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PS 75, Emily Dickinson Elementary School, an example of 1950s Brutalist Architecture. To the parents of little privileged kids it felt like a behemoth, a fortress against a dangerous, divided city. With thanks to Carol Skyrm © 2023 for the photograph.



I'm hungry for knowledge. The whole thing is to learn every day, to get brighter and brighter.


-Shawn Corey Carter aka Jay-Z




It's the beginning of the school year and e-Bay is selling off collectible metal lunchboxes to nostalgic adults eager to wallow in their childhood obsessions.  I was tempted to bid for my favorite but figured it was probably rusted, and which one was my favorite anyway? I can't remember. It probably changed every year depending on my television or book serial heroes and heroines of the moment. I never liked cartoons; the characters I preferred were all live action.  Lassie maybe? Nancy Drew?


We went to Woolworth's on Broadway between 102nd and 103rd Street, on the East Side of the Street to load up on school supplies. That Woolworth is long gone, but my memory is vivid. Oh, how I loved that store. Spalding balls, jump ropes, jacks, Crayola crayons, the store was a treasure trove for any kid—with money. Rich, poor, I never knew the difference. What I wanted and needed was there and I could have it.


I couldn't wait to see my neighborhood friends back from holidays at summer houses and camps, and learn something new at school. Like all affluent kids in my Upper West Side neighborhood, the premise and promise of education was a constant; it was never questioned. Towards Labor Day our parents herded us to clothing stores and shoe stores to buy new outfits. We'd grown and we were learning fast that we were privileged, that the school we went to was okay, or more than okay; it was mostly White, and the teachers were too. The demographic we lived in signaled privilege and safety. There was no busing, not yet anyway, the public schools in Manhattan were de facto segregated as were our neighborhoods and, to a large extent, they still are. Black and Brown kids lived somewhere else, up above the invisible interface, which in my hood was 110th Street. My friend Rochelle lived there, but I never went to her house. The memory of this childhood friend comes back to me often. Her mother was a nurse, my mother was a doctor, and they were friends. They both worked at the Margaret Sanger clinic downtown and every morning, once I was allowed to walk on my own to PS 75 on 96th Street and West End Avenue, Rochelle and I walked to school together. She came to my house for lunch and sometimes after school also. Now that I think of it—where  was my new lunchbox?  My mother must have packed it for me in the morning before I left for school and she left for work on the subway with Rochelle's mom. My lunchbox was there, waiting on the counter, next to Rochelle's lunchbox.  We must have insisted on owning a lunchbox even though we ate lunch at my home and Rochelle brought hers to "live" with mine every school day. We asked our moms if we could live together. They laughed and said it wasn't possible.


At lunchtime, a maid was waiting for us. She was often a Black maid; there were many over the years. I heard my parents talking about this maid and that one. I would try to befriend them when my parents weren't home. I can't remember any of them.


Rochelle was the only Black girl in my class and possibly in the school. Both of us lived out of the catchment area and we should have attended a school on 105th and Amsterdam near the projects. The school and the neighborhood had a bad reputation. I had always assumed that my parents and/or Rochelle's parents strenuously advocated and received "waivers" for both of us to go to PS 75.  Years later I learned that my parents had lied about our address, that they'd used a colleague's address, and that Rochelle's parents had done the same, so desperate were they for their children to have the best education in our red-lined neighborhood. It seems unlikely their deception was ever uncovered. Or, maybe by the time it was, the teachers didn't want us to leave. Rochelle was smart, I was smart, we could spell and read and talk with a clarity any teacher would appreciate, if the teacher was well trained and kind. One or two of them were not.  They needed to go back to school as much as we did, or more than we did. Would you believe me Reader if I told you that in Miss Brill's Second Grade classroom at PS 75  there was a "dunce corner" and that a whole generation later, when my daughter went to a public school kindergarten on the East Side of Manhattan, there was a "time out" corner in a still nearly all-White kindergarten class. All the Black kids were on the top floor of that East Side school in a persistent and pernicious de facto bused-in segregation. And the teacher of my daughter's kindergarten class targeted the boys in her class for humiliation as she ordered them to face the corner, albeit they were all White boys. God help us, and them, if she'd had Black kids in the class; she was vicious. And the parents could not stop her, or change her, that was obvious at meeting after meeting. I sometimes stood outside the door at pick-up time and watched this teacher abuse the boys verbally. I glared. I wanted her to know she was on notice. The principal had put her on notice, but it was too late for me, and many other parents. We'd had enough, we took flight, leaving the poor White kids behind on the bottom floor of that de facto segregated neighborhood school.


