Authors Posts by Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief


by -
0 869

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.

by -
0 819

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.

by -
0 840

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!

by -
0 836

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.

by -
0 744

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?

by -
0 652

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!

by -
0 679

As I sit at my desk, typing this column, I am enjoying the longest day of the year, June solstice. It will not get dark until almost 9 p.m., and the June light makes our world sparkle. Recently we have been living through some of the most beautiful days with temperature and humidity in the Goldilocks range: not too hot and not too cold. It is also the first day of summer, a word that always brings a smile to my face.

What do you think of immediately when you think of summer? I conjure up cherries, watermelon and corn on the cob; then there are ice cream, lemonade, lobster rolls and backyard barbecues for lots of socializing. Lest you think that all I fantasize about is food, there are those luxuriously lazy days reading at the beach or at the pool … and oh those sweet summer nights. Time seems to slow down a bit and we get to relax amid less structure in our lives.

There are other reasons to be happier when the days are longer. Because we are phototropic beings, the presence of sunlight is important to us, more so for some of us than others. Many people suffer to varying degrees from seasonal affective disorder during the winter, when the days are shorter. Natural sunlight is a freely available mood enhancer, causing us to produce vitamin D, which in addition to helping with the absorption of calcium, also affects our levels of serotonin and melatonin and hence our feelings of satisfaction. When there is little sunlight, some people can suffer from depression.

Light therapy, with specially designed lights and vitamin D plus melatonin supplements can combat SAD to a degree, although no one really knows why some are susceptible. More affected are women, those living farthest from the equator (e.g., the Eskimo) and those with a family history. Chemical makeup, age and genetics also seem to be factors. But there is no SAD during summer solstice. This is the time of the longest light, when the sun seems to stand still in the sky before reversing its direction for the rest of the year. Of course the earth rotates around the sun, rather than vice versa, and as the earth moves away on its axis, it seems the sun is moving lower and lower across the sky through the remaining six months.

June solstice has inspired countless festivals, celebrations and religious events. Stonehenge, that mysterious megalithic structure in England, was clearly built to mark the solstices for the stones are lined up accordingly to receive the sunlight (there were some 12,000 people in attendance this year).

Oops, I didn’t mean to get so carried away with technical stuff. Nonetheless, here’s another bit of trivia: This year the full moon — otherwise known as strawberry moon — coincides with the June solstice we are enjoying. Not since 1967 has that happened, apparently, and it will not happen again until 2062. See how special it is to be alive today!

by -
0 799

On the eve of Father’s Day, here is an adventure story of a father along with a slice of little known history about the Civil War. His name was Newton Knight, he was a poor Southern farmer and he led a revolt against the Confederacy from deep in the heart of Dixie. Proving that not all residents in any one region think alike, Knight and as many as 1,000 other farmers in Jones County, Mississippi, waged an effective guerilla war against the Confederate troops and declared loyalty to the Union.

Whenever Confederate troops came after him and his band of like-minded white men, they would just melt away into the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and disappear to fight another day. Then, in the spring of 1864, “the Knight Company overthrew the Confederate authorities in Jones County and raised the United States flag over the county courthouse in Ellisville,” according to an article in the March issue of the Smithsonian magazine. “The county was known as the Free State of Jones, and some say it actually seceded from the Confederacy,” the article maintains. There will soon be a movie about this remarkable footnote of history, to be called “Free State of Jones,” starring Matthew McConaughey as Newt Knight.

By all accounts, Knight was a remarkable military leader. He certainly was a remarkable father, who had nine children with his first wife, Serena, who was white and from whom he eventually separated. He also had five children with his grandfather’s former slave, Rachel, entering into a scandalous common-law marriage, and according to the magazine, “proudly claiming their mixed-race children.”

Jones County was poor at the time of the Civil War, with only 12 percent of its population made up of slaves, which probably somewhat explains its lack of loyalty to the Confederacy. It also was marked with what the Smithsonian article calls “a surly, clannish independent spirit.” Today it is 70 percent white, still rural and its inhabitants earn low or modest incomes. And while there is a Confederate monument next to the columned courthouse in Ellisville, there is no mention of the anti-Confederate rebellion that Knight led. In fact, Jones County is described by some of its inhabitants as the most conservative place in Mississippi now, and some disown Knight.

Yet some of the younger people in the county think of Newt Knight “as a symbol of Jones County pride,” according to the article. “Knight was 6-foot-four with black curly hair and a full beard—‘big heavyset man, quick as a cat,’ as one of his friends described him. He was a nightmarish opponent in a backwoods wrestling match, and one of the great unsung guerilla fighters in American history. So many men tried so hard to kill him that perhaps his most remarkable achievement was to reach old age.

‘He was a Primitive Baptist who didn’t drink, didn’t cuss, doted on his children and could reload and fire a double-barreled, muzzle-loading shotgun faster than anyone else around,’ said a local historian. ‘….There’s good evidence that he was a man of strong principles who was against secession, against slavery and pro-Union.’”

Knight actually enlisted with a group of locals in the Confederate Army at the start of the war; a biographer speculated that he relished being a soldier. But many of them, including Knight, deserted from the Seventh Battalion of Mississippi Infantry after the passage of the “Twenty Negro Law,” which exempted one white male from conscription for every 20 slaves owned on a plantation, making it what locals called “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” When they returned home, they found the Confederate authorities where taking what they wanted from the wives in the name of the war effort—“horses, hogs, chickens, meat from the smokehouse and homespun cloth.” There was a mass meeting of the deserters, and they organized themselves into the Jones County Scouts. Knight was unanimously elected their captain. They vowed to resist capture, defy tax collectors, defend each other’s homes and farms, and do what they could to aid the Union.

