I Will Wear White Today

November 8, 2016


My mother, Jane Worley Peak, celebrated her 96th birthday a few weeks ago.  Which means that she was born just a few weeks prior to the first time women were allowed to vote in a presidential election in this country.  Today, she plans to vote for Hillary Clinton for President.

It took almost 150 years for the United States to extend the franchise to women.  150 years.  And it took generations of women — and a few men — who courageously worked for suffrage, worked through hatred, invective, ridicule.  These were probably the original “nasty women” of America — women who believed that the meaning of the Constitution was more true than the words of the Constitution, and that when the framers wrote men, what they meant was human. 150 years during which “strict constructionists” in the mode of Antonin Scalia, told them they were wrong.

In honor of all those women,  I will wear white today.

My mother told me recently that she doesn’t know if HER mother, Ruth Potter Worley, voted in 1920. Mom never thought to ask, and now it’s too late. Grandmother Ruth might have, because she was a true feminist, well before her time.  Or she might have stayed home — she was, after all, just delivered of a squally baby.  And she had a house to run.  We will never know.

What we do know is that my Grandmother Ruth believed in women’s education, and was willing to put her money — her grocery money — to work to make sure the young women of her acquaintance made something of themselves.  Not only did my mother and her sister both eventually earn Ivy League master’s degrees, but Grandmother Ruth stole — excuse me, repurposed– money out of her $20 per month housekeeping allowance and gave it away to help the daughters of friends further their education.  She opened her house to two of her nieces to make it financially possible for them to go to college.  And she quietly, but definitely, ran the household and made  the household decisions while her husband was traveling as part of his work.

In remembrance of my Grandmother Ruth I am wearing white today.

We’ve come a long way in the past 96 years. My  mother has lived through a Depression, World War, raised three children, delighted in grandchildren and now is doting on her five-year-old great-granddaughter.  She has lived to see women serve in the boardroom and on the battlefield. But the headlines of this year’s election prove that many of the battles fought by the suffragettes and lived by my mother and grandmother have never gone away.

The misogyny, hatred, prejudice, lewdness spewed by Trump — and tolerated by the so-called “Republican establishment” — proves that the suffragettes’ work is far from over.  The continued conversation over what women should be legally allowed to wear and who should be in control of their bodies proves that the suffragettes’ work is far from over.  The reality that women in this country still make 70 cents on the dollar for comparable work done by men proves that the suffragettes’ work is far from over. The fact that the world and headlines are more interested in bad judgment over a female candidate’s email server and is ignoring the fact that a foreign power is working hard to influence this election proves that the suffragettes’ work is far from over.

For all the battles that are still to be fought, I will wear white today.

We don’t know if Grandmother Ruth voted in 1920, but we do know she was a proud  Republican her entire life.  My mother was as well — until the undiluted misogyny of George HW Bush’s first campaign pushed her to vote for Clinton.  Since then, and really based on feminist and social issues, she has consistently voted Democratic.  Today, my mother will vote in what is demographically likely to be her last presidential election.   And when great-granddaughter Lily is old enough to understand, I will tell her that her great-grandmother Jane was born before women held the franchise in this country, and that she lived long enough to vote for a woman to be president.

I will tell Lily that her great-grandmother, and mine, and all those generations of suffragettes believed that a woman’s place was wherever her talents and her hard work could take her, and that that definitely included the White House.  I will tell little Lily that she should never, ever take the legacy they won for her for granted.  I will tell her that the best way to honor that legacy would be to continue the fight in her own time.

I will tell Lily that whenever she is discouraged or feels that the journey is just too tough, that’s when she should dig in her closet and remember to wear white.



Hadrian’s Wall

November 5, 2016


On my first trip “across the pond,” back in 1972, Hadrian’s Wall was on my list of must-sees.  I was traveling via BritRail pass north to Edinburgh, and made a special stop in Carlisle in order to see the wall.  Alas, the wall is not on the train, bus, or any other transportation system — it turned out there was no way for a girl on student budget to see it.

