Blogging my way to a bigger family, and a road trip with Richard-Thompson-Who-Loves-Me

I’m going to veer off the straight-up Revolution track a bit and talk about the second of a pair of recent family-related road trips.

There was the Revolution Reunion Road Trip (3RT) from July 29th to August 4th. That was the two-sister, 1,500 mile run in a rental car. More on that in a future post.

Then, there was was the solo (unless you count my traveling companions, who included Mem Shannon, Dr. Didg, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Mouth Music and (see caption below) Richard-Thompson-who-loves-me) voyage to Green Lake to meet a whole bunch of relatives I hadn’t known existed until two weeks ago. I drove my own sweet ride, my mother’s former car.

Richard Thompson and Debby Waldman
My sister Debby saw Richard Thompson at the Edmonton Folk Festival four days after our Revolution Reunion Road Trip , and got backstage. When she told him that I love him (I love his music, but wasn’t sure about him – now I am) and that we’d listened to “1,000 years of Popular Music” on our 3RT, he said he loved me too. So from now on, I will be referring to him as Richard-Thompson-Who-Loves-Me.)

You can draw a straight line between this blog and that trip.

Back in February, I wrote about our Superbowl Sunday furnace repair. That post included a copy of a letter Debby (of 3RT renown) had found on an ancestry website. Our great-grandfather wrote it in December of 1920, after a pogrom the previous summer had decimated the shtetl where he and the rest of our family lived. The translated letter became part of my grandfather and uncles’ passport application packets. They needed them in order to travel back to Europe and fetch their parents and sister.

Two weeks before the Green Lake trip, I got a comment notification from the Blog Fairy. I figured it would be tied to whatever my latest post had been, but I was wrong. It was about the Superbowl post, from someone named Susan. It read, in part, “We are relatives. My great grandfather was Simon, brother of your great grandfather. Fascinating letter. Would love to connect.”

Cousins! Thanks to Susan for finding me on the Internet, and thanks to library school for my knowing to tag the post I wrote in a way that Susan would enter those terms into a search box and find me!
Cousins! Thanks to Susan for finding me on the Internet so we could yak like a pair of birds on a telephone wire, if you substitute a restaurant table for the telephone wire.

My first reaction was the emotional equivalent of a fireworks display. Excitement. Thrills.

My second was to step back and consider the possible ramifications of letting this new relative into my life. What if Susan was a serial killer? Or a crazy cat lady, not the good kind.

Upon doing an internet search, I learned she was neither. She was about my age – a plus as I have always wanted a girl cousin my age, and lived on the East Coast. We also turned out to have a couple of Facebook friends in common. The rest was as easy as 1-2-3 (“Request,” “Accept,” “Connected”).

When she found out where I lived, she wrote that she was coming out to Green Lake for a family wedding – as in “my” (and her, of course) family. So I took advantage of my current laid-off status and, after completing my daily job application (I’m trying to apply for at least one a day, and was doing that even before discovering that it’s an Unemployment requirement), drove up to the Heidel House Resort.

Turned out I’d been there before – for a State-Called Meeting of the Displaced Homemaker program. (Note on link: I built this site, but the program doesn’t exist anymore. Years before that happened and after a server migration, I lost my ability to update or delete it. So it’s still out there.)

But this was a whole different experience. In addition to meeting Susan, who turned out to be entirely fabulous, I also met a few other very cool relatives. Barry and Ellie, the parents of the groom, treated me to breakfast, and Barry showed me the enormous database of relatives he’s amassed (my branch was in there). Many others came over to introduce themselves and say hello. I don’t remember all their names, but to a one, they were lovely and welcoming.

Simon’s descendants weren’t as religiously observant as Moses Mordechai’s, so, unlike my branch, there weren’t any kashrut-obsessed rabbinic offspring. There are bankers, lawyers, insurance executives, and some truly amazing nonprofit tikkun olam types.

That includes Susan, who spends a day each week volunteering at the cancer unit of her local hospital, doing her best to help fellow breast cancer survivors navigate their post-diagnosis lives. Then there’s Seth, who started and runs a school for 300 students in Tanzania. He and his partner, a Tanzanian woman, have two children. Barak owns Essay Mentors, which helps college-bound students – at all socioeconomic levels – shine through the words on their college entrance essays. He was there, and I got to spend time getting to know him, too.

As for Susan, you could easily have imagined us as a pair of birds on a telephone wire, chirping our heads off at each other as we watched the world go by.

