Strange Days Indeed

“Nobody told me there’d be days like these, strange days indeed.  Most peculiar, Momma.”  John Lennon

Schools and restaurants closed, concerts and sporting events cancelled, Broadway going dark, cruise lines ceasing operations, and even Disney shuttering for the first time in years.  Lock down is turning cities into ghost towns.  Coronavirus is having a dramatic effect, globally and internationally.  Individuals, especially the 60 and over crowd, are being ordered to self-quarantine.  Social distancing has become the catch word of the day.  Experts suggest that the virus will run its course in time, but nobody knows for how long.  Never in our lives have we experienced such strange and unsettling times.

Unexpected time at home provides the opportunity to delve into my recently received results. is the world’s largest private online genealogy database, answering such questions as, “Who were my ancestors?” and “Where were they originally from?”

My ethnicity results estimate that I am 49% Irish- Scotch, 30% English-Welch, 18% German, and 3% Eastern European.

A portion of my Irish ancestors hailed from Leinster, the site of the Irish rebellion of 1798, an unsuccessful uprising against British rule, influenced by the revolutions in America and France.  Death tolls are estimated at 10-30,000.

Other Irish relatives came from Roscommon, where deaths from the Irish potato famine peaked at 50,000 a year.  Owen McCabe, my ancestor on my mother’s side, fled to New York along with a million others, where they continued to suffer religious persecution for their Catholic heritage.

My father’s family can be traced back, amazingly, to Katharine Uhl, born in 1630 in Germany.  Her great-grandson, Michael Leonard Hahn, was born in York, Pennsylvania, in 1748.  A captain in the Revolutionary War, he later married Mary Elizabeth Bentz and had 14 children.

As a current resident of York County, I feel that my family has come full circle!

The family later moved to Ohio, where Hahn was involved in an Indian attack.  A later relative, Matthew Perry Bateman, tried his luck in the California Gold Rush, as well as serving in the Union Army in the Civil War!

By the late 19th century, the family had settled in Wisconsin, where my father was born in 1925.

Rebellions, famines, war, and religious persecution, my ancestors endured them all. And I bet yours did, too.

In my mother’s family, I can envision the cold and cramped quarters on the steamship that transported Owen McCabe and his wife, Ellen, to New York.  The smells, the rolling waves, the panic of the unknown.  In her new country, I can sense her fear as Ellen combated prejudice to apply for the only occupation for which she was qualified as a young, uneducated Irish girl.  Years later, my grandmother, Mary McCabe, also worked as a maid.  After her husband’s untimely death, she had to work to survive.  Her daughter and my mother, Peggy, nearly had to quit high school to make ends meet.

In my Dad’s ancestry, I can imagine the musket on his shoulder, smell the gunpowder as Michael Hahn battled the British in the Revolution.  I can feel the pain of packing up one’s belongings to begin the long trek in a dusty covered wagon from the Pennsylvania countryside to Ohio, there to be threatened by the native Americans.  Of course, it was their land we were invading.

By the next century, my ancestors were ensconced in the Wisconsin hills, where, as a child, my father, Al Bateman, endured the poverty and unemployment of the Great Depression.  My Dad often told me that his mother, Clara, had to pack lard sandwiches for him and his siblings. Meat simply wasn’t affordable.  Snow sifted in between the rafters where he and his brothers slept in their attic room.  And yes, he walked several miles to a one-room school house.  Those stories were no joke, and the struggle was real.

Today, COVID-19 is testing our spirits in new and alarming ways.  Currently, it has killed over 100 of the more than 5,200 diagnosed in the United States, but globally, the death toll is over 7,500, with especially high rates in Italy and Iran.

But our ancestors endured far worse, and lived on to prosper.  We will get through this, and hopefully come out stronger on the other end.

In absence of visits, I’ve been FaceTiming with my grandkids, reading them stories of long-ago struggles, and having them respond in kind.

Maybe it’s time to just stop, take a breath, and reconnect.

As far as, I have to wonder about the future. Is it possible that some great-great granddaughter in the 23rd century will be checking some database to procure information about me and our times?  What will she find?

