Sunday, September 1, 2019

Consider This


Two Nameless Heroes

So many women, so many role models.I can’t even begin to pick my favorites or the ones I admired the most.Eleanor Roosevelt?A definite contender.I’ve read every single thing ever written about her and she was one prima first lady.What she did for America, for women, for African Americans, for all minorities during FDR’s presidency and after he died is the stuff of legends.I wish I’d known her.

Helen Keller.Sacagawea. All the women on the Mayflower. All the women who came across America in covered wagons.Joan of Arc.Marie Curie.Betty Boop. Margaret Bourke-White.Margaret Sanger. Margaret Chase Smith.Sojourner Truth. Assorted queens. The Statue of Liberty. OK, I’ll stop. You get the idea.

Who was the bravest?What woman did and do I admire the most?That’s a tough one because all of them were so very admirable.I think I’ve mentioned a couple in this column over the years, but all brave ladies deserve more ink, right? Lots more.

Two stand out for me, and I’ll tell you about them.I was re-reminded of one of them because I read a horrifying story about Donald Trump, poor darling, who had taken all the money out of some casino in Atlantic City he owned, minutes before it went bankrupt.In fact many of the casinos are crumbling and unattended at that formerly elegant seaside town.I rejoice.I went to Atlantic City as a kid and ---well, that’s for another column.

So let’s chat about the first of the two bravest women I’ve never known.When beautiful, sweet Atlantic City NJ was eyeballed by a bunch of guys with cigars, big cars, crooked noses and strangely furtive expressions, it all changed abruptly and horribly.That graceful, gracious little town became, well, Las Vegas East. Everyone had to move away.“They” took over and the old, elegant homes were flattened and hauled away like so much shattered driftwood, and in their places shot up huge, gaudy tall buildings, the floors covered with garish rugs, each gigantic room filled with every known gambling device.Every crime flourished, and the people came.

But there was one tiny flaw in the center of one of the largest, glittering dens of iniquity, looking for all the world like a small missing tooth.That biggest, tallest and most ostentatious of those buildings had a small opening at its base and in that space was a tiny house, old, shabby, and well used.It had a front porch and on that porch sat an old woman in a straight-backed chair, a look of rage on her wrinkled face and a great big blunderbuss across her lap.I’d read about her.She’d become famous over the last few years, and had been written up in newspapers and magazines, because she would not, she simply refused to sell her tiny home overlooking the beach in Atlantic City, NJ where she’d lived all her life, a home she loved almost more than life itself, where she’d raised a bunch of kids, loved a husband; it was a home, her home, and she would not sell it to the big boys who put a whole lot of threatening pressure on her to do just that.Nope.She would not go no matter how much dough they offered.

So they simply built the casino around and over her, and there she sat, every day, defying them.Da boys knew she’d die soon and then they’d go in and blast that tiny home to splinters and fill in the gap with more glitter, slot machines, bad music and fast women.She was a brave lady, sitting in that old chair.How could we not admire and love her?She’s gone now, and that missing tooth at the base of that huge casino has been filled in and smoothed over and there’s no memory of her, or a plaque nailed to the wall to speak of her bravery.But I remember her well and I have always wondered who got the blunderbuss.

Let’s now talk about the second woman.I’d guess this charming beautiful old lady had to also be in her mid-eighties.I never got to meet her and I regret that, but circumstances prevented.Here’s why; Mongo and I had driven to Maine from New Jersey to go camping in the Lamoine campground up near Ellsworth so we could enjoy Maine and our sons, and I could commence my slow, easy, just under the radar, never-knew-what-hit-him propaganda to gently ease Mongo out of his very good New Jersey job and to nudge them all into a good and new and better life in Maine. It all paid off and my work was a resounding success because in 1974, we found ourselves movin’ on up, and have never regretted it.OK, sometimes in March.

But back then, it was on one of those beautiful summer trips to Maine that we stopped somewhere in New Hampshire to grab some lunch and to then head on up to Lamoine and Paradise.

We stopped at a diner quite close to a busy traffic circle which I quickly learned in Maine is called a rotary. “Rotary” to me was a club of some sort, dictionary defined as an international service organization whose stated purpose is to bring together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world.

We dined at that little restaurant right on the edge of the rotary and the cars were numerous and speeding and very loud.When we finished our meal we stood, digesting, and watched the traffic whizzing past when something colorful caught my eye through the blur of speeding vehicles.I squinted and tried to stare through the cars flying past, roaring around that rotary (or as Mainers will pronounce it, “ROE-chree”) and yes,there it was.In the center of that thundering, circling stampede of automobiles was a round patch of bright green grass and off to one side a beautiful small Victorian home, complete with gingerbread all over it and ornately carved knees, a porch swing, hanging ferns. It looked old and magical as I peered at it through the speeding cars.

But something else was there.A woman, an old woman.She had white hair and was wearing a big circular straw hat that had long silky blue ribbons around the crown and they fluttered with each passing car.She sat in a rocking chair and she was knitting. Knitting!Something pink.And while I could not see her dress very well, I could tell it was long to her toes and pale colored and it maybe had flowers on it.I think she was barefooted.What a sight! Whenever there was a break in the zooming cars I could see her face, smiling, as she bent over her knitting.I screamed “Hey! Hey!” at her but she never looked up or waved, and I wish she had.

Like the remarkable lady in Atlantic City, this too was a brave, unforgettable woman.Why was she brave and what was her story? It’s obvious.Knowing full well the mighty Highway Commission people had begun a death watch and would grab her tiny piece of her earth when she went to live with the angles, she advised the suits that she had a home, yes she knew the highway was coming through, they told her she had to move and she told them she did in fact not have to move, that she’d lived there her entire life and as sweet as she looked, those guys knew they were attempting to push up against an immovable force.That lady was going nowhere. And so just like the brave woman in Atlantic City and knowing she really couldn’t last too much longer,the bemused and pissed off men built a rotary around her little piece of property and went away, knowing it was just a matter of time.As I stared at that sweet, brave, knitting woman, loving her on her small patch of lawn next to her beloved home in the center of those whirling, roaring cars on that rotary I suspect, no I positively knew she’d firmly told the Highway Commission boys where they might consider putting their eminent domain.

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