths of both to give their children the gift of a hyphenated inheritance.
My professional life got a similarly rich gift of insight about Happy Hyphenation from a treasured mentor who gave me advice that enlightens me even today as to the path to the high road of distinctions that differentiate but do not divide. The late Tom Kennedy had become a friend before becoming a colleague. He was a man who defined and secured the profile of Ireland’s national air carrier, Aer Lingus, on the map in the United States. One of the coups he achieved was the NBC Today Show’s high visibility week of programming in Ireland. His partner in planning and achieving that was a Greek-American NBC producer Bill Cosmas.
As a neophyte PR agency person, I shared a tiny office and a “forever” friendship with Bill’s wife Farrell Fitch. That brought me my first invitation to an annual Greek Saint Patrick’s Day party of mythic, if not indeed of Olympian proportions. Grape leaves and Guinness shared the table with Irish smoked salmon and moussaka. At one of these, I told Tom of my decision to put off the launch of my own company and to join Coras Trachtala, becoming the semi-government Irish agency’s marketing communications voice in the U.S. His response? “Ah, that’s grand. And you will make a great success of it ….so long as you remember you’re an outsider!”
Now decades later, I still honor that advice as the best possible wisdom to convey to any job starter. And last week, awash among memories, it still stands out as wisdom that can enrich all “hyphenates.” As the Irish are fond of saying Tom “got it in one.” He cut to the chase and illuminated in a sentence the crucial distinction between what differentiates and what divides.
The starting place for that achievement is to recognize that you don’t have to try to pass yourself off as “just like all the rest of you” to be united and useful. Turns out you are much more useful to any corporate (or social, or familial) enterprise if you respect your differences and see them as something that feeds the work or group or society you have joined. It’s what nourishes the impulse to honor the clear-eyed realization that a bit of distance can lend a lot of enchantment when “the outsider” does not fall into the trap of mistaking a faction for a family; or a political point of view du jour for the building of a company’s inclusive identity.
The memories that day also included the honor of being named an honorary Oglala Sioux one summer when three Marymount classmates spent a summer as volunteers at the Mother Butler Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, Rosebud and Pine Ridge. Indulgently, one of the residents there explained some of the surprising surnames of our summer program students telling us that they reflected the custom of naming a child for the first thing the Father observed upon the birth of that child. Pearl Grey Cloud, Cecil White Bull or Freddy One Feather for example. She went on to say to me that since my father was unavailable to veto the choice, I might be called “Smiling Face.”
Sounds good to me. In fact, it’s the exact expression that was generated by my deepened understanding that there’s no justification for any mistrust of ethnic hyphenates. In this lovely mosaic of a country, everyone, except our Native Americans is a hyphenate.
Today’s conversation is about how a 20th Century Dominican Priest and world respected sculptor, went into a studio and created a Jubilant portrait in bronze of the 13th Century founder of the Franciscans that is currently presiding over Chicago’s Water Tower Place in the office of a Jesuit University’s Vice Chancellor, John Costello, SJ.
But don’t mistake it for one of those predictable jokes that begins, “a priest and a rabbi went into a bar, and………”
That is not to say that Thomas McGlynn, O.P. would not have savored the humor of how his study of Saint Francis, begun in the last few years of his amazing life, continues to surprise so many years later.
St. Francis of Assisi by Thomas McGlynn, O.P.
I first became aware of Father Mc Glynn’s work at my parish Church and his, at the time of his death in 1977 – the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer on 66th Street and Lexington Avenue, in the “urban village” we explore together in our weekly Street Seens.
I saw the astounding Baptismal Font he created for the church’s Baptistry, where it sits in a circular room on a floor whose marble undulates with stylized waves that suggest the waters of the River Jordan where John the Baptist conducted his baptisms of repentance, one of them for his cousin Jesus.
On the day in 1933 when he sailed for Rome to study art, a New York Times photograph of Father McGlynn, in Dominican habit, showed him simulating the last strokes that completed the sculptures of angels supporting the Baptismal Font. A different and more deeply human face, also sculpted by McGlynn, is in the nearby shrine of St. Martin de Porres, the gentle young 17th Century Peruvian who came to the Dominican community in Lima as a porter and cooperating brother, too modest to aspire to the priesthood.
Thomas McGlynn, O.P.
Not many yards away in the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, Our Lady of Fatima may look familiar. With good reason. By the time his fame had begun to spread, Father McGlynn was commissioned by a company that requested images of saints from respected artists that they deemed worthy of copying for wide distribution. Father McGlynn agreed and opted to do, among others, a study of Our Lady of Fatima. Someone who saw it offered to have the sculptor travel to Portugal to meet the surviving visionary, Sister Lucy, and listen to her recount her eyewitness experience.