Beyond Hearts and Flowers

I don’t know about you, but the new year has begun in a decidedly inauspicious fashion: awful plane crashes, wacky weather ( where’s the snow?), caucus chaos, and that debacle in Washington.

There’s probably no better time for a respite from the doldrums of winter than Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day memories bring me right back to my childhood.  I can still feel the child-sized scissors in my hand as I awkwardly cut out the hearts, smell the Elmer’s glue as I sloppily affixed them to red construction paper, a gift for my Mom.  At school, there was always a box in the classroom into which were placed those small valentines with sweet/silly messages: “I go bananas over you.”  “I’m nuts over you.” “I love you berry much.”  The idea was to give one to each child in the class so no one was left out. We’d come home with a big bag of those cards.

I’m not sure if they still do this in elementary school, but I know of one Valentine

tradition that still exists: my 8 year old granddaughter recently attended a father-daughter dance with her Dad.

Over the centuries, Valentine’s Day has been an ancient ritual day, a religious celebration, and a commercial holiday.  This year, Valentine’s Day sales in the U.S.

are expected to reach approximately 27.4 billion- that’s 2 billion in flowers ( long-stemmed roses, anyone?), 1 billion in cards, and 1.7 billion in candy alone.  My Dad never failed to buy my mother one of those huge heart shaped Russell Stover candy boxes.  I, myself, was a fan of sugary multi-colored conversation hearts with cute sayings like “honey-pie” and “crazy4U”.

Today, the stores ( and the internet) are awash in shades of red and pink- there are Valentine gifts for family, friends, and even pets.  There are the iconic stuffed bears, of course, but a brief foray onto Pinterest suggests a personalized fishing lure for your favorite fisherman: “I’m hooked on you”, or perhaps some pink boxer briefs would be more his style.  For the lady, customized photo blankets, or Valentine’s Day leggings covered with those ubiquitous hearts.  For your pooch, a cozy red sweater for the winter months, and for your kitty, catnip chocolate covered strawberries?  And for the kids, who wouldn’t like sweetheart Rice Krispies treats?

Restaurants, from high-end to the neighborhood fast-food establishment, offer special menus and deals for Valentine’s Day, from the “That’s Amore!” three course prix fixe menu for two, to heart-shaped chicken nuggets at Chick-fil-A.

Like so many holidays, Valentine’s Day has its origins in ancient times.  The Roman festival of Lupercalia, held in mid-February, included fertility rites in which men and women were paired off by choosing names from a jar.  By the 5th century, Pope Galasius replaced the Roman feast with St. Valentine’s Day.  One somewhat murky legend has it that Valentine refused to convert to paganism and was executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II; another is that Valentine was a Roman priest who performed marriages for soldiers forbidden to marry, thus becoming known as the patron saint of love.

And what about the origin of the heart shape associated with Valentine’s Day?  It has its roots in the writing of Aristotle, who described the human heart as having three chambers with a small dent in the middle.  The symbol grew in popularity during the Renaissance, where it became associated with romance and courtly love.

Whatever its history, the popularity of Valentine’s Day, despite complaints of over commercialism, will probably live on.  Let’s face it, pop culture loves romance, as evidenced by such movie classics as “The Notebook”, “Sleepless in Seattle”, and my personal favorite, “You’ve Got Mail.”

Love song speak to us, from the Beatles, “All You Need is Love”, to John Legend’s “All of Me”, to Lady Antebellum’s “I Run to You”:  “We run on fumes/Your life and mine/Like the seeds of time/slippin’ right on through/ And our love’s the only truth/ That’s why I run to you.”

The truth is, lovers will always want love song, and gifts, and Valentine’s Day.  What will my husband and I do this Valentine’s Day?  Maybe share a restaurant meal ( if we can get a reservation), but just as likely, stay home and watch reruns of Blue Bloods.

Whatever excuse can be made to get more love into this world is, in my estimation, worth it.  As Jackie De Shannon sang back in 1965, “What the world needs now, is love,  sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…”

Will you be my Valentine?

Time to Declutter?

