Authors Posts by Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

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Do you ever feel lonely? I’m not referring to an occasional time period when you might acutely feel alone. After awhile that loneliness passes as you get busy with making dinner or driving out purposefully to go food shopping. I’m talking about deep-seated, unremitting loneliness, where a person doesn’t leave his or her house most of the time and doesn’t think to call a friend. Perhaps the person is quite elderly and has outlived friends. Or perhaps that person struggles with depression and keeps to himself or herself, exacerbating the loneliness.

From what I have read lately, loneliness is not a good thing for one’s health. Indeed one of the recommendations for longevity is an active social circle. Whatever the age, loners in our society come to be suspect. People need to socialize and interact, or so the thinking goes.

There are statistics that correlate good health with a satisfying social life, particularly as we age. For some, this is easy. If a person is naturally outgoing, the fact that the world is filled with other people presents its own solution. One can get a part-time job, even if retired, and that usually brings along its own social structure, plus a few extra bucks. Sometimes part-time work isn’t so easy to find, but there are always groups that are grateful for a volunteer: hospitals, schools, churches, even businesses. We are forever running a classified ad asking for volunteers who might find it interesting and fun to work at a hometown newspaper, and we are seldom without someone, usually someone wonderful.

Because we live on an island that has many colleges and universities, there are always academic opportunities to avail oneself of, like the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute — formerly known as the Round Table — at Stony Brook University. There are a great variety of courses, including subjects one might have always wondered about but have been too busy to pursue.

Another source of learning and information is the neighborhood library, many of which offer courses, from understanding opera to understanding computers, at a nominal fee. By enrolling in some interest group or subject, one is likely to meet others with the same interests and perhaps strike up a friendship. At the very least, one can become a little smarter or at least a bit more knowledgeable.

That’s just a few social possibilities. But they require active seeking, and not everyone is blithely outgoing and comfortable in new situations. So what then?

My husband was shy pretty much all his life, but he discovered a way for the world to reach out to him. When he wasn’t working, he loved to take pictures. Behind the camera, he could be bold and interact with anyone who might be doing something that interested him. We ran many of his photographs in the newspaper, and readers appreciated the sense of place that the pictures conveyed and also contacted him with comments.

Eventually he was even invited by an art gallery to put up an exhibit of some of his favorite photos. I don’t have to tell you how he loved that and appreciated the feedback from the viewers. Now granted, not everyone has a wife with a newspaper, but it is my experience that most hometown newspapers will eagerly accept photos if they are reasonably good — and free.

Again, though, that sort of hobby takes a certain amount of initiative. Fortunately we live at a time when the need to reach out to those who may be struggling with loneliness has eventuated in a number of help groups, especially in Britain. There are centers in the U.K. manned by people, sometimes volunteers, who are there to lend a kind ear to those who call in to chat. The volunteers provide a valuable service in what has come to be seen as a public health issue. Sometimes these are trained and paid workers. Even fire brigades have been trained to recognize signs of isolation during their fire inspections. We should be sensitive to this most human need and do no less here.

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Those of us along the North Shore and particularly in Setauket, who routinely live with tales of the local spies, might be especially interested in the life of Doris Sharrar Bohrer. One of the few female spies for the Allies during World War II, she died earlier this month at the age of 93 and was not publicly recognized for her extraordinary work until this century.

A Class of 1940 graduate of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, she applied to take the civil service exam and was for whatever reason assigned to the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner to the CIA. There, after typing for a year, she was sent to photo reconnaissance school, where she learned to interpret aerial maps and photographs. Few women in the OSS rose beyond the typing pool. A posting in Egypt followed, where she would make 3-D balsa-wood relief maps from the aerial photos that helped prepare the Allied troops for the invasions of Sicily and then of the rest of Italy. Soon she was moved to Bari on Italy’s Adriatic coast, advising where to drop and to pick up OSS agents from behind enemy lines.

In examining aerial photos, she was able to see closed cattle cars with passengers heading east, and her group located the Nazi concentration camps. However, she told The Washington Post in 2011, “we were too late” in finding the concentration camps. “We kept wondering where the trains were going.”