In the course of this rare encounter she told him her personal memory of how “the lady” appeared to her and a companion, and she shared the experience of being visited by a gentle lady that urged them to be messengers of peace as their 20th Century world was erupting in revolution and war. Based on that testimony, Father McGlynn abandoned his original sculpture and created one faithful to Sister Lucy’s unique report. It has influenced many if not most of the Lady of Fatima images seen everywhere to this day.
Father McGlynn’s history included years when he lived in Pietrasanta, widely recognized as the ultimate center of marble sculpture. This is the town where Michelangelo motivated the building of a road to carry its pure and beautiful marble to his Rome and a wider world. In the place sought out by his great friend Jacques Lipchitz and other giants of modern sculpture “Padre Tom” became a fixture, a sort of beloved parish priest in the lives and the sensibilities of the people.
His sculptural works include popes, prophets, presidents and saints; biblical events and history’s giants that are to be found in collections around the globe. Which, of course, brings us back to Chicago. Pietrasanta’s “Padre Tom” had become known and respected by the designers who were preferred partners of builders and developers responsible for the installation of some of the creative designs of the most memorable urban fountains.
Thomas McGlynn’s Sketch for the Central Court Fountain
One of these entered McGlynn’s life in the late 1960s, when William F. Hartnett, the owner of Lake Point Towers on Chicago’s famous Lake Shore Drive, began to pursue a dream. Hartnett hoped that his building’s central court fountain would become the place to have executed a unique tribute to Saint Francis of Assisi.
The poet sculptor McGlynn was commissioned to submit plans on how he might capture Hartnett’s dream. He began sketching plans, poems and drawings envisioning how he might create a Hymn of the Universe in words that portrayed the saint of the poor and of animals and all the glories of God’s creation.
Fortunately for us, Father McGlynn’s vision is preserved in the book Thomas McGlynn Priest and Sculptor. In its pages, Saint Francis’ lines in his Canticle of the Creatures are shown with the preliminary sketches the sculptor made in the 1960s near the end of his life. In its pages, we see how the dreams of building owner and priest-sculptor converged as Hartnett’s hope began to take shape in sketches preserved in the book published in 1981 by Providence College Press.
In the sadly, out of print book by Dominican Richard A. (Father Ambrose) McAlister, O.P., we can see the early studies showing an exuberantly joyful Francis, created to be the central conductor figure in a symphonic sculpture. Sandaled feet on tiptoe he stands as conductor, drawing together all creation’s glories. With baton raised and cincture unable to resist the momentum of his joy, Francis conducts a Hymn of the Universe. Stretching to catch the music of “Brother Sun, Sister Moon and the Stars,” of a young woman, little children and a glorious population of animals and celestial beauties, he calls forth their beauty and harmony.
Hartnett’s dream failed to come to full reality, but not before an edition of ten 13-inch sculptures of Saint Francis, as Maestro, were completed. Hartnett secured one of them to give as a gift to his Uncle Frank Pennino. Upon his death, Pennino bequeathed his Saint Francis to Loyola University Chicago’s Museum of Art (LUMA) for its Martin D’Arcy Gallery.
Two views of St. Francis of Assisi by Thomas McGlynn
One day, when Father John Costello knew that the Mass he celebrated each day with a small community of LUC Law School students and faculty would be attended by a parishioner of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York (where the sculptor lay in state before his 1977 funeral Mass), he contacted the LUMA curator and secured a short-term loan of McGlynn’s Saint Francis to be displayed to the 21st Century worshippers. That short term has now been extended to help realize the dream shared by both Hartnett and McGlynn that the generosity of the late Frank Pennino brought to new life.
In the words of his pro-tem host, Father Costello said of the LUMA figure kept near the Chicago venue of Hartnett’s dream, “Indeed he is the saint who came to visit, picked up the baton, went on the road briefly for Mass with visitors from his one-time NYC parish, and returned to the stage in my office where from the 15th floor overlooking the Water Tower throngs below, he continues to conduct. I’d hate to interrupt him….and am sure he’d appreciate a good review.
I have a feeling he’s getting just that from a Priest and Sculptor known to have had a delightfully wry sense of humor.
Opening photo: Tau wooden cross in shape of the letter t (religious symbol of St. Francis of Assisi). Bigstock by Shutterstock.