I’ve just completed the monumental task of dismantling the house from Christmas decorations, and storing them in bins in the basement- all the Santas together, the angels in one place, and the snowmen inhabiting one container.  I’ve tried to be somewhat  organized, and over the last few years, I’ve weeded out ornaments and decorations that are too old/shabby.  Yes, there are the sentimental ones I mean to keep, like the ornament with my kid’s picture from the second grade, but then there’s that hideous artificial poinsettia arrangement that’s been hanging around for decades.

Now that the house has resumed its pre-Christmas look, I’m struck by a sense of calm and order.  The cool blues, the calm grays bring peace to my soul.  But perhaps it’s time to take this sense of order to a new level.  A New Year- a time to truly declutter?

I’m haunted by a vision- 20 years ( give or take) in the future. My kids have ordered a huge dumpster and are tossing everything- and I mean everything- into it! You know it will happen- we did it with our parent’s houses!

But before that happens, maybe I can get rid of some items myself.   As they say, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

There’s plenty of inspiration out there to clean up, lighten up, and refresh. Just a few YouTube sites invite us to “Extreme Declutter with Me”- Momma from Scratch; “Clean Up and Redecorate with Me”- Brianna K; “Complete Disaster: Clean with Me After Christmas”-the Organized Farmhouse.

There there’s a Netflix series called “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”  Kondo, in a series of inspiring home makeovers, helps clients clean out the clutter- and choose joy.  Choose joy! I like that.

Now to my own mess.  Let’s start with the clothes.  How about that plaid pantsuit from my teaching days?  Is it likely I’ll ever wear it again?  The bell bottom jeans?  Even if they come back in style, I’ll refuse to wear them.  And that LBD, size 8?  No amount of dieting will get me into it again.

Moving on to the books- dog-eared college textbooks from the ’70’s, like that venerable classic, “Norton’s Anthology of British Literature”; sentimental titles from well-meaning friends, like “Words to Help You Be Positive Everyday”; and 20 copies of Stephen King novels- all out of here.

VHS tapes are a whole other topic.  Since we no longer own a working VHS player, they have to go.  I’ve heard a rumor that even DVD’s will soon be obsolete.

In the basement, I really hit pay dirt- decades-old sofas, mildewed coffee tables, and several massive picture tube TV’s inherited by our parents.  Then there’s my husband’s turntable circa 1974- wait!  I hear that turntables are back in vogue!

All this can go- but where? 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Or there’s always Goodwill for home décor items.  Local church clothing banks are happy to accept clean and useable items.  Some organizations like GreenDrop, the Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity will even pick up your donations for free ( although I’m fairly certain that no one will want those ancient TV’s.)

When the purge is over, I’m told I can expect a sense of peace, minimalism, mindfulness. Not a bad way to start the New Year.  And as Marie Kondo suggests, one should only keep the items that spark joy.  I can get into that.


Peace comes from within.  Do not seek it without.-  Zen saying

Refrigerator Art

“Grandma, want to see my room?”  At a recent visit to my daughter’s home, our 8 year old granddaughter, Julia, takes me by the hand and leads me into a Christmas wonderland.  Snowmen and Santas and stuffed animals galore line her shelves, a bedecked twinkling Christmas tree in the corner

Sharing one of her stuffed treasures, she proclaims, “If you press the elf’s belly, it plays “Santa Claus is Coming to Town!”  She clearly loves Christmas as much as I do.

Delighted, she guides me through the house that she has helped her Mom decorate.  Memories wash over me as I see so many of the Christmas gifts I have given her mother over the years, prominently displayed.  There a lovely arrangement, there a poinsettia dish, there a wooden sled propped up by the fireplace.  The dreams, the smiles, of so many Christmases.

Later, we spend some time reading about dinosaurs, one of her favorite topics.  We go beyond Tyrannosaurus Rex to Archaeoceratops, Giganotosaurus, Pachyrhinosaurus!

The pronunciations stump me, but she knows them all!

Next, her 5 year old brother, Michael, wants to show me his rock collection.  Arranged in a basket, they encompass an array of colors.  “Want to see my favorite, Grandma?”  Shiny and smooth, it’s an amethyst, a lovely violet shade.  Sitting on my lap, we read together, “How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas?”  Apparently, very noisily!  Dinosaurs are one of his favorites, too.