During the war, she packed a Browning pistol in a shoulder holster but was denied the right to carry a hand grenade as a female Yugoslav partisan co-worker could do. In fact, some of her male counterparts were condescending and even outright hostile to women intelligence agents, calling them “the girls.” These included her superior officer who denied her the grenade. So she had an engineer friend fashion a dummy grenade that she carried into the mess hall where some of the other agents were having lunch. When her superior officer reached across to grab it away, she picked it up and smashed it against the table.

The boys scattered “out the windows,” she told Ann Curry of NBC News many years later. “They just disappeared. And I sat there and ate my salad.”

After the war, Bohrer was assigned to Germany, where she spied on the Soviet Union. She interviewed German scientists who had been detained by the Soviets in order to find out for the CIA as much as possible about the state of Soviet science. This was during the lengthy Cold War.

Bohrer retired from the CIA in 1979 as deputy chief of counterintelligence, training U.S. officers on tactics of foreign espionage operatives. In effect, she spied on the spies. She married Charles Bohrer after World War II and after retirement became a residential real-estate sales agent in the 1980s and ’90s in the Old Town section of Alexandria, Virginia. She also bred and raised poodles, some of which won ribbons and prizes. Her husband retired as director of the CIA medical office.

In 2013 two high-ranking CIA women directors thanked Bohrer and Betty McIntosh, another CIA operative, at the Langley, Virginia, headquarters for their service.

Bohrer’s work had remained secret until The Washington Post discovered in 2011 that she and McIntosh, the author of two books, lived at the same retirement home in northern Virginia; McIntosh had carried out propaganda work in China. Both women had not known each other during the war but had become good friends. Bohrer, whose husband died in 2007 after they were married 61 years, is survived by her son and his two grandchildren. McIntosh died in 2015 at age 100.

Bohrer had wanted to learn to fly to defend the U.S. after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. She never did take up aviation but found looking at aerial photographs “an interesting way to look at the world. It was almost as good as flying,” she told The Washington Post. Like the Setauket spies, Bohrer and McIntosh went unheralded for many years but their stories are now told to the world at large.

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Each night, throughout this long stretch of intense heat and high humidity, we have been praying to the air-conditioning gods to stay strong and continue to keep us comfortable. Last Friday night I must have forgotten, in my euphoria at the start of the weekend, to say my prayers because Saturday afternoon there was a waterfall coming through the ceiling in one of our offices.

Fortunately a staff member had come in to prepare for the next editions and was horrified at the sight. The water was dripping through the Sheetrock and onto one of our newer computers, then splashing its way off the papers on the desk and the leather surface of the chair to land on the relatively new carpet. A unit in the attic had given up trying to wring moisture out of the room and had broken down, releasing its condensate. The ceiling had begun to sag in protest.

The staff member called me.

I was at home, sitting in my favorite living room chair, reading the sections of the Sunday Times that we somehow get delivered on Saturday morning. The dog lay beside me, snoring slightly, enjoying the peaceful companionship of a weekend afternoon. I could hear the birds chirping outside, even over the whoosh of the air conditioning. It was a bucolic high-summer scene — until the phone rang.

Then we went into a frenzy that has lasted until today, as the repairmen try to pinpoint the problem. One thing I can tell you. It sure is tough to be creative in the 90-degree-plus heat. But the staff has soldiered on, despite the sultry air. Yes, we have fans and, yes, we have air conditioning in the rest of the building, some of which in theory should waft into the stricken room. But it has been uncomfortable, and the staff has persevered. If your newspaper feels a little damp, I trust you’ll understand. And we are hoping the fix is in.

How did we manage before air conditioning? There are still people who do not have air conditioning today by choice. Apartments and stores weren’t air conditioned when I was in the first decade of my life — only movie theaters were, and that’s where we hung out for two features and a news short on Saturday afternoons. When we wanted to cool down on Sundays, we rode the subway out to Rockaway Beach in Brooklyn — the end of the line — then walked the blocks to the sand and the surf, marveling at the seaside breeze. We stayed there — my parents, my brother, my sister and I — until quite late before returning to our stuffy apartment, squeezing as much time as we could from our comfortable location. Sometimes it even got quite cool along the water’s edge at night. We never complained.

