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Posts tagged ‘personal history’

How Green Was My Garden

June 9, 2016

Susan Marg

In my last post, I took exception to an article blaming British baby boomers for their children forsaking gardening. I still stand by my point that each generation is different from every other generation, but I also note that certain interests and talents are passed along. A case in point: the pleasure I get from taking care of the garden I certainly got from my father.

a_0000029AWhen I was a young girl, my father spent his free time in the backyard planting and weeding. He grew beautiful roses and peonies, placing cucumbers among the flowers, so they would not be noticeable. He cultivated tomatoes on the far side of the detached garage, frequently checking on them, as they turned from green to red and ripe.

I recently went back to the family history my husband and I had written for my parents’ anniversary to see what we had said about my father’s favorite pursuit. My mother remembered that he “spent from early spring to late fall out in the yard blissfully gardening.” I recollected a few incidents, including one spring, long after I had left home, when he had discovered that a migrating bird had laid her eggs in one of his larger flower pots. What could he do, despite his lack of patience, but wait for the ducklings to hatch and fly the coop? My dad, a hardworking businessman, never mentioned his outdoor activities at all.

Do you spend your time in the garden? Do you have a favorite flower? What about your parents? Why not write about it? As English author P.G. Wodehouse remarked, “Flowers are happy things.” And they bring back wonderful memories.

© 2016 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

May 26, 2016

Susan Marg

A recent article from The Times, a British daily newspaper, deplores the state of the English garden. It seems that younger generations have never learned the joy of weeding and planting. Their gardens, if a patio or barbeque pit hasn’t replaced them, are neglected. A spokesperson for the Royal Horticultural Society is quite concerned about the situation, as well she should be.

Photo in public domain.

Photo in public domain.

English gardens have a long and illustrious tradition. Landscape gardens, designed to represent an idyllic pastoral environment, date back to the early eighteenth century. They incorporate rolling hills, green grass, possibly a lake, and a scattering of classic structures, such as bridges and sculpture.

Cottage gardens, hosting vegetables and herbs, as well as flowers and perhaps a beehive and some livestock, originated even earlier, dating from Elizabethan times. Over the centuries they became more decorative than practical, informal rather than structured, and populated the countryside. Roses tied to wooden trellises were a common sight. Honeysuckle added its sweet scent to the mix.

Why are English gardens dying out? One explanation is that renters, rather than owners, don’t invest in the property where they reside, and there are a lot of renters these days. Another explanation put forth in the article from The Times lays the blame squarely on baby boomers for their failure to teach their children, now in their twenties, thirties, and forties, to nurture nature. “Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade,” wrote Rudyard Kipling.

Still, why blame baby boomers, if a drive in the country isn’t what it used to be? I maintain that each generation, shaped by the social, cultural, and political events that occur in its lifetime. is different from every other generation. We shouldn’t forget what made us who we are, but the past shouldn’t dictate who we become.

© 2016 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Only You Can Tell Your Story

April 8, 2016

Susan Marg

author-quote-3

Charles de Lint writes novels, novellas, short stories, poetry, and lyrics. He has a distinctive style, incorporating American and European folklore into his urban fantasies. I want to thank Chris White at Routine Matters for inspiring us with this great quote.

 

Celebrate the Silly and Serious

March 9, 2016

Susan Marg

The Fusco Brothers by J.C. Duffy

The Fusco Brothers by J.C. Duffy

I’m looking ahead. We’re now into March, and April showers (we hope, here in Southern California) will soon be here. There are lots of things to celebrate this time of year.

For example, April is National Humor Month. Seriously. It’s also Stress Awareness Month. That’s perfect, isn’t it, as laughter can help relieve what ails you. Just don’t let anyone make a fool of you on the first.

During the month there are special days to honor school librarians, Girl Scout leaders, and barbershop quartets. There is an entire week for administrative assistants.

We also recognize some of our favorite foods, including peanut butter and jelly, jelly beans, pretzels, prime rib, and shrimp scampi.

May is Personal History Awareness Month, a personal favorite of mine. So you have some time to think about what makes a day, a week, a month special to you. Then write about it!

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

10 Reasons to Remember: The Eighties

February 2, 2016

Susan Marg

Photo by: © lucidwaters

Photo by: © lucidwaters

Is it too soon to look back at the Eighties? I don’t think so. It was an interesting time, a period of ups and downs and ins and outs through thick and thin. And we survived. How did you survive? Why not write about it?