A few days later, our other grandson, 6 year old Nicholas, comes to spend an overnight at our house.  Excited by the upcoming holiday, we “act out” that he is Santa, and I am to bring children to tell Kris Kringle what they want for Christmas.  In the basement, we decorate Santa’s seat with an artificial tree from Grandma’s holiday stash.  Our daughter’s long forgotten Cabbage Patch dolls fit the bill as Santa’s visitors.  The poignancy of the dolls, long outgrown by my daughter, yet being utilized by her nephew, doesn’t escape me.  The dolls, sitting on Santa’s lap, whisper their Christmas wishes: a LEGO City Space Mars Research Shuttle, a Disney Frozen Adventure Collection, a Jurassic World Primal Pal?!  “Ho! ho! ho!”, Santa appropriately declares.

Later, he reads me the entire chapter book of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”  “Do you know this one, Grandma?”  I don’t.  So I learn about Rey, Finn, Hans Solo, and Kylo Ren.  Like his Daddy, he’s a Star Wars aficionado. After the book, the paper and magic markers at the ready,  he recreates Rey battling the Dark Side.  The child is an artist, but his hands are a magic marker mess.  “You can put the picture on your refrigerator, Grandma.”  I do. Refrigerator Art.

That evening, we attend the annual community tree lighting ceremony.  Santa arrives on a fire truck to light the Christmas tree.  Somewhat unimpressed with Santa, (“That’s a fake beard, Grandma!”), he instead does backward somersaults down a grassy embankment with some other kids.

Holiday memories, the priceless laughter of children and grandchildren through the years.

Fleeting, yet precious.

Refrigerator Art of the Soul.

Country Roads

“Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong….West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home, country roads…”

John Denver warbled that classic tune in 1971, and since then, I have wanted to visit Appalachia.  I finally got my wish this month, and although we didn’t head to West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee fit the bill.  And yes, we did traverse those country roads, 1,500 of them, past rolling hills, fall tinged leaves, and craggy mountains.

Appalachia has often conjured images of a rugged people in a unique culture, pioneers like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, and, unfortunately, the disadvantaged “hillbilly” poor as examined in such recent best sellers as Tara Westover’s “Educated”, and JD Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy.”

But what we saw of the area belied any negative images portrayed by the media- instead we witnessed a vibrant, proud, and developing area with friendly people and delicious food- think black eyed peas, shrimp and grits, and cornbread.  And drinks- I can totally recommend the blackberry moonshine!

The beauty of the land has attracted folks for thousands of years.  Cherokee Indians were first settlers, followed by European immigrants from Germany, Scotland, and Ireland, who struggled against the wilderness to provide for their families.

However, it wasn’t just the pioneers who settled the area.  By the late 1800’s, the wealthy, seeking escape from city life, sought respite in the Great Smokies.  In Asheville, North Carolina, business tycoon George Vanderbilt’s grand estate, Biltmore, completed in 1895, boasts 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, a bowling alley, and a swimming pool, making it the perfect entertainment for the posh set of the time. Indeed, touring the gorgeous mansion with its outstanding architecture and décor, as well as the lovely formal gardens, didn’t fail to impress.

From the grandeur of the Biltmore, we set off to experience the natural wonder of Grandfather Mountain, one of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountain range, and the setting for one of Forrest Gump’s famous runs in the 1994 film.

Unfortunately, the day was rainy and foggy, and as we drove the windy Blue Ridge Parkway, we had a close encounter with a deer, brown and sleek, darting not 15 feet in front of my Acura.  Someone was watching out for us in what would have been a nasty crash, and likely the end of our trip.

After that near miss, wouldn’t you think that we’d pass on crossing ( on foot) the famous mile high Swinging Bridge?  Oh no, we were determined to experience it, although the vistas were obscured in fog.  Afterwards, lunch at the visitor’s center was a singular experience, sharing the space at first with a roomful of noisy second graders, followed by a busload of somber Mennonites.