During the week, we took refuge in Central Park, sitting on a bench or a blanket that we might have carried through the streets. We would pass neighbors hanging over their ground-floor windowsills and youngsters lounging on the steps of their stoops. Once we reached the park, my dad would find a thicket of trees and spread the blanket for us. Stretched out, we deeply inhaled the sweet summer evening breezes that might come along. After my brother, who was almost 14 years older, purchased his car, he would take us for rides after work with the side windows rolled down and the wing windows directing the flow of air onto our faces. Once we cleared the downtown streets and reached the parkway, he could get up enough speed to make us rejoice in the stream of air.

Even when I was in my 20s and married, we didn’t have air conditioning in our car, although it was available as an expensive option. It wasn’t until we lived on the Texas air base and bought a station wagon from a local dealer for our growing family that we got air conditioning. It turned out that was standard in every car in the South. How perfectly wonderful, but we did take a bit of ribbing from our friends and family about being spendthrifts when we drove back north. That was in the late 1960s, in a world long gone.

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Friends help make our lives special. They are fun to be with, we like the person we are when we are with them, they share activities with us, they offer an ear when we need to talk over important matters, they cheer us up when we are down, they lend a hand when we need help, they broaden our horizons with their intelligence, knowledge and experience — and, most critically, they are there for us in times of crisis. Those are typical answers when we ask people, “What is a friend?”

But what if our friend doesn’t like us as much as we like him or her?

According to an article in The New York Times and other media, recent research on the subject of friends would suggest that only about half of our friendships are mutual. Whoa! That means someone you think is a close friend might not feel the same way about you. Now that is a thought to make you feel instantly abandoned. And, according to the Times, through experts interviewed, “the authenticity of one’s relationships has an enormous impact on one’s health and well-being.”

Who are our friends? Where do they come from? How many real friends can we have? How do we judge whether they are true friends? And are we a true friend in return?

Certainly a true friend is more than someone on Facebook. Alexander Nehamas, a professor of philosophy at Princeton, told The Times that friendship is more like beauty or art, which kindles something deep within us and is “appreciated for its own sake.” It’s a lovely thought.

Ronald Sharp, a professor of English at Vassar College, edited a book, “The Norton Book of Friendship,” with his friend, Eudora Welty in 1991. Sharp is quoted in The Times as saying, “The notion of doing nothing but spending time in each other’s company has, in a way, become a lost art,” to be replaced by volleys of texts and tweets.

To have a friendship with someone has several requirements. First is time. It takes time to understand the other person and to trust that person enough to let him or her understand you. So trust is another requirement. Lucky are those who have friends from elementary school or college, for those have withstood the test of time. Additionally those friends are witnesses to our lives as we are to theirs. That is a relationship to be treasured and not replaced, and it may be resumed even after years have gone by with no contact. Honesty is another. You have to be able to respond honestly to a friend, even if it is not what he or she wants to hear, and to receive the same in return.

But there is more. A close friend is one with whom you interact almost daily because you would otherwise miss the contact. That person is one whose sentences you could reliably finish because, to some extent, you live within each other’s heads. That person is someone who, you absolutely know from prior evidence, has your back. And that is a person who knows and accepts your shortcomings even as you accept theirs because you protect each other’s vulnerabilities. I have only experienced that kind of friendship with one or two people because there isn’t enough time really to get to know that many people, however interesting they may seem.

Then there are perhaps four or six others with whom I maintain ongoing friendships. These are good friends whom I enjoy common ground with, and feel concern and affection for. These friends provide a support system and a social circle to which we all contribute. Others are more casual friends, dependent on circumstances, and they may move in and out of my world at any given time.

Friends and friendships are tested by crises. I have had my share, as have my friends, and we have been there for each other. We will be there again because we are best friends.

  

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Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. And ages. I was reminded of that fact this past weekend, when a good friend and I went on our annual Tanglewood trip. Situated in the lush green Berkshire Hills in western Massachusetts, Tanglewood is a beautiful estate donated to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and since 1937 the BSO summers there and offers outdoor concerts to the public. As a result of their presence and the huge crowds that they draw, the greater area of Lenox, including Pittsfield, to Stockbridge and even to Williamstown has developed as a mecca of culture. There are many museums, theater, dance and of course good restaurants throughout the neighborhood, making for a fun-filled runaway weekend destination.

Thanks to the Port Jefferson ferry, Tanglewood is an easy two-and-a-half-hour drive from Bridgeport to one of the many motels that accommodate the thousands of visitors. We unloaded our suitcases on Friday night just in time to drive to our seats in the Shed to hear a Mozart piano concerto, followed by Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9. Content, we navigated the exiting traffic, which is admirably directed by the local police, returned to our motel room and slept.