Their ranks swelled, they waged guerilla warfare successfully against the Confederate war effort, and that is the way they, led by Newton Knight, entered the history books.


by -
0 578

The column I intended for this week has been put aside. This is a historic moment, and as a journalist, with a front row on history, and as a woman in what many still think is a man’s job, I cannot let the moment pass without offering the recognition it surely deserves. Finally, in my lifetime, a woman has become the presidential candidate of one of the two major parties in the United States of America.

Although I have voted for candidates of both parties in different presidential elections, depending which one I thought was better, this has nothing to do with party affiliation. I would never pick party over country. The triumph of this moment does have to do with a struggle for equality in governing that is as recent as my mother’s hard-won right to vote in the 1920s. Can you imagine a time, not prehistoric but merely one family generation back, when women could not even vote? Or earn careers in medicine, law, business, literature or the arts?

This has nothing to do with whether I like Hillary Clinton or don’t like Hillary Clinton, any more than whether I am a Republican or a Democrat. This turn of events feels like we are emerging from the dark ages and into the sunshine of the 21st century. And to be honest, I am surprised at how powerfully this moment affects me.

Yes, I came of age during “women’s lib,” graduating from college at the time Betty Friedan’s book, “The Feminine Mystique,” was published. And yes, I was one of the early wives and mothers in our social circle to balance the needs of a family with those of a business, but frankly I never thought of myself as a member of “the second sex,” or as a revolutionary. I was merely doing what for me “came naturally.” But throughout my life working these dual jobs, I have felt the contradictions within society about a woman’s “role.” Indeed, my own mother was dead set against my starting a newspaper, accusing me of “abdicating my responsibilities at home.” But I thought all that was long past.

Why shouldn’t a woman lead her party in a run for the presidency? If the population feels she is qualified, why shouldn’t she lead her country as president? Now there is a lot more going on during this vindictive presidential campaign than women’s rights. In fact, I wasn’t so aware that the issue of women’s rights was playing a part. So much of the population is angry, frustrated, even frightened with how they are being governed by an obstructionist Congress and a rapidly changing economy.

Thus my surprise by my own reaction on the level of gender equality. I still remember when Geraldine Ferraro, who came to the New York Press Association as the keynote speaker when I was its president in the 1980s, declined my husband’s offer of a corsage. He had bought one for her and one for me, but she explained she “couldn’t look too feminine.”

I also recently remembered with a laugh, as I was recalling early history to my 21-year-old grandson, that I had been propositioned while eating alone in a dining room of a hotel before a convention was to begin there the next day. “Good girls don’t do that,” I was admonished, for dining solo. Lest I chalk up that encounter to a fluke, it happened again on the train trip home.

The past may be past, but it surely isn’t forgotten. And when I looked around the table last month at the board of directors meeting of the NY Press Association and realized that there were only two other women publishers in a room of 28 board members, I realized that the past isn’t even past. But clearly there is hope.

by -
0 714

It has been more than a quarter of a century since I was married, but nonetheless I read, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” a front-page piece in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times this week, with great interest. Before my husband died, I had been married just shy of 25 years, so I figured I had a dual perspective on the issue.

I was not surprised to learn that the article had one of the highest “hits” in the entire Sunday paper, from those who read online. Marriage is a fascinating subject, both for those who are, those who never were — and those who are no longer. There is some magic in the whole process of falling in love and of deciding that this is the person one wants to spend the rest of one’s life with. By the same token, that was not always the primary criterion for marriage: financial security, international alliances, duty — these are but some of the other motivators. My grandfather, for example, was widowed at a young age when my grandmother died in a wagon accident at the turn of the last century, leaving him with three young children. The family expected him to marry his wife’s younger unmarried sister, which he obediently did, to keep the clan intact and provide loving care for the children, who were after all her nieces and nephew. There are countless instances of royals who were married off to other royals in order to cement strategic alliances — between countries, between tribes, between sects.

Marrying for love is a fairly recent and novel idea that is even today not always practiced around the globe. Marriages can be and still are “arranged.”

But this article last Sunday dealt only with a marriage that is made by mutual choice of the couple involved. So what are the problems the couple will face? Alain de Botton, the author, attempted to list them. “We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well,” is definitely one of his better lines. He continued, “In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: ‘And how are you crazy?’” He doesn’t say this, but when one buys a house or a car, one asks,”What are the problems here?” Certainly the choice of spouse is far more critical, and all liabilities and drawbacks should honorably be revealed.

Even in today’s lenient “shacking up openly” culture, something new by the way with only the past couple of generations, couples may not know all that they should about one another. “One of the privileges of being on our own is therefore the sincere impression that we are really quite easy to live with,” the author said.

“Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating,” de Botton asserted. He certainly hit the nail on the head for at least my generation. We all became engaged as casually as picking a partner with whom to go to the prom. We dated for two months, two years, whatever the case, but always on our best behavior and in settings like concerts and parks that surrounded us with beauty. Perhaps today’s greater intimacy lessens the surprises.

The author makes a key point: That what we seek in marriage is supposedly happiness but in fact is familiarity. We seek to recreate relationships we experienced or yearned for that were out of reach in our childhoods. Those are not the relationships most conducive to happiness.

Also people who feel terribly lonely, who find the thought of being alone throughout their lives terrifying, “risk loving no longer being single rather more than we love the partner who spared us that fate.”

And then there is custom. Everyone married when they finished their schooling, or shortly thereafter, it seemed to us of a certain age. Indeed, my mother told me on my wedding day that I had barely managed to avoid being “an old maid.” I had just turned 22.