This was all long before lockdown drills and pandemics though the catchment areas and neighborhoods in the city are seemingly unchanged since I was a child, calcified in their callous disregard of fairness and opportunity. Separate and unequal. Separate but unequal.  


I called PS 75 to check on current admissions policy. The guy who answered the phone was friendly. "895 West End Avenue," I told him, " between 103rd and 104th." I was put on hold as Nat King Cole sang "life is still worthwhile." The guy came back and confirmed that PS 75, Emily Dickinson Elementary School, was in District 3, but that my kids would have to go to PS 145 up near the projects.


"Oh, nothing has changed in New York City," I said.


"I'm sorry you're disappointed," he said, but he misunderstood, He thought I was a parent with a school age child. I hadn't said otherwise, and I didn't disabuse him. I was just asking questions without identifying myself as a journalist. I wanted to know, I was curious.


"I like the Nat King Cole," I said.


He laughed, "Oh, you like that?"


"Yes," I said.


"Don't be disappointed. Depending on enrollment, you might be able to get a waiver."

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The Louring Sky

photo of the River to Ridge Trail in New Paltz, NY © copyright Carol Bergman 2023


What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.


― Jane Austen



In the decade I lived in London, I never minded the weather. I bought myself a well-made expensive umbrella, stayed calm and carried on. I had no expectations that it would be warm and/or sunny anywhere in the British Isles, having prepared myself for the louring English sky with my reading of Austen and Bronte. Louring. It's the perfect word, a variation of lowering. Indeed, dear reader, I can think of no other word to evoke the soft, sometimes drizzly grey blanket that sits under the blue sky and sun's rays, obscuring it, obfuscating it, chilling those that walk beneath it in all seasons, until recent climate-changed warmer summers. Indeed, it must have been rare for Jane Austen to feel the sun's warmth during her lifetime (1775-1817) else she would not have written that sentence.


If the weather is so often awful, why do the Brits talk about it incessantly? It was a wonder, really to have found myself a willing participant in the ongoing, continuing, unrelenting conversation about atmospheric conditions, and to relinquish that cultural habit once I returned to the United States. Oh, how I missed it, though. It was a lubricant in a notably reserved society where conversational lubricants, however ritualized, are sorely needed  So, too, the kettle always on the boil, the porcelain tea pot, and the extremely strong cuppa with just a dash of milk. That tradition has sustained me to this day, especially at breakfast. There's solace in the thought that the often brutal British Raj in India (1858-1947) left one beneficial legacy, at least.


Fast forward to the summer of 2023 in the Mid-Hudson Valley under a too frequent louring sky. Cool one day, humid and blistering the next, culminating in ferocious thunder storms and flooding. Morning, mid-day, and night, I check my two weather apps, I check the air quality, I pay attention to the fires in Canada and am grateful there have been no fires in the Minnewaska Ridge of late. I plan a walk and talk with friends early or mid-day, or late, depending on the weather. Weather conversations inevitably culminate in climate change conversations in the present tense. The change is here, we are living it.


With thanks to #sistersinlaw Joyce Vance (Alabama), Jill Wine-Banks (Illinois), Barb McQuade (Michigan) and Kimberly Atkins Stohr (DC) for inspiring this blog post about the weather. 





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Where's Melania?

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1898, an emancipated woman constrained by tradition. Photo: Courtesy Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

We will not be turned around

or interrupted by intimidation

because we know our inaction and inertia

will be the inheritance of the next generation

 from "The Hill We Climb," by Amanda Gorman


A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water.

-Eleanor Roosevelt



I've been thinking about the elusive Melania, the Slovenian-American former model who started dating Trump after meeting him at a party in Manhattan in 1998, exactly 100 years since the photo of Eleanor Roosevelt I chose for this blog post was taken. When asked by the NY Times what kind of a First Lady she would be, Melania said, "I would be very traditional. Like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy."