After a leisurely breakfast, we made the scenic drive to Williamstown and enjoyed a couple of hours in the Clark museum. Their current exhibit, Splendor, Myth, and Vision: Nudes from the Prado, includes works by Titian, Rubens, Tintoretto, Brueghel the Elder, Poussin and many of the other greats of the 16th- and 17th-centuries. These paintings would only have been seen at the time in what were called, “salas reservadas.” These were special, hidden rooms for select audiences, because to display nude bodies was considered sinful and contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, also to the Spanish Inquisition. On the one hand, the monarchs were charged with upholding the decreed doctrines and moral values, and on the other, they were the primary collectors of these treasured works of art — especially Philip II and his grandson Philip IV.

We left the museum hurriedly to scoot down the road for the Williamstown Theater Festival premiere of “Romance Novels for Dummies” by Boo Killebrew. This delightful play, about two sisters, their relationship and their experiences dating in the big city, was worth the rush to get there. Well acted and staged in a beautiful theater, the play ended just in time for another rush down Route 7 to our seats at Tanglewood.

And this is when the bullying began. We were seated near the front, and I began chatting with the man to my right. He told us he was from Maryland and even tried to help me open a container. But his arm completely covered the narrow armrest between us. I laughingly asked him if he had siblings and therefore had learned to share. I suggested we each take half the armrest for our elbows and demonstrated. He had an empty seat next to him, which I assumed he had paid for since there were no other empty seats anywhere around us. He responded that I should have bought two seats. Then, when the music began, a violin concerto by Sibelius featuring spectacular soloist Augustin Hadelich, he actually pushed my arm off the armrest and jabbed me in the ribs with his elbow.

It’s hard to know what to do in such a situation. People around us were entranced by the magnificent music and I wanted to be, too. But I alternated between being absorbed and being discomforted by the man splayed out beside me. I strained to lose myself in the music, and when it ended I considered explaining my plight to the nearest usher. I didn’t want to cause a scene in one of my “happy places,” yet I clearly couldn’t handle the problem. How frustrating. Almost unwillingly, I approached a volunteer usher, who couldn’t help me directly, but he did bring me to a person in authority. That gentleman promptly changed our seats to what turned out to be an even better location, from which we thoroughly enjoyed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Beauty washes away ugly every time.

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One hundred years ago this week, The New York Times has reported, the worst terrorist attack on the United States until 9/11 occurred in New York Harbor. Black Tom Island, supposedly named after an early African-American resident and owned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, lay next to Liberty Island and was the site of three-quarters of the American-made ammunitions readied for shipment to Allied forces in World War I. Stored in warehouses, in railroad cars and on barges on the small island, the munitions were targeted with small fires shortly after midnight on July 30, 1916, and the first explosion had the force of about a 5.5 earthquake on the Richter scale. It blew out windows of buildings in lower Manhattan and Jersey City, damaged the skirt and torch of the Statue of Liberty, shattered the stained glass windows in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and windows in Times Square, shook and possibly damaged the Brooklyn Bridge, threw people out of their beds and was heard as far away as Philadelphia and Maryland.

On that fateful night, some 2 million pounds of small arms and artillery ammunition were on the island, along with 100,000 pounds of TNT on Johnson Barge No. 17. Initially small fires broke out along the mile-long pier, and while some of the guards fled, fearing explosions, others attempted to fight the fires and called the Jersey City Fire Department for help. The first and largest explosion, at 2:08 a.m, produced a rain of bullets and fragments, followed by mists of ash that made fighting the fires impossible; and the smaller fires burned for hours, causing explosions throughout the night.

While hundreds were hurt, surprisingly only a few people were killed, including a policeman in Jersey City, the railroad chief of police, the barge captain and an infant thrown from its crib a mile away. Two guards were quickly arrested for having triggered the disaster by lighting smudge pots on the pier to keep away the ever-present mosquitoes until it was realized that the pots were too far from the fires to have been the cause. Further investigation, which continued for years, identified the culprits as German agents who were trying to stop the shipments.