One of the first things she told me was that she’d found me by entering my last name (which was also Simon’s) and the name of the family’s shtetl into a search engine. Which means yet another round of thanks – this one to my library school professors, who taught me everything I know about tagging.

It was more like catching up with someone you haven’t seen in a long time (unless you count the parts where we were telling each other about our parents and siblings, etc – or just chalk that up to a pair of viral amnesia episodes at some point prior) than it was being with someone for the first time. We yakked and visited until it was time for her to start the hour-long trek to the airport.

Exporting the Revolution Reunion (2): An open letter to anyone who gives a rat’s ass about education

Note: The second of several postings about the most amazing reunion in the history of reunions.

Dear Anyone Who Gives a Rat’s Ass About Education:

First off, thank you.

Secondly, never underestimate what you can learn watching something you’ve spent a year planning as it unfolds.

We were in the midst of the formal portion of the afternoon program – a part for which I’d taken ownership. I was simultaneously watching it and marveling at my own cluelessness.

By “we,” I mean approximately 70 of the 250 students and all four of the teachers who spent the first several months of the 1974-75 school year creating an original theater piece to commemorate upcoming US Bicentennial and the rest of that year and all of the next one performing it.

The reunion included a four-hour afternoon portion (free and open to all), followed by a catered dinner at a local restaurant ($25 and open to the first 100 people who made a reservation – 65 people bought tickets).

We wanted to keep things free form, so people could have plenty of time to reconnect and hang out.

The result was an afternoon and evening that mostly consisted of happy screeching, animated conversations and an impromptu post-dinner sing-a-long (with guitar accompaniment) for those interested in exploring the number of “American Pie” verses they remembered. Afterward, there were gatherings at a local bar and at the hotels where some of us stayed.

But Bob, who directed the theater department and had started the reunion ball rolling, had a copy of a 1975 film, “Making ‘Revolution.’” He wanted it to be a surprise at the reunion. With a running time of just under 10 minutes, it wasn’t long enough to stand on its own programmatically.

Bob, the teacher with his back to the camera in the top shot. This was after the festivities, and just before we called it a night.
Bob, the teacher with his back to the camera in the shot below, surrounded by a small portion of his Adoring Public.

We knew from the get-go that he & Ron, our orchestra director, would be there. Those two have never been out of touch with each other. But we also wanted our choral director and dance teacher. Jim and Kathy hadn’t stayed in touch with Bob and Ron, and they hadn’t imbibed the social media Kool-Aid. We turned to more analog methods to find them, and succeeded.

Bob (back to camera) yuks it up with Jim, Ron & Kathy.
Four people who care a lot about education. (L-R: Bob (back to camera), Jim, Ron & Kathy)
Suzi organized the dinner, and that's Patty, our emcee, and her husband. (Photo credit: Mark Reinertson)
Suzi organized the dinner, and that’s Patty, our emcee, and her husband. (Photo credit: Mark Reinertson)

So I put together a program. Our classmate Patty, who became a high school music teacher, was available to emcee. Jim wanted to speak first. Bob wanted to speak last. Kathy and Ron were happy to be in the middle of a teacher sandwich. Jim bravely agreed to end the program by leading us all in singing Peter Lukins’ setting of “The Lord Bless You & Keep You.” It was always the closer in high school chorus concerts.

We came, we saw, we sang.
We came, we saw, we sang. And Mr. Hanosh bravely led us. (Photo credit: Mark Reinertson)

At the appointed time, we got everyone seated and the program started.

I can’t tell you directly what it feels like to address a bunch of people you were paid to deal with – and evaluate – 40 years ago, who have shown up because of something you made happen that seemed like a good idea at the time and you could. Based on what I saw, it feels pretty good.

What I hadn’t expected, though, was to realize that there was something revolutionary going on right at that moment, and right in that room.

I wanted every “expert” with an opinion about public education – particularly those in politics, educational policy or educational administration – to see it, and I wanted every parent and every person who cares about the future of education in this country to feel it.

If they did, maybe more contemporary students would have teachers working in the types of settings that generated the kinds of things our teachers said last Saturday afternoon.

We, the People, are the ones who need to make it happen.

I will leave you with our teachers’ words, and some links to video where you can actually see them being said. (Cynthia, one of my contemporary teacher pals, declared: “It sounds like Mad Men with teachers!” when I told her something about what was in the 1975 film. I won’t spoil the surprise, but let’s just say that there’s no way in Hell that you’d ever see one of today’s teachers on camera engaging in that behavior in any kind of work-related setting. Everything they were saying would have been drowned out by howls of outrage and screams about “Degenerate Bad Role Models” from smug Ignorami who are certain that teachers are lazy wastrels doing a job that they could do cheaper and better.)

