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“It could happen. Trump could get elected. Hitler was elected, you know,” said an older friend of mine.

My friend and I were sitting in a college classroom where we are taking a class together in anthropology and photography.

It’s the first time that I’ve been back in a college classroom as a student since graduating in 1981.

I have to admit, it’s kind of confusing. It’s not so much the coursework that’s confusing, it’s the students — mostly female and mostly undergraduate — that I don’t understand.

They seem to have bought the myth of consumerism.

We were in the classroom and there were titters all around after my friend spoke. I suspect that the students agreed with her and that deep down they know she’s right. She’s a retired high school teacher and something interesting is bound to  pop out of her mouth at full volume.

The attitudes in the class shouldn’t be a complete surprise to me. I have heard that the younger generation tends to be consumer oriented.  It is, after all, what they have been taught. Another friend told me about her straight niece, who just had an over the top wedding, with a lesbian friend who is planning her over the top wedding (complete with a photo booth which is in these days).

The only difference between the two is that the young lesbian is marrying her girlfriend and won’t be living a life of secrecy and shame. My first impulse was to feel sorry for the parents.  With what an over the top wedding costs, there goes retirement. My second thought is a sarcastic: so that’s what we fought for all those years.

An extravagant lesbian wedding? Really?

But then I realized that every generation has to define itself. And we had fun in the struggle. My partner is a drummer and we marched with drumming contingents in marches and rallies in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York.  The rocks thrown at our bedroom window (more than ten years ago) weren’t fun.  Neither were the insults hurled at us on the streets in our respective work places over the years.

However, we loved being outlaws.

So despite that one of my favorite slogans was “tip over patriarchy,” I am forced to acknowledge that the young lesbian planning her over the top wedding is a kind of progress.

But there is something to what my friend said. I went home and did a quick search and found out that she was right. Hitler was elected.  The “History” website says, “in 1934, Adolf Hitler, already chancellor, is also elected president of Germany in an unprecedented consolidation of power in the short history of the republic.”

Aside from Sanders’ self definition as a socialist (which like it or not most Americans don’t understand) and his well-documented difficulty with Black voters,

there are solid reasons that I am supporting Hillary Clinton.

For one thing, Hillary has a strong background on Civil Rights and racial justice.

And I saw Hillary march in the New York Pride Parade during her years as a NY state senator. (She was the only person wearing high heels — except the drag queens.)

And I think we are long overdue for a female president. We have a lot riding on this election — including the continuation of the Affordable Care Act, Social Security, and marriage equality, just to name a few issues that affect me personally.

Hillary is tough and it is easy to picture her holding her own in a debate with whoever the Republicans put forth, including Trump.

The title of this piece came from a sign outside of a chain drugstore that read “Trunk or Treat.”

I am not much of a consumer and had no idea what it meant. I put my own meaning on it.

I commented to my partner that I thought it said “Trump or Treat.”

“Trump is the trick,” she replied. And then she suggested that I write this piece.

She’s right, of course. Trump is the trick.

Let’s not get duped.

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Author Janet Mason read from her latest book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters, (Bella Books) at the Golden Slippery Author Series held at Adath Israel in Merion Station, PA.

“I’ve taught people of all ages throughout the years,” said Janet Mason, “and I’ve always recognized that the older students have the most interesting stories.  The people who attended the author event have lived long and interesting lives and they have important stories to tell.  It was an honor hearing their stories during the lively discussion we had.

Janet Mason (third from right) with members of the Golden Slipper Book Group.

Janet Mason (third from right) with members of the Golden Slipper Book Group.

Tea Leaves spans the lives of three generations of women. It is about my experience taking care of my mother when she was terminally ill. It is also includes my mother’s stories about my grandmother, a spinner in a Kensington Philadelphia textile mill, and a fair amount about my own life.

The following is an excerpt from Tea Leaves that I read at the Golden Slipper Author Series.