Until early 1915, the neutral United States was able to supply any nation with arms, but after the blockade of Germany by the British Royal Navy, only the Allied forces could purchase arms. Imperial Germany sent secret agents to the U.S. to obstruct production and delivery, and some of them caused havoc and civilian panic in the ensuing years. An effective weapon was the “cigar bomb” that was silently attached to the hulls of departing American munitions ships and only exploded after the vessels were well out to sea. Many ships, with their cargo and crew, were lost that way.

President Woodrow Wilson was desperately trying to cling to neutrality before the coming, tightly contested election against Charles Evans Hughes, chief justice of the Supreme Court and former New York governor. Wilson, as the president who had kept the nation out of war, initially refused to recognize the explosions as the work of the Germans. But after the election indisputable evidence forced his hand, and by early 1917 he prepared the country for war against Germany.

After the war, the railroad sought payment for damages under the U.S.-German Peace Treaty (1921) signed in Berlin and, at last in 1953, an agreement was reached for $50 million to be paid to the railroad. Dozens of railroad cars, six piers and 13 warehouses had simply disappeared into a huge crater filled with water and debris after the first explosion. For practical purposes the island, with its causeway to the mainland, had disappeared. Final payment was not made until 1979. In today’s currency, damages are estimated at $500 million.

Landfill projects through the years time have enabled what little was left to be incorporated into Liberty State Park. A single plaque there tells the tale of the largest terrorist attack until our time.

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This might sound peculiar since I am in the news business, but for over the past weekend I disconnected myself from all news reports. I was unplugged, you might say. Now this is a confession from an ultra news junkie. I’m normally so addicted that if I wake up in the middle of the night, I’ll switch on the bedside radio to catch up on what has happened since I went to sleep. But the past week, with the excruciating racist events and senseless killings, here and abroad, were more than I could process.

So I just turned off, or rather I didn’t turn anything on — not my radio, not the television, not the news apps on my cellphone. I didn’t even talk about the news with friends and neighbors.

What a luxury to be able to withdraw from global events for a couple of days.

I have a further antidote for all that has been happening in the world, and it’s even great fun to pursue. This Saturday is Culper Spy Day in Setauket, and it is the work of a number of local organizations committed to bringing history to life. The Culper spies, as you may know, were a small band of close friends who provided George Washington and the colonists with critically important information throughout the Revolutionary War at great risk to their lives. So engaging were their exploits, and so valuable to the eventual outcome of the war, that AMC has a cable TV drama, “Turn,” which has been drawing large audiences for three seasons to date. The series is what we call historical fiction, with the emphasis on fiction loosely — very loosely — based on real events. Those events belong to us because they are part of our local history and are a source of community pride.

This Saturday, July 23, you will be able to walk or bike or drive a designated route that offers views of key locations in the Culper story. There will be “colonists” in costume and signs along the way, helping the stories come alive. And we at Times Beacon Record have produced a multimedia map to enhance your experience. I refer to the newly released Three Village Map, complete with local roads and information from our business community. On this map is a QR code and also a link that, if you click on it with your mobile phone, will open up onto our website to seven different dramatizations of Culper stories — that we promise are historically accurate. In fact, the truth, we think, is more riveting than fiction, as we watch the dangerous exploits of these American heroes and heroines.

The actors in these episodes may be recognizable to you, and they do a fine job of conveying the gist of the story. We have used the services of a professional film crew, who shot the local scenes over the past several months. Community leaders introduce each film segment to set the scene. And in between episodes, if you are walking the route with your family, there are fun arcade-like games to play on your smartphone or laptop. The games, like the scenes, are our original creations and lots of fun. I predict your children — and you — will return to them many times to improve your score. I have.

Special thanks go to the participating organizations and their members for the vision to mount such an ambitious event and the enormous amount of time and effort that went into making history come alive. These include the Three Village Historical Society, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and The Long Island Museum.

The Times Beacon Record has put together a special pullout within this week’s Arts & Lifestyles section with additional information about Culper Spy Day. Copies will be distributed for free in the historical society parking lot; our multimedia map is $3. Tickets for the more-than 16 attractions, including battle reenactments and colonial cooking demonstrations, are $25, with children under 12 free, from the historical society, WMHO Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook village and The Long Island Museum.

Have yourselves a worry free and wonderful day!