Traditional. How does that play these days? Very well, apparently, in some retro circles. That said, Melania's low profile, her near disappearance during the indictments is interesting, even understandable. Apparently she's sequestered with her parents and her nearly grown son, Barron. Wouldn't you do the same, dear reader? Stay clear. Sequester yourself with those near and dear? Redecorate the home you bought in Slovenia? Keep your Slovenian passport up-to-date? Make sure your son had dual citizenship? Send your parents back to your Homeland before the trial/s?


During the administration of her beloved—if  that is what he was—Melania  also maintained a low profile, albeit she worked various charities, like most obedient and hard working First Ladies who learn quickly to second fiddle their husbands. Without exception First Ladies who had  pre-White House careers abandoned them when their guy made it to the Oval Desk—even Michelle abandoned her successful law career—and  then tried to keep on keeping on with book contracts, healthy gardens, and other "projects." Bill Clinton groomed Hillary for her Senate run by giving her an important position in the cabinet, re: healthcare, was that it? Was this appointment before the Under- the- Oval Desk Scandal, or after? Was it a deal the maligned couple struck when they were still in Arkansas?  During the 1992 presidential campaign, Hillary, a smart First Lady, quoted from the obsequious First Lady Handbook: "Our lives are a mixture of different roles. Most of us are doing the best we can to find whatever the right balance is . . . For me, that balance is family, work, and service."




I am wishing Melania well in the months and years to come. Truly I am. But I am also wondering when, if ever, the United States of America will wake up to its smart women politicians and vote one of them into the White House, not as an appendage to the President as a VP, or a wife, but into the Big Chair, where surely one of them belongs. Eleanor, Hillary and Michelle could have carried the responsibility well, wouldn't you agree, dear reader? They were smart enough, educated enough, worldly enough, and tough enough. And I suppose we could say the same for Kamala, if she is given the chance, though she remains unimpressive in many respects. But then again, she's in the Big Man's shadow. And it's a long one.


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Deep in the Green

Fungi on an old-growth tree in New Paltz, NY photo © Carol Bergman 

A garden is like the self. It has so many layers and winding paths, real or imagined, that it can never be known, completely, even by the most intimate of friends.

― Anne Raver, "Deep in the Green: An Exploration of Country Pleasures"


Deep in the green this morning, the air clear enough and cool enough to have a very early morning walk past farms, haystacks, the Minnewaska Ridge in the distance visible for the first time in weeks, and then visit with my friend Jo Ann who has offered me chard from her raised-bed vegetable garden. It's been netted top and bottom to avoid tick infestation, her husband Jeff assures me, but I've sprayed up before arriving anyway. I'm still a city girl, have always lived in apartments, and never even participated in an urban communal garden, though I have visited and admired many, both in the US and overseas. I have a green thumb for indoor plantings, though, and when I lived in London on the top floor of a Victorian house with a skylight streaming cloud-diffuse English sunlight onto the landing, the spider plants went wild. Chlorophytum Comosumis is their Latin name, and they are immigrants from Southern Africa apparently, naturalized plants that have contributed so much to our controlled indoor landscapes, an illusion that all is well with the landscape outside with its droughts, floods, smoke-filled air, and human malfeasance.


Until this week, the atmosphere in the mid-Hudson valley has been tropical, all flora and fungi abundant, a welcome side effect of our climate changed summer. Jo Ann's garden is no exception, but as we walk into her flower garden she complains that it needs weeding, that weeds have become abundant also. And what is a weed, exactly, I wonder? When did a plant become a weed? In what century? In what geothermic era?


The Weed Science Society of America—yes, there is a society for the study of weeds—defines a weed as a plant that is not wanted, that germinates constantly and invasively and without our consent. These weeds interfere with the plantings we have chosen to nurture and propagate, the vegetables and flowers we cultivate for our pleasure and nourishment. A metaphor, perhaps, for the invasive weeds in our body politic and continuing attempts to rid ourselves of them without poisoning ourselves.


But I digress. Let us return to Jo Ann's garden and her bounteous gift: two kinds of chard, basil, cucumber and a sweet yellow zucchini. The stir fry was delicious.

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