This time, I very much wanted to see the wall, but the universe seemed to be aligning itself against us.  First, because of the tides/causeway to Holy Island, it made more sense to wait until our return from Holy Island to stop at the wall.  This did not bode well.  And then, it was a bit unclear from our guidebook where exactly we were to go to see the wall.

The weather was also threatening to be a factor — after a gorgeous sunrise, rain was threatened.

Still, with me driving and Frank reading the atlas, we started off.

At first my worst fears seemed to be about to be realized — we were at the wall, we should be seeing the wall, but where was the wall?

In retrospect, I think the problem was that we were both expecting something more akin to the Great Wall of China than a border wall at the far extent of the Roman empire.

When we found the wall — and find it we did — we also found the most well preserved Roman fort in the world.  It’s all there — and even more, the countryside all around as far as the eye can see is virtually unchanged in the past 2000 years.  The Romans built their camp at the top of a rise that allows 360 visibility.  Then, I expect it was mostly forested– although the camp of 800 soldiers would have meant plenty of farms within walking distance.  Now, it is sheep country.  But except for the road and a farmhouse-cum-museum, all is peaceful and evocative.

And oh, yes — the sun came out for our time at the wall.  Soon after we left, the rain started, and continued all day, off and on — resulting in several fantastic — and double — rainbows.

I guess it was meant to be.





Holy Island

November 3, 2016


Lindesfarne, the Holy Island, is a tiny island just off the Northumbrian coast.  It’s reached by a causeway that, even today, is impassable during high tide.  So once you’re on the island, you’re on the island to stay until the next low tide.

Lindesfarne has a Priory that was founded by St. Cuthbert in 635.  It was destroyed by the Vikings and rebuilt numerous times, and then finally destroyed by Henry VIII in the Dissolution in 1537.

Then, a century ago, a man with more money than sense took an old guardhouse and converted it into a castle. The castle, even more than the priory, defines Lindesfarne’s horizon.

All together, it’s remarkably romantic  and unbelievable, and we came here, well, because it’s here.  We left the Lake District this morning and kept mostly to the main roads, arriving in time for (a) low tide and (b) lunch on the island.  That was followed by a leisurely walk out to the castle and back, and we’ve been moving slowly ever since.  The causeway was impassable around 3:00, and all the day trippers have left, so it’s just us, a few other tourists, and the 103 people who live out here yearround.  And the ghosts. At least, I assume there are ghosts.


Circumnav on the “Other” Side

November 2, 2016


On Monday we took a boat tour; Tuesday we circumnavigated the area by car.  It was another sunny day — too chilly to sit still, but lovely to walk about in.  And the colors really are magnificent.  The roads come in two grades:  narrow and narrower.  And windy.  But by this time I’ve pretty much gotten used to the “wrong” side of the road:  The car is in the center of the lane when I’m somewhere between “oh my God” and “yeech!”

On these narrow roads there aren’t two lanes anyway –more like one and a half.  For awhile I was directly behind a huge truck– sorry, lorry — and that was great, because the lorry cleared the path of oncoming traffic and I just tootled along behind.  But all good things must come to an end …

We stopped to take a picture of Coniston Water, which Arthur Ransome used for “Swallows and Amazons.” BTW, I caught a preview of the new movie, and it seems that the movie maker had to tat up the best children’s summer vacation adventure ever by including “real” bad guys.  Isn’t imagination good enough?

Then  we turned north and a bit off the beaten track to discover a 4500-year-old neolithic circle called Castle Rigg.  Stonehenge is of course the best known, but Britain is riddled with neolithic stone circles and other paraphernalia.  This one is particularly evocative because it is on a rise, and surrounded by hills.  We were very surprised to find quite a crowd there — it turns out that every year on Nov 1, the locals come out, replace sod, and basically help the grass to grow again around the stones.  So we didn’t have quiet and evocative, but we did get an inkling of just how important this monument is to the local community.