Woman Around Town wishes to thank Father John Maria Devaney, OP for his story “An Obedient Artist” and for securing a loan of “Thomas McGlynn: Priest and Sculptor, ” written by Fr. Ambrose McAlister, O.P. and published by Providence College Press in 1981, from which images and references were drawn. And, of course, Father John Costello, SJ Jesuit host to the Franciscan Saint, who symbolizes the Dominican calling to serve as an itinerant preacher
Jurisprudence and crime detection suffered a great loss when the young Theodore Tyberg chose to follow his roots to Belgium and the study of medicine.
I learned that early last week when we met to speak in his corner office at New York Cardiology Associates and I asked what had led him to become a board-certified internist and cardiologist (which he insists on underplaying by describing it simply as “Doctoring.”) As he responded to the question “what led you to this profession?” I edited my notes, crossing out the word profession and substituted the word vocation. That word seemed much more to the point, since it summons up the act of hearing a call and responding to it.
“I suppose I always wanted to be a Doctor, except of course for wanting possibly to be a judge or a police inspector,” he replied, with a slightly mischievous smile.
And there it was: a career explained as his passion for asking, and listening and following the clues to solve a mystery. By early last week I saw a great deal of evidence of the choice he had made.
We will never know the Poirot or Holmes or Benjamin Cardozo that may have been lost to the world; but a certificate announcing his election to Alpha Omega Alpha upon completion of his studies at Chicago’s Rush Medical College testifies to the quality of the doctor he chose to be. The prestigious medical honor society’s members include more than fifty Nobel Prize winners in Physiology, Medicine, and in Chemistry, all elected to Alpha Omega Alpha as students. It is described as being the Phi Beta Kappa of medical schools.
In the end, it was that instinctive respect for the gift of listening and hearing that led me to request last week’s interview. It began some years ago when I came to his office seeking his opinion in the absence of my amazing primary care physician/cardiologist Allison Spatz who was away on a rare vacation.
As I looked around his examining room, I noted a framed Playbill cover of a Gala Tribute to the legendary Josh Logan held shortly after his death in 1988. It carried this handwritten note: “To Dear Ted, with our deepest gratitude for your compassionate, tender loving care of our parents in their hour of need.” Signed at River House on November 7 1989, by the children of Josh and Nedda Harrigan Logan. It seems that the passion for asking and listening is contagious. So, I asked this person I had never met, if he might tell me the back story of that cover. But to keep you in a bit of the suspense appropriate to the stage, let me say “more about that later” and go instead to the book cover I noted during last week’s visit. Hospital Smarts: The Insider’s Survival Guide to Your Hospital, Your Doctor, the Nursing Staff – and Your Bill, was co-authored by Dr. Tyberg and his colleague Dr. Kenneth Rothaus and was published in November 1995. It became an instant winner when it was published by Hearst Books and has gone on to have a continuing and continuously growing life as a website. Oprah saw the idea and its execution as the sort of practical and responsible service she was delighted to bring to her audiences. Dr. Tyberg expressed his own obvious delight with the remembered experience of appearing on a three-person panel of experts committed to de-mystifying hospitals and hospitalization for patients.
But he was quick to say that he harbored no hidden desire to become another Dr. Oz. Worldwide web to the rescue! The richness of the book survives and flourishes at Hospital Smarts. On these cyber pages, the visitor can see the photos and the credentials of the original authors and a team of medical contributors who work together to gather and post the most up to date information on each of the subjects addressed in the 1995 book. They can log on to read favorite passages of the currently out of print paper book (though I attest that I got one from Amazon overnight and for the proverbial song.)
And speaking of a song, let me end the “suspense” mentioned above. It was in fact a very specific song and its entirely unique performers that inspired last week’s conversation with the multifaceted Dr. Tyberg. His answer to my question about the Playbill cover for “A Tribute to Josh Logan” presented at Broadway’s Imperial Theater shortly after the legendary producer’s death, began with a story of one of our modern world’s greatest rarities. A doctor paid a house call! Albeit to two very fragile longtime patients.
There in the storied River House he entered their room and found a husband and wife lying in adjoining beds. I can hazard a guess that this physician did not lead with queries about the negatives that might have been the reason for seeking his help. So, he asked Josh and Nedda Logan about what they wanted to tell him about the good things: what delighted them, about what they wanted to share with him, about their lives. And that was when the dearest and most memorable account settlement happened. Wanting to give a gift to the man who continued to want to be as much about their wellness as their illnesses, they announced that they had something they wanted to give him. And so began a duet performance of “I Remember it Well.”
With all due respect to Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold who immortalized the song in Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 Oscar-winning film Gigi, it would be hard not to see how they might just have been upstaged by these two aging lovers reporting to their visiting healer. The tenderness, the playful sparring as memories were recalled and corrected, must have been unforgettable. I know they have been for me, or to put it as they might have done, “Ah yes, I remember it well.”