The sun shone on our next day’s excursion to Chimney Rock, a 535 million year old towering rock monolith in the Western North Carolina mountains, where we were treated with spectacular scenes of mountain gorges and Lake Lure, 75 miles in the distance.  Hollywood has visited there as well: the blockbuster hit, “The Last of the Mohicans” starring Daniel Day-Lewis, was filmed in part on its dizzying heights.

Our travel plans next led us to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a bustling vacation spot of shops, restaurants, and attractions, billed as the gateway to Great Smoky National Park.  Vibrant and family-oriented, the crowds dampened our enthusiasm for a time, but a ride on the Gatlinburg Skylift to the top of Crockett Mountain made our visit worthwhile.  At the summit, crossing Skybridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, was a scary experience.  The wooden structure moved and shook in the breeze, and the glass center halfway through the trek left me with a pounding heart and shaky legs, not a great experience for someone who is afraid of heights.

But that evening, victorious, we celebrated our wedding anniversary at the fine Cherokee Grill, where we enjoyed the best prime rib ever.

And so, farewell to Appalachia, a place both uniquely American and naturally beautiful.

As with all journeys, this one will find a special place in memory.

Alexander Hamilton: I’m Not Going to Miss My Shot

Many people wait for years and pay up to a grand to see the blockbuster hit, Hamilton, so I thought I had won the lottery when my daughter asked me to join her to take in the play on a fine September day in Philadelphia.

The theatre was packed, the audience primed, a palpable sense of excitement prevailed.  The choreography was a feast for the eyes: a tense mixture of jazz, swing, jitterbug, and ballet.  The diverse cast, dressed in both colonial garb and modern attire, belted out the clever opening lines in a combination of hip hop, rap, and R&B: “…The ten dollar Founding father without a father got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter… Alexander Hamilton, the world’s gonna know your name!”

Hamilton, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, has become a cultural phenomenon, with ticket sales topping $1 billion since its 2015 premier, winning 11 Tony awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

I have to admit that I didn’t know much about Alexander Hamilton before seeing the play, other than he was in Washington’s cabinet, was shot in a duel by Aaron Burr, and graces our $10 bill.

But the fact that he was an orphan born out of wedlock in the Caribbean and through a  mixture of brains, hard work, and audacity, rose to be a hero of the American Revolution, the first Secretary of the Treasury, and co-author of the Federalist Papers, is amazing.  He was the ultimate immigrant in a classic immigrant story, which makes it appropriate that the cast of Hamilton boasts the changing face of America.  In one of my favorite songs, Hamilton proclaims: “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry, and I’m not giving away my shot!”

Hamilton arrived in the New York of 1772, buzzing with excitement and the promise of governmental change.  There we meet the Schuyler sisters: Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy. In their words: “How lucky we are to be alive right now… History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be in the greatest city in the world!”

Hamilton later meets and marries Eliza Schuyler, they have 8 children, and Eliza lives to the age of 97.

The American Revolution ensues, in which Hamilton plays a vital role in the Battle of Yorktown.

Comic relief comes in the form of King George III, whose several turns as the pompous, powdered British monarch had the audience in stitches.  After England loses the war, he taunts the newly minted American nation: “You’ve been freed.  Do you know how hard it is to lead?  You’re on your own…Awesome…Wow!  Do you have a clue what happens now?”

Indeed, after the Revolution, the real task of creating the new nation began in earnest.  Hamilton, as Secretary of the Treasury, favored a strong central government, while Jefferson and Monroe favored state’s rights.  In the Compromise of 1790, Hamilton won the decision for the national government to take over, while Jefferson and Madison obtained the national capitol ( now the District of Columbia) for the South.

Political rival Aaron Burr expresses his displeasure in his not having a role in the decision in the rousing tune: ” Room Where it Happened”: “But we’ll never really know what got discussed… then it happened.  And no one else was in the room where it happened!”

Anyone who ever sat in history class knows that Aaron Burr shot Hamilton in a duel- but why?  They had been adversaries for years, but when, in 1800, Hamilton backed Jefferson over Burr for the presidency, hostilities rose to the boiling point.  Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel which took place in Weehawken, New Jersey, on July 11, 1804.  Hamilton was shot and died the following day.  Tragically, Hamilton’s son, Phillip, had been killed in an 1801 duel, when he sought to defend the family name from scandal.

