Me — Then ’til Now

Recently I’ve decided to change doctors. I have decided to see a physician that has more knowledge about the specific needs of those of us who are aging. The medical history form for the UNC Geriatric Clinic requested that I tell them about myself. It is probably a bernieonstjohnlittle more lengthy than they required. Somehow it morphed into a blog post! So here goes.

I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on January 7, 1928 at 25 minutes to midnight at 4 lbs/10 oz. Arriving two months earlier than expected, I had to be fed with an eye dropper. I went down to 3 lbs/13oz. before my weight started to pick up. I was told that I was wrapped in absorbent cotton and put into a cigar box. (I must admit I don’t remember any of it, but I guess that’s because of my aging.)

The family moved to Queens in New York City when I was six months old, first to Jackson Heights and then, in 1936, to Flushing. My younger brother, Arnie, was born when I was three. Like most other Queens kids most of those early years were spent in public schools. Summers were spent at camp. At 12 I became a Boy Scout in Queens Troop 45. The next three summers were spent at Ten Mile River Scout Camp Keowa in the Adirondacks. In my second year I was chosen for the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s honor society. I became a Star Scout, but never made it to Life or Eagle Scout.

In June 1941, I completed the first half of the eighth grade. In September I was accepted by and went on to high school at Fieldston School in Riverdale. Fieldston is the educational arm of the Society for Ethical Culture. To avoid the long daily commute from Flushing to Fieldston, I boarded with a family in Riverdale during the week.

Continue reading “Me — Then ’til Now”

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I’m Sorry?

sorry

Last Friday was a beautiful afternoon. I went over to check out the progress that had been made at the Farmer’s Market site. They have been working to improve existing structures and create new ones to make the farmer’s market more enjoyable, no matter what the weather is. I walked into the construction area and my foot got caught on a piece of plastic sheeting. I tripped and fell, hitting my head on the concrete floor. I was bleeding from the cuts on my head and nose and my right shoulder was painful. Phil, the manager of the site, gave me a hand and was very helpful. I called Erin to let her know what had happened. She did not pick up.

Erin called back later and said “I’m sorry.” As she explained, what she meant was “I’m sorry that you fell”. The unspoken portion of her reaction was ‘that you fell’. Knowing Erin has I do, that was her way of expressing deep concern. Moreover, I heard it in her voice.

Saying (or hearing) “I’m sorry!” in response to an accident or event that caused injury or harm makes no sense to me. That is especially true when the person saying it was in no way involved in what happened and is not apologizing for their role in it.
Continue reading “I’m Sorry?”

Baskets? Yes, Baskets!

virgin_islands_national_park__virgin_islands_usSomething happened recently that I’d like to share with you. I’ve decided to change tacks and follow my heart and my gut. Together, Erin Coyle and I have been trying to help others understand the broken health-care system and how to work their way around and through the intricacies of it.  We’ve enjoyed doing it and have even gotten some favorable responses. From time-to-time some of the ideas have shown up as blog posts or as topics on my website: www.imperfecthealthcaremarket.com.

Early in November, I got a call from the St. John Historical Society. They were planning a meeting in December honoring St. John baskets, and they asked me to come down to talk about them. The Virgin Islands, volcanic in origin, rose out of the ocean like mountaintops cropping out of the sea. The two larger ones are St. Thomas and St. Croix. The smallest — St. John — is where I lived for eighteen years. When I first moved there in 1987, I studied St. John basketry. Through basketry, I met Mr. Herman Prince, St. John’s premier basketmaker and basketry teacher. When I told Mr. Prince that I wanted to write an article on St. John baskets, he said, “Before you write an article about baskets and basketry, you

Mr. Herman Prince. St John's premier basketmaker and teacher.
Mr. Herman Prince. St John’s premier basketmaker and teacher. (Picture courtesy of the St. John Historical Society.)

should learn how to make one.” So I took his course at Hawksnest. Not only did I learn how to make a basket, I also learned much about the culture. In 1990, I published a basketry article, entitled, “Basketmaking on the Island of St. John,” in The Clarion, the magazine of The Museum of American Folk Art. My interest in basketry didn’t end there; during my 18 years on St. John, I collected more than 25 baskets, many made by preeminent St. John basketmakers.

The phone call from the St. John Historical Society got me thinking. Sometime in late November, I pulled the collection of baskets out of the attic, looked them over, and realized how special and beautiful they are. Five of Mr. Prince’s baskets arein my collection, as well as others from St. John basketmakers such as Louise Sewer; her daughter, Lorrel; Victor Sewer; Felicia Martin; and Ina George. I also own a basket made by renowned basketmaker Jackie Abrams, who visited St. John in 1993-94.

Looking over my baskets, I thought, “Wow – some of these baskets really are fine art.”

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum had just launched a basketry exhibit: “A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets” on display from October 4, 2013 to December 8, 2013. Looking over the catalog, I realized that one of the 63 baskets in the exhibit was made by my old friend and teacher, Herman Prince! His “St. John Market Basket” was in the exhibit and is now part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection; you can see it on the exhibit’s website and on page 144 of the show catalog. One of Jackie Abrams’ baskets was also in the exhibit as part of the Cole-Ware Collection.

I began to really think about my time on St. John, especially the time I spent with the basketmakers. Many basketmakers that I knew, including Mr. Prince, have already died. I quickly realized that if I don’t tell the stories about them, valuable information about the basketmakers and the baskets will be lost, forever.