After a pub lunch we turned our attention to Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth’s home.  He lived here with his sister and his wife — apparently Wordsworth had quiet an interesting homelife — and here is his garden and his connections and the start of the Romantic movement.

The building material for just about everything — houses, walls, fences — is slate.  It’s quite beautiful in an English sort of way, but difficult to capture on film.  Not that I’m not trying …




A Journey Back in Time

October 31, 2016


The trip from Bradford to Windermere takes less than 3 hours, according to the atlas, but it took us all day.

First, we slept late.  I can’t remember the last time I slept past 9:00, but we did, and by the time we checked out of the hotel it was past 10:00. As we started to drive out of the hotel parking lot, we discovered that we were hemmed in by a 5 k walk-run that was taking place directly outside.  The guard said it would be “a few minutes.”  Then he said it would be an hour.  Had we been in the United States, Frank and I would have happily driven across the sidewalk to the side street, but we are in England, you know, and we didn’t think that was the thing.  Eventually, another Rotarian in the same predicament sweet-talked the folks in charge of  narrowing the running path long enough for out two cars to get out, and we were away.

Our first stop was the airport.  Between driving on the “other” side of the road, the stick shift, the lack of a sat-nav (or decent driving instructions), it’s been a tense few days.  The nice men at Avis listened to our woes and upgraded us to a Peugeot with automatic, sat-nav and in exchange for a lot of money, we were happy again.  Sigh of relief.

And off we went.  Our route took us through countryside dotted with sheep and cows and lots and lots of gorgeous scenery, and for the first time since we arrived on this small island, courtesy of the automatic transmission my blood pressure was actually at a rate that I could enjoy it.  Still, traveling through England is not for those in a hurry, and we stopped for lunch soon after we entered Cumbria.

It was only after I had ordered the rabbit pie and bit into it that I realized that we were in Beatrix Potter country and the first thing I had done was something akin to what Farmer MacGregor did to Peter Rabbit’s father.  Oh, well.  Tasted good.

We had quite a time getting the key to our apartment – it had to do with arriving late and not understanding the system, but eventually, we found our home for the week — a self-catering flat, as the Brits like to say, and located just above the busiest street in Bowness-on-Windermere, in the indisputable heart of the Lake District.  We have arrived!

Today we slept late (again), had a self-catered breakfast in our self-catering flat, found the laundromat and tourist office, got caught up with ourselves, and took a cruise on Lake Windermere, since that’s the thing to do here.

The Lake District has been a tourist mecca for 200 years, and before that, a mining center.  It’s really remarkable how wooded much of the place still is.  It’s got Wordsworth connections — and I assume plenty of daffodils in season.  I had thought that we would be out of season, but the colors in the trees are beautiful.  Not bright, like ours — much more subdued, but beautiful.  It’s also the home of Beatrix Potter, and the Japanese tourists come to pay homage to her and Peter Rabbit and all the various rodents.  Of more interest to me are the Arthur Ransome connections — his Swallows and Amazons did their derring-do on Coniston Water, just west of here. Yes, the Lake District is practically a theme park, and a busy one at that, but it’s all extremely tasteful, and the reason for multiple centuries of holiday traffic is as apparent as it is inevitable.




Bradford Peace Centre

October 31, 2016

We are here for the Peace Symposium of the Bradford Peace Centre.  It started with a gala dinner on Friday night, keynoted by a woman from Belfast who was widowed in the “troubles.” She told her story — growing up too early amid the “other,” pregnant and out of school and married by age 18; mother of four and widowed by age 27.  Her husband’s murderer has never been caught; within a few months of his death she was organizing a support group for fellow widows of the “troubles” and both preaching –and practicing — understanding. She told us that she can’t forgive her husband’s murderer, but she can’t hate him either, because she knows that he only did what he had been brought up to do.