Their words

“Where do you have a job where you go every day, and love what you’re doing and make music?”

“I could not wait to come to school – to work – in the morning. I loved every minute of every day I spent…If UFA were still open, they would have had to drag me out in chains, kicking and screaming before I would ever retire.”

“Over our careers, we were often asked to sit down and make sure we had enough statements available if someone asked us why the arts were necessary or what was significant…. It would be lovely to take a capsule of this and take it back, because you don’t see it until after the fact.”

“We started out as a group….and we rehearsed and we rehearsed and we rehearsed and then we became a family.”

“I was only going to stay a couple of years and move on, but I kept getting these terrific kids and they kept coming and coming.”

“The fact that I wanted to do a dance class, (administration) could have said, ‘No, that’s not happening,’ and (the principal) didn’t. He said as long as the numbers warranted it, we could have it as an addition to gym opportunities. And then it kind of snowballed, so we were able to think about how, choreographically, it would help in musicals.”

Video Links – This is the speakers, no frills, nicely done. (Video credit: Calvin Powers) – This is us, singing Lukins’ “The Lord Bless you & Keep You.” Mr. Hanosh was very relieved that we didn’t “find the lost chord!” (Video credit: Calvin Powers) – This is the 1975 video, which was digitized from the original celluloid version, which had deteriorated. For that reason, the digitized version was sped up some. All props to Jim Houghtaling, who took the digitized version and did his best to restore it to the actual speed. – This one is quite long and expertly produced by Jim. It contains images from the reunion itself (probably not terribly interesting to anyone who didn’t go to school with us). Some of the speakers are edited, and there are reunion scenes. All the music is our high school selves on the recording we made at the time, and the 1975 film begins at about 25:52.

Exporting the ‘Revolution’ reunion (1): Remarkable cluelessness and how to be in two places at once

Welcome to the first of several postings about the most amazing reunion in the history of reunions. Given that it involved the event itself (a two-parter that included an afternoon and evening/dinner segment), a 1,500 mile sister road trip in which no eyeballs were scratched out, and many stops along the way (about which more when it is time, which it is not yet), it is worthy of more than a single post.

Revolution Reunion Post 1

Back in January, I wrote about co-chairing an upcoming summer reunion of my high school performing arts department. We were getting together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original theater piece we wrote – from scratch – to commemorate the US Bicentennial.

We were dumb high school kids who had no clue we were doing anything remarkable. And we were way too dumb to understand or appreciate that the teachers who’d decided a bunch of dumb high school kids could write and perform an original theater piece were several notches above remarkable.

Unusual, yes. That much we knew.

Returning to school after dinner on a weekly basis to hang around in the orchestra room wasn’t something friends in other high schools were doing. But it felt perfectly normal, once we got there on Wednesday nights, to noodle around inventing songs and grabbing classmates, or Mr. Hebert, when we hit on something we thought was interesting enough to share.

Meanwhile, over in the choir room, other students were singing melodies to Mr. Hanosh, who’d write them down and send them over to Mr. Hebert. Downstairs in the theater, they were writing narrative pieces with Mr. Barone, who taught English and ran the theater program. Once there were actual songs, Mrs. Schmidt, the dance teacher, began collaborating with her students on choreography.

The final result was this:

The cover for the program for our first performances. Brace yourself. There are a lot of pages here.
The cover for the program for our first performances. Brace yourself. There are a lot of pages here.
Program - page 2
Program – page 2
Program - Page 3. It might be a good idea for some of the the policymakers who think arts education is a
Program – Page 3. It might be a good idea for some of the the policymakers who think arts education is a “frill” to read this. Trust me, there is at least one future post on this topic.
Act 1
Act 1
Act 2
Act 2
The soloists and dancers
The soloists and dancers
The orchestra roster
The orchestra (I’m in here)
The choral roster - it goes on forever!!!! (Turns out there were five choirs at our high school. Who knew?!) Also, there were too many names to fit on one page.
The choral roster goes on forever!!!! (Turns out there were five choirs at our high school. Who knew?!) Also, there were too many names to fit on one page.
The rest of the choristers' names, and the acknowledgements. We had no idea we were doing anything remarkable. But when you look at this, it makes you think.....
The rest of the choristers’ names, and the acknowledgements. We had no idea we were doing anything remarkable. But when you look at this, it makes you think…..