  1. Off to a good start. Minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President on January 20, 1981, Iran released the fifty-two Americans who had been held hostage for 444 days.
  1. But there was a recession. With the Federal Reserve tightening money to curb inflation, which had peaked in April 1980 at 14.76%, the U.S. recession began in July 1981. Unemployment was 7.6%, rising to 9.7% before the recession ended the following year. Still, we made money. The Dow Jones Industrial average began the decade at 838.74 and ended at 2,753.20, coming out way ahead of Black Monday in 1987, when the market lost 22.6% of its value, falling 508 points to 1,738.74.
  1. Dirty little secrets always come out. The decade had its share of scandals. The Iran-Contra affair reeled the Reagan Administration. The Gary Hart/Donna Rice affair shook politics. The ban of Pete Rose from baseball hit the sports world hard. Milli Vanilli’s lip synching rocked music fans. Coca Cola kept secret its recipe for the syrup that is the basis for its soda, but deigned to change it to “the new taste in Coke.” It fell flat. Pepsi had its own calamity when Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire while filming a Pepsi commercial.
  1. Moonwalk to the music. Of all the music videos we watched on MTV, and there were a lot of them from our favorite musicians, Michael Jackson moonwalking to “Billie Jean” from his Thriller album got into our heads. From the same album Jackson danced to “Beat It” and “Thriller.” The zombie sequence from the later has been reenacted from Times Square to Hollywood and Highland. We learned Jackson’s moves and recited his words, so we’d always be in step. While Frank Sinatra wore a hat with style, no one did more for a black fedora —  or one white glove —  than Michael Jackson.
  1. More stations, more of the time. We watched a lot of television in the Eighties, and not just MTV on cable. Dallas was the first of the primetime soap operas, spawning Knots Landing, Dynasty, and Falcon Crest – I watched them all. In the fall of 1980, the resolution of the Dallas cliffhanger that had ended the third season generated 83 million viewers, more than the number of voters in that year’s presidential election.  Just about everyone wanted to know who shot J.R.
  1. Talk a little. Talk a lot. In 1987, the National Association of Broadcasters bestowed the Peabody Award on Johnny Carson in honor of his 25th anniversary hosting The Tonight Show. Joan Rivers, David Letterman, and Jay Leno were favored guest hosts, going on to their own late night talk shows. Meanwhile, Oprah Winfrey’s show went into national syndication in 1986 and soared in the ratings during daytime.
  1. Tennis, everyone? It didn’t matter if baseliners were playing serve-and-vollyers on hard court, clay court, or grass court. We loved rooting for our favorite tennis player of the decade, of which there were many greats of the game, as they came out swinging, taking on their rivals, wooing crowds, and becoming household names. Leading the men, there was Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Ivan Lendl. The women were just as popular and included Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, and Steffi Graf. And then along came Monica Seles.
  1. Here come the brides. A lot of famous couples got married in the Eighties. Some of them are still together, including Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, and Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan. Others didn’t make it, such as Madonna and Sea Penn, Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. And then there was Prince Charles and Diane Spencer. An estimated global television audience of 750 million watched their 1981 fairytale wedding. Yet for sheer spectacle, nothing was more remarkable than the mass wedding conducted by the Reverend Rev Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church. The gathering of 2,075 couples, brides and grooms dressed in identical outfits at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1982, was a sight to behold. Moon matched the couples himself, often pairing differing races and nationalities, in his belief that all of humanity should be united. A church spokesman puts the divorce rate for the blessed at a mere 25%, which, if true, is better than the national average.
  1. Women first. The Eighties saw a number of firsts for women. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. Geraldine Ferraro, as Walter Mondale’s running mate, was the first woman on a national ticket. Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  1. The walls come crumbling down. “Tear down this wall,” President Reagan pronounced in 1987. And two years later the Berlin wall came down. Back at home, unemployment was at 5.3%, and inflation, too, had decreased dramatically, falling to 4.65%. And we cheered.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Seeking the Sixties

December 15, 2015

Susan Marg

Photo by: © nejron

Photo by: © nejron

There’s an old hippie saying: “If you remember the Sixties you weren’t there.” Well, I disagree. I think we all remember the Sixties. There was the hope and excitement that President Kennedy brought to the country when he was inaugurated in 1961; our shared grief when he was assassinated in 1964. President Johnson fought the war on poverty, but greatly expanded our presence in Vietnam. Like-minded individuals marched for civil rights, burned their bras for women’s rights, and rioted for gay rights. Young people flocked to San Francisco in 1967, the Summer of Love, but fled the Hollywood Hills following the Manson murders in 1969.

If these events bring back memories, write about them. Here are some more suggestions to consider when thinking about your own personal or family history.