Dueling had started as a less violent way to solve disputes in the European Middle Ages, and continued as a means of settling disputes, often political.  By the start of the 20th century, dueling laws were enforced and it became a thing of the past.

What a shame, then, that a duel should have ended the life of such a genius.  Clearly, scandal and political intrigue have always been a part of our nation’s fabric, and always will be.

In the rousing finale, Hamilton sings: “America, you great unfinished symphony, you let me make a difference, a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingertips and rise up!”

At the end of the play, the audience did just that- rise up, in awe and appreciation of an inspiring production about an extraordinary Founding Father.

We Are Stardust, We are Golden: A Woodstock Reminiscence

No, I wasn’t there.  Not even close.  I was just a kid with no driver’s license and no car, and even if I had one, my parents would never have let me journey a hundred miles or more to that muddy field in New York State.

Still, the music festival that took place on August 15-18, 1969, in Bethel, New York, has become the stuff of legends.  An estimated 400,000 music fans endured bad weather, food shortages, and poor sanitation for the privilege of experiencing such rock stars as Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Santana, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and Jimi Hendrix, whose iconic rendition of the Star Spangled Banner concluded the show.

Folk singer Joni Mitchell was supposed to appear, but when circumstances made that impossible, she regretted it, later penning the famous “Woodstock”, which became a major hit for CSNY: “By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong, and everywhere there was a song and a celebration.”

“”Goin’ Up the Country”, crooned performer Canned Heat, and that’s where the festival took place- on a dairy farm.  The event was remarkably peaceful, given the number of people.  There were only three recorded fatalities- all accidental.  Sadly, one has to wonder if that lack of aggression would even be possible today, given the current climate of gun violence. Despite the heat, the rain, and the mud, people got along peacefully, just enjoying the music.

Kids camped out.  There were long lines at the porta-potties.  Some attendees were skinny dipping, and yes, smoking pot and tripping on LSD.  Upon realizing that the multitudes were hungry, Wavy Gravy famously announced, “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000”; then the kids were fed granola- in Dixie cups! ( Fun fact: the Ben& Jerry’s flavor was named after him.)

“Like wow, these people are really beautiful, the cops, the shopkeepers, everybody,” said an 18 year old attendee.

Later that year, Jimi Hendrix wrote a poem about his experience:

“500,000 halos outshined the mud and history.  We washed and drank God’s tears of joy.  And for once, and for everyone, the truth was still a mystery.”

The legacy of Woodstock has long outlived the actual event.  A 1970 film, which won the Oscar for best documentary, made you feel like you were there, even if you weren’t.  The success of Woodstock inspired future outside rock events, from Live Aid to Glastonbury, and the festival has come to represent the entire hippie counter-culture revolution.

A Woodstock Music and Arts Fair monument was erected on the site, which my husband, kids, and I actually did visit in 1989.  A fine concert hall, the Museum at Bethel Woods, opened in 2008, complete with film and interactive displays, and hosting top performers. Standing on the site in 2009, Carlos Santana remarked, “This is ground zero for peace and love.”

In 2016, Woodstock was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Several attempts to remember Woodstock on anniversary dates have met with dubious results, the most disastrous of which occurred on the 30th anniversary in 1999.  Marked by high costs and poor planning, the event tragically included sexual assaults, and in one case, bonfires broke out and vehicles were flipped and set ablaze.

And sadly, the hope for a 50th anniversary Woodstock celebration has met with failure. A variety of performers, including some of the original acts such as Santana and John Fogerty were slated to appear, but a combination of quarreling and money issues thwarted the event.  According to David Crosby, “You can’t ‘magic’ one of these things into happening, and that’s what they tried to do with this.”

Perhaps the failure to commemorate the 50th anniversary only highlights our inability to return to a simpler time.  Is it too late for idealism?

In Judy Collin’s words:

“We are Stardust, We are Golden….

And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”