Personal posts by public historian, Rose O'Keefe
Saturday was a gorgeous summer day – sunny, breezy and just right. My good day was made even better by reading two books that I hadn’t expected to like.
To my surprise, the first page of A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers (1981) by Nancy Willard, drew me in immediately. The marvelous illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen kept me fascinated the whole read. This Newbery-Award winner was imaginative and oh-so clever.
Shattered Dreams: The Lost and Canceled Space Missions (2019) by Colin Burgess was a good-but-slow-read. I got it from the library to read about cosmonaut-journalist Svetlana Omeklchenko’s story because she wrote a book about UFOs. I didn’t find her book, but I wanted to learn more about her.
The Need to Know
After my family moved to France when I was 7, I went to a French Catholic girls' school. Four years later when we moved back to the same suburban house, parish and grammar school, I read, wrote and thought in French better than English and was out of step with my classmates.
Up Close and Personal
On July 15, I had the privilege of hearing Kenneth Morris Jr., share how he became involved in the work that he does. He spoke at a Frederick Douglass Week event at Anna Murray Douglass Academy in Rochester, New York. Morris and his mother, Nettie Washington Douglass, are direct descendants of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. He shared what moved him to stop exploitation of children around the world, and she added beautifully to his remarks. This goal of ending trafficking led them to found the Frederick Douglass Family Initiative (FDFI) in 2007.
What We Like
As my family sorted books lately, a favorite surfaced: The Man Who Planted Trees: A Story by Jean Giono (1985/2005). To my amazement it was like reading it for the first time. Most likely I skipped over the foreword by Wangari Maathi, skipped the afterword, and read only the touching story with magnificent wood engravings by Michael McCurdy. Now I know what a world changer Maathi was and eagerly read about reforestation.
Sitting in the shade with a lovely breeze blowing while reading Sunday’s Democrat and Chronicle’s has to be one of life’s quiet pleasures. The paper had a good blend of articles on the Jazz Fest, Barack Obama, coverage of the local primaries, and the tragic fire at an adult home in Rockland that brought out the best and the bitterness in that community.
All That Stuff
Although both of Margareta Magnusson’s books were satisfying, I enjoyed her second one more than her first, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (2017). In the first, her take was similar to Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2010) that I had also liked. The way Magnusson repeated that after your death, no one wants all your stuff, was straightforward without being mean.
When the first Frederick Douglass Monument and Wreath Laying Ceremony was held in downtown Rochester in 1899, 10,000 people attended. About 50 came to the 124th Commemoration on Jun 9, at Highland Park. Octogenarian Joan Coles Howard, who hadn’t missed a wreath laying since she was a girl, added to the occasion. I shared a program with people sitting near me who had never heard “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. Singing it together was uplifting. The speakers and tributes were also uplifting, but the Frederick Douglass Steppers were fabulous!
The up side of finishing The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk (2014), is that I learned a lot about how people react differently to trauma. The down side is that some examples were stunning and triggering. The book showed me the importance of practicing how to relax.
What's It Like?
Yesterday, I found out what I need to know to upload All Rights for All as an eBook, but coming up with its description is still a challenge. I have to have a short clear answer to, what’s it like?
Acts of Kindness
In the article in Sunday’s Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, “A look back at the forgotten history of Memorial Day,” Richard Gardner wrote that the annual observance began in 1866 in Columbus, Georgia, where mourners, usually women, decorated the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers.
Summer Reading List
What a pleasure to look through the Summer Reading Special Edition in Sunday’s paper. The selections were a treat: heroics, thrillers, memoir, celebrity memoirs, new reads, gift books, poetry and adaptations. The thought of any one of them with a comfy chair, in warm weather, made me smile. Thank you, USA Today Network.
A Way With Words
Business coach George Kao has such a way with words. In his May post, he wrote about accepting being exactly where you are, not upset about your level of success. He used the example of a white-belt martial artist not being ready to compete with a black-belt martial artist. Right.
Newbery-Award-winning books have taken me around the world. The preface of Elizabeth Borton de Trevino’s I, Juan de Pareja, hooked me right in, as did her narrator’s voice of a black slave, who grew up in one household in Sevilla, Spain, in the early 1600s. After his master’s death, Juan was willed to a family in Madrid, and endured horrendous hardships on the way. It took decades for the events to unfold between Spain, Italy and back, and the eventual death of the new master, Spanish painter Diego Velazquez. Although this story was fictional, the settings and relationships were believable and satisfying.
Piles of Books
Despite getting most of my books from the library and donating my favorite books regularly, I still live in a house with bookshelves that have no space for new books, and piles of books in almost every room. Recently, I pulled out one that had been on my bedroom night table and wondered why it was still there? It was my friend Paula Weld-Cary’s My Origami Mother: Reclaiming My Life After an Abusive Childhood (2022). Ends up, I had finished her moving memoir, but hadn’t read parts two and three on stories and ways to heal in which she referred to The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk (2014).
So Many Stories
While traveling a few weeks ago, we picked up Women’s History: Distinguished Women of Pennsylvania put out by Pennsylvania State Senator Carolyn Comitta. This free magazine had over two dozen biographies of women artists, athletes, government workers, writers, scientists, and social reformers. Women included some born in the state like Marian Anderson and Louisa May Alcott, and others with strong connections, like Hannah Callowhill Penn and Lucretia Mott. Most had a picture, and a good bio. It was a pleasure to learn about this impressive selection of women, in such an attractive format. Its large print and enough white space made it easy on the eyes.
The idea that once I got back on track after surgery, I’d go back to what set me up for a bypass in the first place, has been upsetting. No, I don’t miss running around like a squirrel burying its stash. As I’ve returned to a few regular activities, I’ve have to consider why I’m doing them when my energy level is still low? During the pandemic, posting a blog was one way to overcome the intense loneliness. Now that certain conditions have eased while other world problems seem to have worsened, what makes sense?