Fast forward 39 years. “Revolution” might have seemed too far back to be visible in anyone’s rear-view mirror. But that line about objects being closer than they appear? Turns out, at least in this case, to have been spot-on.

As a Facebook newbie in 2014, Bob (formerly known as Mr. Barone) posted the idea of an event where we could come together, drink some wine and listen to the music together. Another classmate started a reunion group and within a day, membership exceeded 200. Bob’s reunion idea had sprouted legs, and the race was on.

The core planning committee (John and Jeannie and I) came together in August of 2014, and followed a process that closely mirrored the one used to create the original piece (minus the teacher-written Project Search Grant that funded the 1975 production). We all lived in different time zones, so we met over Skype and JoinMe.

This is a remarkably unflattering photo of all of us, but this is an actually committee meeting shot from January. And yes, I was in bed.
This is a remarkably unflattering photo of all of us, but it was taken during an actual committee meeting in January. And yes, that is me in bed (bottom).

This is, in part, what I wrote back in January when I thought (and wrote) that the best part of the reunion had already happened.

“I don’t remember when I last spent more time laughing with other people while getting real work accomplished. The three of us haven’t interacted in any meaningful way since high school. So it has been a joy to discover how much we still like each other, how compatible we are as a work team and how closely aligned our ideas and expectations are for the reunion.”

It turned out that that best part was the preamble to a whole lot more best parts.

By the time my sister and I arrived at Player’s Theater, other Committee members (we expanded our planning group based on evolving needs, at which point we’d reach out to other classmates based on their skill sets and proximity – and I’d also done my best to drag my sister into the planning process early on – she attended a couple of meetings and was a setup star) were hard at work. Jessica, who designed the reunion T-shirt based on Michael’s original logo design, was putting tape on the back of posters decorated with the reunion logo. Jeannie was setting up the screen and projector she’d borrowed from the library where she works, and John was setting up small round tables.

The T-shirts Jessica designed, riffing off of the one Michael designed (gulp) 40 years ago.
The T-shirts Jessica designed, riffing off of the one Michael designed (gulp) 40 years ago. You can see the original design on the program cover above.

I plopped myself down at one end of a table and continued working on the reunion playlist after having emptied the portfolio of memorabilia I’d hauled along – newspaper articles, two two-album cast recordings – one of the original production and one of the piece we’d done the year before (“Truth of Truths”), both signed on the inside, of course, by castmates and teachers.

Debby (my sister, who graduated a year behind me and played violin in the orchestra) still had her T-shirts from both performances. Everyone else had their memorabilia, but Debby was the only one with two T-shirts. She took Jessica’s posters and the loose news stories and pictures and started setting up displays around the room.

One of the loose news stories Debby placed around the room. The guy on the left, Gene, and Michelle were both at the Reunion. The others were missed!
One of the loose news stories Debby placed around the room. The guy on the left, Gene, and Michelle were both at the Reunion. The others were missed!

Bob showed up with a box. He began hanging banners and posters from other high school productions, and the drama group banner.

He hauled in a display board with newspaper clippings.

Bob and his wife Audrey, with the drama group banner in back of them and the display boards to their left.
Bob and his wife Audrey, with the drama group banner in back of them and the display boards to their left.

Before it was all over, Suzi had stopped by to say hello, (she’d done all the heavy lifting for the Saturday dinner that followed the afternoon event) and two Michaels – one the original logo designer and the other a sax player who’d become a high school music teacher. We’d tapped the latter Mike to co-emcee the formal part of the Saturday program along with Patty, because they both became high school music educators. But his band was playing a wedding they’d booked more than a year prior, so Patty was doing a solo act.

Revolution Setup Crew
The Revolution Reunion Setup Crew! (Photo credit: Audrey Pavone)

Mike was so crushed about having to miss the Saturday event that he made the four-hour round-trip drive from Binghamton to help out with setting up. It was so amazing to see him, and to catch up on everything we’d been doing since we last saw each other….sometime in, oooh….the mid 1970s.

As we were leaving Player’s to head over to Gerber’s for what turned out to be a fabulous dinner, he walked over to his car, lifted the tailgate, reached in and grabbed something. Then he walked over and started handing us each copies of his jazz combo’s recent CD.

“You just made the playlist!” I said, “Which means you’ll be here tomorrow!”