Saturday we met the 10 graduating Peace Fellows.  Well, Yuko is home in Japan with her new-born baby and was Skyped in, and  Sara, who we had  come to meet — was in hospital in British Columbia with a lung infection which apparently followed her home from Cairo.

This class has strong representation from West Africa.  It also includes two students who grew up in the Middle East but are now living in North America.  Perhaps the most impressive is Aimal, who was born in 1989 and grew up without a father or resources or education in Afghanistan.  After 9/11, after the Taliban were thrown out, he said he learned English from watching American movies.  And learn he did — he was eventually hired by the American army to act as translator.  He was befriended by Curt, a member of the Nevada Reserves, who happened to be a Rotarian.  Eventually, Curt invited him to the United States, Rotarians raised money for his education at the University of Nevada with a degree in PolySci.  Aimal hopes to return to Afghanistan to be part of the peace building force in his country and, as he said, maybe to be President one day. May it be so.

Sara was born in Tehran; her parents emigrated to British Colombia when she was 12 years old or so.  She received her RN from the University of BC; she did graduate work in Cairo where she met her husband.  She is interested in the connection between health and peace, and in particular, the health of women and refugees.

Rita is from South Sudan.  During the war that preceded independence, her mother took the family to Sudan and relative safety; they returned with independence and  Rita founded an organization that is promoting women’s rights and women’s education in the new country.  Unfortunately, South Sudan has descended into violence post-independence; now the violence is between warring tribes within South Sudan.  That violence caught up with Rita’s family this year; her brother and two of his children were assassinated; Rita’s mother and sister-in-law escaped to Sudan.  When this happened, Rita was in New York City, working with UN Women as part of her independent field study, and most recently, she returned to New York to speak before the Security Council on the needs and views of women in her home country.  Her post-graduate plans have been upended by her brother’s murder:  Clearly it is not safe for her to return home.  She is unspecific, but most probably will return to her work with UN Women, at least for the near future.

Chris is originally from Jordan, where she is a practicing attorney.  Her passion for peace led her to the Rotary Peace Center.  Amid her studies she is volunteering with the British Red Cross as a refugee counselor, and she did her independent study at a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece; gathering point for refugees seeking to enter Europe. She clearly views the refugees — not as numbers, not as problems, but, well, as people.  People who have needs and concerns just like all people everywhere.

And so it went.  Ten scholars in all; 10 young people who have dedicated their lives to peace-making, on the ground and one-on-one.  And all committed to Rotary because Rotary is making their education possible.

What other organization has the future vision and global strength to even contemplate such activity?





Bronte Country

October 28, 2016


Haworth, the village that the Bronte sisters made famous, is only a few miles outside Bradford.  Unfortunately, getting there was complicated by our travel realities — between driving on the other side of the road, the stick shift, the lack of an electronic GPS, and, oh, yes, the narrow and windy roads, Frank and I are feeling the stress.

But drive we did. And we found the village just as it ought to be.

The Bronte girls did have the opportunity to leave home – I think all three of them worked for awhile, at least, as governesses.  Other than that, their lives were so constrained that, in comparison, Jane Austen’s life comes across as downright worldly.  Their father was the local clergyman of Haworth; their front yard fronted on the churchyard.  One can see the little girls learning their letters and playing “house” among the tombstones. Famously, too many members of the family ended up their too soon — and all five of the Bronte children were dead by the age of 30. In other words, under the circumstances, their preoccupation with death almost seems normal.

The back of the parsonage looks out on the moors; any walk out from the village would have been the windy, lonely fellowship we most associate with Catherine and Heathcliff.

The book is disturbing today; at the time of its debut it must have seemed obscene.  Disfunctional family; anti-hero; ghostly, almost constant harbingers of death — as I reread the novel this week one of my thoughts is amazement that I was first assigned to read it as a sophomore in high school.  I guess we weren’t as protected as I remember …