  1. By executive order. President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship in 1961. Although the volunteer organization had its critics, Congress formally authorized the program later that year. Since then, nearly 220,000 Americans have joined and served in 140 countries.
  2. Notorious for being banned. When first published in Paris in 1934, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer was banned here: it couldn’t be imported to the U.S. When Grove Press legally published it in 1961, the battle to read about the adventures of a young expatriate in Paris had just begun. Local authorities in twenty-one states filed sixty lawsuits against the book or those who sold it on grounds of obscenity. When one such case went to the Supreme Court in 1964, it overruled state court decisions and established a new, more liberal definition of obscenity. No longer could a book be banned because of its dirty parts, but rather it had to be without any socially redeeming value, as well as prurient throughout and offensive.
  3. Tell the people what she wore. The bikini first went on sale following an outdoor fashion event in France in 1946. The song “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polk Dot Bikini” was the number one song for one week in August, 1960. The sexy swimsuit did not become fashionable, or acceptable, however, until Annette Funicello wore one in the 1963 movie Beach Party. Hers neither had yellow polka dots nor showed her navel.
  4. The doctor is in. In Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Love the Bomb, a 1964 satire of the Cold War, the President and his advisors, including Dr. Strangelove, a nuclear war expert played by Peter Sellers, are trying to resolve a crisis brought about by a crazy Air Force general who unleashed a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It did not end well for anyone. In Doctor Zhivago, an epic drama released the following year, a doctor/poet played by Omar Sharif survives World War I and the Russian Revolution. Both films were nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture and both lost to musical love stories, My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music, respectively, demonstrating the wisdom of making love, not war.
  5. The British are coming! The British Invasion refers to rock bands from across the pond, such as the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, the Kinks, and the Rolling Stones, making a big splash in America in the mid-1960s. Few made it to Woodstock in 1969, however. The Who performed, and Joe Cocker’s performance of “With a Little Help from My Friends” earned accolades. John Lennon wanted to be there, but the U.S. government refused him an entry visa.
  6. A shot in the dark. While protesters marched for peace, we witnessed the assassination of John R. Kennedy in 1963, of Malcolm X in 1965, of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, and of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
  7. A space odyssey. American astronaut Neil Sheperd went into space in 1961, three weeks after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the earth. Still, Sheperd was the first person to have manual control of his spacecraft and was widely celebrated upon his safe return home. In July 1969, we went to the moon, landing in the Sea of Tranquility. “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind,” Neil Armstrong pronounced, stepping outside. Fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin joining him twenty minutes later described the surface as “magnificent desolation.” Their teammate Michael Collins stayed on board to man the controls, while Armstrong and Aldrin collected rocks that President Nixon gave as gifts to 135 countries and all fifty states.
  8. Kings of cool. Dean Martin, former partner of Jerry Lewis, member of the Rat Pack, nightclub entertainer, and movie star, began hosting The Dean Martin Show, a television variety program, in 1965. Always charming, he sang, danced, flirted, smoked, and drank his way through the hour program. In 1967 Tommy and Dick Smothers offered viewers an alternative point of view on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. In their opening act they sang folk songs, which usually led to an argument. There were also plenty of arguments with the censors, as their pointed humor was usually directed at racism, the President, and the Vietnam War. The show was cancelled in 1969, while Dean Martin continued to get good ratings through the 1973-1974 season.
  9. Thank you, Al Gore. Contrary to statements Gore made, possibly taken out of context, he did not invent the Internet. Rather the Internet grew out of the ARPANET. Scientists formulated the idea to enable general communications among computer users, particularly corporate, academic, and government researchers, in 1963 and developed a plan to implement the network in 1968. It was up and working in 1969, under the control of the military for two decades. Al Gore as a Senator, by the way, promoted legislation to fund the expansion of the ARPANET to allow greater public access.
  10. Close to home. The Cuyahoga River, dividing the East side from the West side of Cleveland, Ohio, my hometown, caught fire in 1969. Neither the first nor worst time this had occurred, the incident barely made the local news, but it created a national outcry, leading to the passage of the Clean Water Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The pendulum swings, and a lot happens in a decade.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Into the Looking Glass

February 25, 2015

Susan Marg

Stock image: Depositphotos

Stock image: Depositphotos

Upon joining the Association of Personal Historians, a growing organization of professionals committed to helping anyone who wants to preserve their life and family stories, I thought I’d check out some of the recommended resources on memoir writing to hone my craft. I started with Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away.

Goldberg is a poet, an author, and a writing teacher. She inspires and encourages writing, in general, and writing memoirs, more specifically, with beautiful language, thoughtful advice, and practical exercises. But she’s also a disciplinarian, a stickler for details. She won’t accept excuses, although she’d be pleased if you wrote about them.

Goldberg rounds up the usual subjects that you can cover in a memoir – grade school, driving lessons, favorite holidays, and places called home. And then there’s the unusual – your mother’s shoes, your father’s dresser, your brother’s bicycle. Regardless, her exercises always have a point: she wants you to get in the practice of writing. As she observes, “There are no prescriptions in writing, no one way that will get you there forever. A little jig, a waltz, the cha cha, the lindy, a polka – it’s good to know a lot of moves, so when it’s your time, which is right now, you can dance your ass off.”

If you’re writing a life history, Goldberg also wants you to get in the routine of remembering. “Memory doesn’t work so directly,” she advises. “You need to wake up different angles.” Often her directive following her ruminations on a topic is: “Go. Ten minutes.” On this particular subject it’s to spend time on the phrase “I remember.”

As imaginative as some of Goldberg’s suggestions are, not everyone will willingly go where she leads. Clients might not feel like jotting down their thoughts about sex or money. Thinking about “the road not taken” or describing a winter funeral once attended might be deemed counterproductive to the task at hand. However, her sentiments are heart-felt and wise.

I recommend Old Friend From Far Away to anyone who wants to step through the looking glass into a seemingly distant world. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear, especially if you practice.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved