Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cool Art

I was surfing the web today and came across an artist I've never seen before by the name of Ben Heine.

Here is a link to his website:

His Pencil vs. Camera creations are my favorite - very unique.  This is the sort of thing I'd like to hang on my walls...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The End of an Era

I wish I could say the title of today’s entry was original with me; however, the NBC Nightly News used it on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011 before I had the chance to get my entry posted here. 

The End of an Era refers, of course, to the last episode of ABC’s soap opera All My Children.  I’m not quite sure why I feel the need to record my reaction to it here, but as I was watching, I thought to myself that I needed to write about this in my blog. 

All My Children started broadcasting in January of 1970.  I’m not sure exactly when I first became aware of it, but it was in the early ‘70s.   I can remember that I was taking piano lessons from Mrs. O’Neill, and often got to her house early and had to wait for the person ahead of me to get finished.  While I waited I would sit in the family room where her teen age daughter was watching it.  That’s how I got interested.  At some point, my lesson time changed, and I was home when it was on and started watching it myself.  I only watched it in the summer and on Christmas vacation days because it was on when I was at school – this was long before such a thing existed as the VCR. 

I paid attention to the show off and on throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, but at some point I stopped watching regularly.  For many years I was able to keep up with the basic story line without watching every day, or even every week, but there came a time during the ‘90s when there were more characters I didn’t know than ones that I did. 

It just so happened that I had a vacation day yesterday, so I decided to watch the final episode, just because I could.   There were many people I knew:  Erica and Jack of course, Tad and Dixie (who supposedly died), Opal, Brooke and Adam/Stuart, Jesse and Angie. 

I found it interesting how they incorporated the ending of the show into the story line.  Angie talked extensively about friends who had known each other for 20, 30, even 40 years.  It was very clear that the lines were intended to have a double meaning.  It was interesting too that they found ways to bring back people who had been off the show for years (like Dixie and Brooke), and to have a big party at the Chandler Mansion was very appropriate – especially since the entry way and living room looked amazingly like the old Tyler/Wallingford Mansion.  Interesting also that it was Tad Martin who was chosen to do the big speech (as a toast), in which he too talked about Family, Friends and Neighbors who had all known each other for many years.  He made a joke about remembering them since high school.  Again, everything he said had a double meaning for those who knew the story of the story.   Of course, everyone in the scene was crying, and I’m sure many viewers were as well – as was I (but then I’ve been known to cry over Hallmark commercials!). 

I have to say that I found the ending of the show very disappointing.  The final lines, spoken by Erica and Jack, were a straight throwback to Gone With the Wind:
Erica: Jack wait!  This isn’t how I want this to end!
Jack: Frankly Erica, I don’t give a DAMN what you want. 
At least Erica didn’t follow it up with how tomorrow’s going to be another day!

Then there was the gunshot that rang out as the scene cut to black.  I was first reminded of the famous cliffhanger on Dallas – Who shot JR? - and more recently of The Sopranos which ended similarly. 

So, to me, it was disappointing that after 41 years on the air, they couldn’t come up with an original ending.  I know there have been many references made over the years to how much alike Scarlet O’Hara and Erica Kane were, but still…. Really?  Maybe all the writers were so busy crying that they just didn’t have it in them to be original in the end.  Maybe it was an inside joke that they just couldn’t pass up. 

I would like to have been a fly on the wall in the studio after the tape stopped rolling.  I’m sure the rap party was huge and very emotional.  I know how emotionally connected students get when they work on a musical for 8 weeks, so I can imagine what it must be like to work with the same actors on a show like that for many years. 

I’m glad I watched it.  It is a show that is part of my childhood, and the ending of it symbolizes huge changes in viewing habits and interests in my lifetime.  I’m also curious to see what, if anything, happens with it now.  There is talk of it becoming an internet show with or without Erica.  I’d like to see Susan Lucci hit prime time in her own series (either as Erica or not).

Yes, the End of an Era, indeed! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Help

This summer, one of the books I read was The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  I also got to see the movie the first week it was out. 

The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962-1963, with the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement.  It is historical fiction.  The main character is a young white woman who decides to write a book that highlights the life-experience of the black domestic servants in her town.  To do so, she enlists the help of first 1, then 2, then many who share their stories with her.  Eventually their book gets published and read by just about everyone in town.  Of course, this stirs a pot which is already boiling.

The movie does a very good job of depicting the story in the book, but as is usually the case, the book has a lot more complexity than the movie.  Some things in the book are de-emphasized in the movie, some are left out totally, and at least 1 key issue in the book is changed. 

I loved the book so much that I was sad when I finished it.  I could hardly wait to see the movie, and I enjoyed it as well, in spite of the fact that I cried at several points.  This is absolutely something I will encourage friends to read and see, and I will recommend it to my students as well.  My freshmen always read To Kill A Mockingbird  in the fall, and this movie will be a great supplement to that book.

I found several connections to this story which made it more meaningful to me than it might be to others.  When I was a child growing up near Dayton, OH, 2 of my great aunts had black domestic help.  The woman I remember the most was named Henrietta, and she worked for my Aunt S. and Uncle H.  There was also a black man who did yard work and was sort of a handyman for them.  His name was John, and he was related in some way to Henrietta.  Then Henrietta’s daughter Anna also worked first for my Aunt K, and then later for my grandmother. 

Henrietta worked for my great aunt and uncle for many years, and she had replaced a woman named Geneva (the 2 women were cousins) who had also worked for them for many years, starting around 1940.  It seems her main tasks were to clean, do laundry/ironing and cook. She worked until about 3 pm each week day.  There were always fresh homemade cookies available.  Geneva was like a member of the family to them, and Uncle H. paid for her funeral when she passed away around 1954.  Both Geneva and Henrietta were known for being excellent cooks.  When I was a child, it was common for Aunt S. to have big family gatherings at her home, and Henrietta usually did most of the cooking.  I think Aunt S worked with her though, moreso than we see depicted in The Help.

I was around these people in the early ‘60s, until about 1967 when we moved away (I was 8 when we moved away).  During those years, these servants were the only black people I had any interactions with.  Henrietta always treated me very kindly and called me “Miss Amy”.   She was a very large woman with a big gold tooth that showed when she talked and smiled.  Whenever I saw her, she was wearing a uniform.

Anna worked for my grandmother into at least the mid ’70s and mostly did cleaning and laundry/ironing.  Grandma always said she did the best ironing of anyone she’d ever known.  I don’t think Anna did much cooking for Grandma.  I remember that she rode the city bus to my grandmother’s house once a week.  She always wore a blue uniform dress with a white collar and white shoes that I usually associated with nurses.  Anna and Grandma would have lunch together at the kitchen table and talk about everything under the sun.  I think they actually became quite good friends, and they were very much mutually respectful of each other.

John was the largest man I had ever seen, and was also the darkest black person I had ever seen.  His eyes were quite large and very white in contrast to his skin.  Because of his size and dark color, I was always scared of him, so whenever he was around, I usually went somewhere else.

I don’t know how the issue of the help using the family bathroom was handled at my Aunt S’s house.  That house had a finished basement with a bathroom near the laundry room, so it is possible that was the bathroom for the help, but knowing my aunt and uncle as I did, it is hard for me to imagine that being an issue for them.  I do know that my Aunt K only had one bathroom, and I know that my grandmother’s helper used her main bathroom as well. 

It seems to me and based on what I’ve learned from my cousin that many middle class white families in Dayton had black domestic help from as early as the 1930’s into the 1970’s, although I think the practice was fading fast in the late ’60s and early ‘70s after the Civil Rights Movement.