It was 1927, the latter years of the Roaring Twenties. My grandmother would have seen the cartoon images of the flapper, a woman with bobbed hair and a short skirt daringly showing her legs from the knees down. This was the image of the loose woman—heralded in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby—that came to represent the decade. But this lifestyle existed for only a few—those who belonged to the class of the decadent rich, their excesses based on the skyrocketing stock market that would soon come tumbling down. For the majority of women, especially working-class women like my grandmother, it was still scandalous to be divorced.
With her children in tow, she moved back to the city where they stayed with an old church friend in the Germantown section, the neighborhood I later moved to—which at that point had become a haven for artists, political activists and lesbians—when I moved away from my parents’ home in the suburbs. It was evident from the disappointed look on my mother’s face, even now, more than a half century later, that regardless of the large house they stayed in she would have much rather been back in the country.
“Even the yard wasn’t anything compared to the country. It was just a patch of grass with a wrought iron fence around it. There was a birdbath with a wrought iron bench next it that was painted white. Who sat on a bench?” I looked at my mother—her scrunched-up face framed by her short hair—and I could see the ten-year-old staring out of her seventy-four-year-old face. “My favorite thing about that yard was the elm tree. It had low branches, as low as my favorite climbing tree in the country. It was the closest thing to home that I could find.”
She shifted painfully in her chair. “Eventually Mama found a job at the mill, and we rented a row home nearby in North Philadelphia. Our backyard was tiny, a small square yard with a cement walkway between two patches overgrown with grass and weeds. There wasn’t a tree anywhere in sight. We moved around a lot. Once or twice we only moved two blocks from where we had lived before. I always thought my mother was hiding us from our father. If he couldn’t find us then he couldn’t come and take my sister and me away.”
My mother held her shoulder and her eyes narrowed as she spoke. “I was a latchkey child. This was before the Lighthouse started a program for the older kids as well as the younger ones. The Episcopal women started the Lighthouse as a daycare and after-school program for the children of single mothers. Do you remember when I took you to the old neighborhood when you were ten?”
I nodded, remembering it well. A new hospital stood on the site of the old Lighthouse, off Lehigh Avenue, in the heart of North Philadelphia. When my mother was growing up, the neighborhood was full of European immigrants. Now it was a mostly Spanish-speaking section known as the Barrio. My mother’s stories of the Lighthouse captured my young imagination. I pictured an island jutting from the ocean, a tall cylindrical building with a pulsing light, an actual lighthouse. My memories of visiting her old neighborhood were full of exotic tastes and smells—arroz con pollo, plantains, the greasy sizzle of fried tortillas at the Spanish restaurant where we ate.
My mother sat gazing out the front window, looking far away into her own past, full of a different set of tastes and smells. “Before I started going to the Lighthouse with my sister, I came home from school earlier than my mother and had to let myself in with the key I kept on a string around my neck.
“One day I lost the key. That was the time I was homeless. I was out in the freezing cold for hours. It seemed like days before my mother came home from the mill. There was a storefront next to our house, and there was a light in the window so I went and stood in front of it. The store was closed but there was a woman inside. I could see her folding the linens, her outstretched arms looked like a cross draped with a purple sash at Lent.”
“Why didn’t the woman in the store let you in?” I asked. We had moved from the dining room into the living room, and my mother sat in her gold velour chair. The ottoman, covered with the textile my grandmother brought home from the mill, sat in front of her.
My mother gave me a look of pure astonishment. “In those days children were to be seen and not heard. All my life I’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time. First children weren’t listened to. Then when I was grown, Benjamin Spock came around and said parents should shut up and listen to their children.” My mother’s words were deliberate, not angry; precise, rather than resentful. As she spoke, I saw a skinny seven-year-old in a frayed cloth coat, shivering as she waited the long hours for her mother, her teeth chattering as she stood in the doorway.
“Usually, I would take Mama’s dinner to the mill. We had ice boxes in those days—every morning the ice man would come with a block of ice and by the end of the day the ice melted down into the tray. I still remember the drops of water beading up inside the wax paper that covered the pound cake. In those days we didn’t think about what a healthy dinner was. So we had cake, not for dessert but for the main course. No wonder my mother became a diabetic. I passed by all the factories and red brick warehouses along the way. You’d never know it was the same neighborhood today with all those vacant run-down warehouses and factories everywhere. I still know the names of the lace they displayed in a store window on the corner: Italian Milanese, French Chantilly, English Honiton, Bedfordshire, Antwerp, Point de Lille.”
My mother’s story entered my imagination and I saw her as an observant child, turning the corner to where the textile mill loomed in front of her, four stories of red brick. She would have passed the night watchman who greeted her by name, to enter the back door into the clanking, whirring factory, which like a large hungry animal blew its hot breath on her neck. As she scurried down the familiar hallway toward the cafeteria, the familiar gray walls weighed down on her as heavy as the flabby arm of an old woman.

Tea Leaves, published by Bella Books, is available in bookstores and online in book and eBook formats.

You can learn more about Tea Leaves here.  (  https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/tea-leaves-in-the-news/  )

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The Obama administration has declared May as Older Americans Month.

At the same time the Obama administration is proposing cuts in Social Security and Medicare. There seems to be a disconnect.

Recently, I have been visiting my old friend and literary colleague, Anita Cornwell, 89, who has dementia and is in a nursing home.

She has been several stages of care at the same nursing home and is now in hospice. Anita is one of the lucky ones. She is in an institution that describes itself as a non-profit, faith-based continuing care retirement community with dementia and Alzheimer’s Care. And she is fortunate to have a younger friend (in her late fifties) who sold her house in a gentrifying neighborhood for her and handled her finances.

Anita Cornwell is the author of the book Black Lesbian in White America published in 1983 by Naiad Press.

Anita is a pioneer. She came of age as a lesbian in the 1950s, and in her early writings — published in The Ladder and The Negro Digest — she was among the first to identify as a Black Lesbian in print. As she writes in Black Lesbian in White America, she was born in the Deep South at a time “when integration was a term seen only in the dictionary.” Anita writes of herself as a young woman hanging out in the Village, where “She was looking for some of them, but they were home in the closet growing shoe trees.” She writes of her involvement in the women’s movement when she was often one of the oldest women in the room as well as being one of the few Black women: “We of the fifties (and the forties and on back to when) not only had to operate from the closet but, worse yet, most of us seemed to exist in a vacuum.”

Anita entered the nursing home five years ago and remembers very little, if anything, about her former life. Her writings are on my website, so I hear from people who are interested in her work, but only very occasionally. But for the most part, Anita has been forgotten. She has had few visitors in the nursing home and the three Valentine’s Day cards on the bulletin board at the wall at the foot of her bed were not signed. Someone on the nursing home staff had hung blank cards for her.

When I talked to some old friends who knew her, I got a standard response. One woman told me that she is busy with her own mother who has Alzheimer’s and is in a home. Another woman told me that “I’m sure she doesn’t remember me,” to which I responded, “she doesn’t remember anyone.”

Denial is a strong defense mechanism (in this case, the subtext is that “I won’t get old and sick”) and I am not standing in judgment of anyone. As I was standing next to Anita’s bed in the nursing home with my partner, I was reminded of how excruciating it is to be with someone who is near death. I was reminded of being with my mother, who I took care of and wrote about in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters and also of being with my aunt near the end of her life. Anita has been bedridden for some months, since she lost her memory of how to walk. More recently, she has lost her memory of how to swallow.

I had seen Anita two weeks earlier and she was declining fast. She had lost a substantial amount of weight and looked like a different person that the last time I had seen her. She was sleeping and her roommate told my partner and I that if we woke her up, she would talk to us for a little while. She did wake up, and when my partner was sitting closer to her bed, asked her if she could get her anything, she responded, “A couple of million.” When asked what she would buy, Anita responded that, “For starters, I would buy a car.” When we told her that we had known her for thirty years, Anita replied “that’s a long time” and then she went back to sleep.

Read the entire piece on The Huffington Post

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Last night when I was watching the news, there was a short segment about a 84-year old retired postal worker who is helping the government solve its debt problems by sending $50 of his postal pension to the government each month along with the revenue he gets from collecting aluminum cans.

Mr. Garcia, the retired postal worker, is also a veteran and is acting on his sense of public duty. I tend to agree with his wife of 59 years in thinking that he is a little crazy, but the story also made me sad. My partner, who I have been with for almost 30 years, is a recent retiree of the U.S. Postal Service, so I know how small the postal pension can be. The post office wasn’t unionized until 1970. So it is likely that Mr. Garcia spent at least half of his working life in a nonunionized environment — a fact that is most likely reflected in his pension and social security benefits.

But retired postal workers are never short on ingenuity. My partner, Barbara, suggested that the government should charge people five dollars to take a whack with a sledge hammer on an old car with dollar signs painted on it and call it “Make a Dent in the Deficit.” She told me that she could solve all the government’s problems, but no one ever listens to her. I write about Barbara in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters.

It’s time to listen to our retired postal workers. And Mr. Garcia, by sending his donation to the Treasury Department every month, is telling us something. He says it is about service, but he is putting the one percent of the country to shame. Millionaires and billionaires are the ones who should be helping the country pay down its debt.

Speaking of public servants, let’s start with our representatives. Your basic senator (who does not have an extra leadership position such as Speaker of the House, etc.), earns $174,000 per year. And this is salary alone, not accounting for benefits, allowances, or retirement.

Let’s do the math.

read the rest of the article in The Huffington Post

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The Obama administration has declared that November is National Family Caregivers Month. The proclamation declares that family member, friends and neighbors dedicate countless hours providing care to their relatives and loved ones.

When my mother was diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer, I put aside everything that I could and went to take care of her. I was 34 at the time and my mother was 74. She died a little more than 17 years ago. I chronicled my experience in Tea Leaves, a Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012).

My personal journey of caretaking my mother in her final months coincided with my curiosity of learning more about my working-class background. Despite my belief (rooted in strong denial) that she would somehow, miraculously, get better, I knew I was hearing her stories for the last time.

Being the first person in my family to graduate from college put a wedge between me and my background. I was only marginally in touch with my best friend who I had grown up with. We had grown apart. She had married young and was in an extremely conventional marriage to a man (think 1950s). A few short years later, I came out as a lesbian (very 1970s, but this was actually in the early 80s).

I was okay with the fact that I had nothing left in common with the friends I grew up with. But I had a yearning to understand more about my own history. So I read up on the labor movement and asked my mother questions about my grandmother, who as an adult had been a spinner in a textile mill in the Kensington section of Philadelphia:

“When your grandmother was a girl, she worked in a candy factory,” my mother said, slowly and carefully.   I remembered that this was not the first time she had told me this.

“What did she want to do?”

My mother looked at me as if I were insane.

“No one asked her what she wanted to do. She just went out and worked.”

As a result of taking care of my mother in her final months, I learned more about myself. In coming to accept my mother’s mortality, I came to an acceptance that my own life was finite, also, giving me greater insight into the things in life that were important to me. My mother had a keen sense of humor, which undoubtedly got us through:

Increasingly, my mother’s moods changed from minute to minute. On my last visit, she was laughing, telling me that she almost put her straw in the urinal which was sitting next to her water bottle on her nightstand. Then, less than ten minutes later, when the HMO nurse came, my mother told her she wanted a black pill. I was sitting in the room with my mother when the nurse turned to me with an exaggerated expression of shocked concern on her face, and said, “Did your mother tell you she felt like this?” I shrugged. My mother, in moments of excruciating pain, had told me she wanted to end her life. But there was no legal way to do it. A black pill, or suicide pill, was illegal in Pennsylvania and almost in every other state. When my mother suggested that I could put a plastic bag over her head, all I could do was suck in my breath.

click here to read the entire article in The Huffington Post — including practical caregiving advice

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Recently, I went on a tour through Vermont with Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012).  There were Tea Leaves event in Burlington, Vermont — in the Women’s Center at the University of Vermont, the Peace and Justice Center, and at Phoenix Books; at the Woodknot Bookshop and Turner’s Cafe in Newport, Vermont; and at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont. We enjoyed the rolling hills, the Vermont fall foliage, and seeing old friends and meeting new ones.  Vermont is beautiful and relaxing.  In many ways, it felt like home.  We were very close to the Canadian border and were careful not to get lost.  I learned, from friends in the area, that it is very easy to get out of the U.S. but not so easy (without a passport) to get back in. In this post, I am bringing you some highlighs in the form of photos from our trip. We’ll be back.

Fall leaves in Hardwick, Vermont

Tea Leaves, a memoir -- Janet Mason standing behind sign outside of Galaxy Books in Hardwick, Vermont

Author Janet Mason in the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont

Pam in the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont -- wearing her crown

on the road in Northeastern Vermont -- green mountains in background

Standing next to the sign at the Women's Center -- the University of Vermont

Janet Mason reading from Tea Leaves (Bella Books) at the Women's Center, the University of Vermont in Burlington

Barbara with her new friend, the goat

]

Rooster in Vermont

Sky just before the rise of sunset in Northeastern Vermont

Janet and Wendy at the Peace and Justice Center in Burlington, Vermont

In the hallway behind the Peace and Justice Center. Barbara petting a whale.Janet and Janice -- connecting with new friends

on the road with Tea Leaves -- Vermont fall foliage

Janet and Nat -- seeing old friends, like family

Connecting with old friends -- Barbara, Anne and Pam

feminist graffiti at UVM -- new meaning for The Women's Room

Farmhouse on the road in Vermont -- we'll be back soon!

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read the entire piece in The Huff Post

It was 2008 and I heard a buzzing all around me. I had gone to the doctor and was misdiagnosed as having dementia but I discovered later that I had had a nervous breakdown. I said to my grown daughter, ‘What is this thing called Obama?’ and she replied, ‘Obama is a black man and he is running for president, Mama.’ ‘Oh my Lord,’ I said. ‘My mama had told me this day was coming and now it was happening.’ Then I realized that I had to pull myself together. I had to watch this historic moment take place. -Jean, 77

Jean, a 77-year-old black woman, uttered those words in a room full of about 20 white people at a senior center in a predominantly white working class neighborhood in Philadelphia. I was there to do a reading from my book Tea Leaves, A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012), and then to lead a discussion and conduct a writing exercise. I looked at Jean. My mother’s name was Jane. She was 74 when she died and she had been misdiagnosed as having arthritis by an HMO doctor who prescribed Extra Strength Tylenol. My mother found a new doctor but it was too late. She was correctly diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer of unknown origin and six months later, she was dead.

It has occurred to me, as I go around reading from Tea Leaves and listening to people’s stories, that in writing about my mother, I have not only written her story and my story and my grandmother’s story. I have touched into a deep, mostly untapped vein of writing the story of many women — and men — whose lives are often overlooked not only in literature, but by society in general and by the medical system in particular.

Another woman in the group talked about being misdiagnosed and, as a result of her untreated illness and the wrong medicine that the doctors in the hospital had given her, she went down to 87 pounds and nearly died several times. She got better and then felt she had wasted her life up until that point — in pettiness, in pursuing things that didn’t matter.

The group met in a 55-plus senior center, but most of the people in this group were in their mid-seventies. I have taught creative writing through the years to children, teenagers and adults of all ages, but have always recognized that my older students are the ones with the best stories to tell. Everyone in the room was brimming with stories — one man wrote about being placed in an orphanage at age 4 because both of his parents died of tuberculosis. He then went on to serve in the military but afterwards was denied entrance to college based on low math scores. An extremely fit woman in the group — who works out every morning in the center’s gym — wrote how her husband became frail and ill and how one day she came home to find that he had not been able to get out of his chair all day. She gradually became his caretaker. The hardest part was learning how to be the strong one and not let her grown children know how terrified she was.

read more…..

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