Preserving the collection – and the stories that go with it – is important not only so people can learn about St. Johnian basketry and its relationship to the culture; it can even preserve and pass on the art of basketry itself. One of the baskets in

Mr. Herman Prince's, St. John Market Basket.
Mr. Herman Prince’s, St. John Market Basket.

the collection is a miniature St. John basket with a cover, made by Ms. Lorrel Sewer. She learned basketmaking – the form called wist work – from her mother, a premier basketmaker in her own right. Ms. Lorrel gave me the basket for the collection in 2000. A number of years later, I got a call from her asking if I would be willing to send it back to her. She wanted to make another one, but she had forgotten how to make the cover.

Ms. Lorrel had lost that skill, and there were no other basketmakers alive to teach her. Because I had preserved the basket by keeping it as part of the collection, she was able to re-learn how to make a basket cover by studying her own work!

So what I’ve decided to do is to make a video that documents my collection of baskets. It will bring the baskets and their history to light and to life. It will honor the basketmakers who came from the small, isolated island community of St. John. I want to help tell the story of how they raised the level of the baskets they produced to museum-quality fine art. I want to make sure that the stories, memories, and culture of these beautiful people will not be lost! I plan to donate the video and  all of the baskets in the collection to the St. John Historical Society. I want to honor the makers and help preserve their stories and culture for future generations of historians, visitors and viewers.

In short, I have decided to follow my true passion. For now, the other important things we have to offer will just have to wait.

The Birthday of an 86-Year-Old Economist

You may have noticed that the blog name has changed, reflecting yet another year gone by. I want to offer three gifts to Anna — my birthday buddy, and to everyone and to the Universe on my 86th Birthday.
1st My true Love to all.
2nd A suggestion — at 86 I don’t give advice. It is, “The only standards you have are the ones you set for yourself; and don’t be afraid to make a mistake, you can learn from it.”
3rd Is a story.
       This past week at 85 going on 86 I learned something. My driver’s license was about to expire on my 86th birthday. It had to be renewed. My eyesight is not as good as it has been and I was afraid I would not pass. The fear kicked in and along with it came delays, procrastination, excuses, etc. What should I do? What will happen if I don’t pass? Now I’ll teach you a Yiddish term, one of the few I know. It is to “Dreh” something. (I’m not sure of the spelling, but you pronounce it like “lay” with the accent on the D.) It means to over obsess about something, anything.
       It is a waste of time. Deal with the situation. Except the reality for whatever it is and adjust to whatever limitations it imposes — if, in fact, those limits actually occur. That is not to say, that there are those times when some preplanning and preparation will help. But the time spent on over-worrying about it and the energy wasted on the anxiety can be better spent on something, anything else. Like just cooling out. See, in the end, I am an economist.
Think about it. The best, truest and long-lasting gifts are the nonmaterial, non-monetary ones that come from the heart.
Love,
Bernie
P.S.: Thank you, Erin, for acknowledging the transition by changing the Blog heading.

Communication

communicationIn today’s world, communication –if you want to call it that –seems one-sided. As a 1930s kid, I could never have imagined talking to a computer. Yet that’s what I do everyday.

Yesterday I got my monthly bill from Time Warner Cable. I called the suggested phone number. It knew the number I was calling from without my saying a word. By the end of the transaction I paid the bill by credit card and the computer said, “Thank you.” Later in the day there was a message on my answering service. My doctor’s office called to remind me of my next appointment. A computer was talking to a computer. Continue reading “Communication”

Speak up, young friends!

One of the things that has made me feel isolated is my hearing loss. I don’t hear as well as I used to. High-end frequencies create the biggest problem. It is harder to hear what girls and women say, especially those who mumble or don’t speak clearly. It is challenging to understand dialects like those in British movies and TV programs. Figuring out what is being said is difficult and tiring enough but made even worse when someone has their back to me or we are in a noisy restaurant or at a stage performance. It can be a real chore.

Once a week my friends, Erin and Grace have a “Tea” salon. They invite friends for an evening get-together. They are in their 30s reganand they invite me. Wow! Sometimes there are just a few of us, sometimes many more. When the group is large and when there are side conversations, keeping up with what’s being said is hard. Especially when someone slides a side comment or joke into the conversation. The discussion frequently centers around music. Importantly, there are significant differences in our musical background. When I grew up in the late 30’s and early 40’s we had big bands, jazz, folk and North Carolina mountain music — the Dorsey brothers, Louis Armstrong, Cab Callaway, Gene Krupa, Frank Sinatra, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lena Horn, etc. I saw Sintatra on stage at the Paramount Theater in Manhattan in the early 40s and Krupa’s band played at a dance at UNC- Chapel Hill later in the decade. It was the only time I went to a formal; I had to borrow a tux. I still hear sound of Krupa’s masterful drumming. Continue reading “Speak up, young friends!”

Aging

george-booth-i-would-embrace-the-aging-process-if-i-could-lift-my-arms-new-yorker-cartoonMy Mom, when she was 80, said to me, “Bernie, I wish I was 20 and knew then what I know now.” My response was, “Mom, That’s a contradiction in terms.” Perhaps by sharing my experiences and what I have learned from the time I was 20 until now can help others. Just to prove I’m keeping up with the technology, from time to time I post my experiences on this blog. Trust me, when I was growing up we didn’t have blogs! In the following series of posts on aging, I’ll tell you about some of the issues I’ve faced and how I’ve dealt with them. My hope is that this series will help you, no matter what your age, to understand some of the challenges older folks, like me, have.

Aging is isolating. It’s harder to get around. Friends die off or disappear. Your energy level ain’t what it used to be. You can’t do what you used to. Much of the new technology leaves you behind. Even though I use a computer and even have a blog, I never learned to text or twitter. I-Phones with their Apps are too difficult to deal with, even if I could afford one on my limited budget. People don’t talk to one another now, not the way we used to. Instead of picking up the phone they e-mail or text, and I don’t use a cell phone except for emergencies. Moreover, younger people have their own lives and appropriately, their own agenda. Continue reading “Aging”