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Queen Elizabeth I and subsequently Catherine the Great have captured the attention and the imaginations of people over the centuries, but there was another such extraordinary woman whom I had never heard of until last Saturday night. She was Queen Christina of Sweden, born in 1626, and she was the monarch technically from the time she was 6 until she abdicated her throne in 1654.

Her father was King Gustav II Adolph, and he died on the battlefield at the Battle of Lützen during the Thirty Years’ War. Close to his daughter, his only legitimate child, as she was to him, he decreed that in the event of his death, she was to be educated as a prince — to receive a boy’s tutoring and instruction. Except for a brief, three-year period when she was raised by her father’s half-sister, Catherine, who then died, Christina was always in the company of men and was effectively overseen by the governing regency council and the chancellor. She took to her books eagerly, and throughout her early years she energetically studied 10 hours a day. Her education ranged from religion, mathematics, Greek and Latin, philosophy and alchemy, and she eventually learned at least eight languages: German, Dutch, Danish, French, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew and her own Swedish. She was also deeply interested in the arts and filled her palace and her kingdom with books, manuscripts, sculptures and statues, while encouraging theater and ballet.

When her chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, wanted to continue the war, she sued for peace. Christina was interested in bringing scholars and artists from throughout Europe and surrounded herself and her court with learned men.

In 1648, Christina commissioned 35 pieces of art. By 1649, 760 artworks, 170 marble and 100 bronze statues, 33,000 coins and medallions, 600 pieces of crystal, 300 scientific instruments, manuscripts and books were forthcoming. Christina was widely viewed throughout Europe as one of the most educated women of the 1600s, nicknamed “Minerva of the North.” She was also regarded as eccentric since she often dressed in the most comfortable clothing, including pants and men’s shoes.

Christina stunned the royals throughout Europe by announcing she would never marry, although constantly pressed to do so by her regency council to produce an heir, and that she would abdicate her throne in favor of her first cousin Charles, with whom she had been secretly betrothed when she was 16. Impressed by a biography she had read of Elizabeth I, known as “The Virgin Queen,” and taken with the idea of Roman Catholicism celibacy — although Christina was rumored not to have been celibate, rather the contrary — she sailed from Sweden for Rome.

The pope, who pronounced her a “queen without a realm, a Christian without faith and a woman without shame,” welcomed her elaborately. As the eventual guest of five consecutive popes, Christina is thought to have been a symbol of the Counter-Reformation since she converted from Lutheranism and became a Roman Catholic. For the most part, she lived in high style throughout the rest of her life, mainly in her beloved Rome, and she certainly influenced continental Europe profoundly with her taste and protectionism of the arts. She militantly advocated on behalf of personal freedom, of charities and, interestingly, of Jews in Rome who were sometimes taunted on the streets.

So how did I come to learn of her remarkable life? I am a fan of Saturday night classic movies hosted by Columbia University arts professor Richard Peña on Channel 13 at 9 p.m., and caught the showing of “Queen Christina” (1933) starring Greta Garbo. From what I have subsequent read, the story is surprisingly faithful to the broader outlines of Christina’s life. She died in 1689 and is buried in a Vatican grotto.

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After every July Fourth we hear about the sickening tally of those injured or maimed by illegal firecrackers and explosives that were fired off in the name of fun. We routinely say, “How idiotic. Why don’t they just leave the fireworks to the professionals and go watch the show someplace?” There are always places to see the artful displays, hear the raucous explosions and cheer together the red, white and blue. If all else fails, there is the television or the computer screen. Do we have to injure ourselves to fully honor the actions of the colonists almost two-and-one-half centuries ago?

This subject is of more than casual interest to my family. When my dad was growing up on an upstate New York farm, one of nine children, a neighbor brought the family some explosive caps with which to properly celebrate Independence Day. The children gathered around a large boulder and cheered with each explosion, as my father’s favorite brother smashed the caps in turn with a rock he held in his hand. But one refused to go off. To make sure he was hitting the cap in exactly the right spot, he bent his head close to the obdurate explosive and carefully aimed his blow. This time it did explode and blew out his right eye. Needless to say, that was the end of that in my household.

The trail of these stupid tragedies continues.

When we first arrived here, on the beautiful North Shore of Suffolk from our Texas air force base, at the end of June, 47 years ago, my husband, who was an ophthalmologist, applied for hospital privileges at St. Charles in Port Jefferson. He was admitted to the ranks with the news that his first “on call” day would be on July 4. His first patient, waiting for him in the emergency room, was a teenage boy whose eye had been destroyed by an Independence Day explosive. He tended to the boy, of course, but never got over the horror of that sight and was sickened by the memory every year. It had been more traumatic for him than the many cases he had treated during the Vietnam War.

With these illegal explosives, brought in gleefully from distant states, we are to this day making war on ourselves. There is the story of the young visitor from Virginia in New York City, who was romping over the rocks in Central Park with his two buddies, when he stepped on a plastic bag of explosives that went off and destroyed his foot. There are seemingly unending stories of hands blown off, faces disfigured, house fires started, bystanders wounded and all manner of ugly consequences from fireworks across America. Some 230 wound up in emergency rooms at the latest count.

When John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, on July 4, 1776, envisioning a dazzling annual celebration of independence from Britain, he surely didn’t consider such carnage as part of the party. Nor did he imagine the single horror that brought about what was probably the first city ordinance in America banning the possession or sale of fireworks within the city limits.

It happened in Cleveland in 1908. A clerk in S.S. Kresge’s department store was showing a 4-year-old boy and his mother a “harmless” sparkler with which to celebrate the holiday when a spark flew into the nearby display of skyrockets, torpedoes and candles. The store was almost immediately engulfed in flames. Seven people died, including the little boy, and dozens more were injured as the store burned. The tragedy prompted the city council to act, and many more cities and states have outlawed explosives over the last century.

But there are still states where the sale of explosives is legal, and the present concern is that a growing movement seems underway to relax some of the current legal restrictions. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates the sale of fireworks, reported that in addition to the many maimings from explosives 11 people died in 2014 alone. Why?

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As Independence Day approaches, Teddy becomes more anxious. Teddy is our 11-year-old golden retriever, and he still has not come to terms with the noises of the holiday in particular and summer in general. We can feel his distress. For no apparent reason he begins to breathe more heavily. He doesn’t remain in his guardian position near the front door of the house throughout the night but seeks to sleep in one of our bedrooms alongside the bed. During the night he will get up and push against the mattress, tossing his head as if seeking comfort in the form of a few reassuring pats. This happens repeatedly throughout the remaining hours of sleep.

Clearly that doesn’t go over too well with whichever one of us he has awakened. But just try shutting the bedroom door to keep him out, and he will go into another routine. He knocks with his paw, his nails tapping against the wood. When that gets no response, he throws his body against the door two or three times. If admission isn’t granted, he begins to cry, loudly and piteously.

At that point Teddy wins.

While we have been aware of his unease, it was not until we read an article about “noise anxiety” in dogs that we actually understood this behavior was part of a seasonal syndrome and not just the expected reaction to the firecrackers going off on July Fourth.

Think about it. With the advent of more beautiful weather, we humans get outside more and do things like mow the lawn, blow the leaves, drive back and forth frequently, and play outdoor games like baseball or even catch amid screams and laughter. Air conditioners switch on and off and summer storms with rolling thunder and crackling lightning come and go. With the far-more-acute hearing of dogs, is it any wonder that such bursts of sound can send them into panic? They can hear far beyond what we can hear, so the volume of what to us is a deafening storm must be like a rock concert on steroids to their ears. This excites their norepinephrine, the brain chemical that triggers a fear response, and they sometimes do frantic things to try and escape what they perceive to be great danger. They may become agitated hours before a storm arrives, and they may continue to shake for hours after the offending storm leaves. No wonder their nervous systems cannot easily calm back down. A few comforting pats in the night just doesn’t do it for them.

There is a new medicine, as reported by The New York Times, which is the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to counter what is now officially termed “canine noise aversion.” It is called Sileo, distributed by Zoetis, and it works by inhibiting the effects of norepinephrine. I don’t know how you feel about administering medicine, but I prefer the loving, comforting approach so far.

There is one room in our house that is quieter than the rest because of its location, and I might take Teddy there and sit with him as I read, if all else fails. There is even a cot in that room. That seems to work — for him and for me. But depending on the severity of the dog’s discomfort, medicine may be required.

Meanwhile there is a movie coming called, “The Secret Life of Pets.” For those of us who enjoy animals and even tend to treat them like humans, the trailer looks amusing, so I recommend the film.

Happy Fourth!