“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu
above, Pat Colander; below, Jillian Van Volkenburgh
I drove to the Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster for an Art in Focus presentation by Pat Colander, author of “Hugh Hefner’s First Funeral and Other True Tales of Love and Death in Chicago.” I’ll be speaking to the same group in three weeks and wanted to check out the facilities. Unfortunately, the building had lost power and the talk was moved to a dining room with only a podium for the speaker. Rather than talk about Hugh Hefner, to my disappointment she read a chapter about the 1982 Tylenol murders, when seven people in the Chicago area died from Tylenol capsules laced with potassium cyanide. The crime remains unsolved, but Colander talked about two main suspects who, she speculates, may have acted together. When Colander first wrote about the case, it inspired a spate of copycat cases of product tampering. South Shore Arts Director of Education Jillian Van Volkenburgh plugged my upcoming talk and assured me there’d be equipment on hand for me to show photos and YouTube clips and play Vee-Jay hit records hit such as “Goodnight, Sweetheart” and “Duke of Earl.”
above, Maria and Arredondo siblings; below, Kenny Kincaid
Purdue Northwest historian Ken Kincaid asked me to discuss “Maria’s Journey” with students in his class on Hispanics in America because authors Ray and Trish Arredondo were unable to attend. Published by Indiana Historical Society Press, the book is used in numerous college courses. Some 35 years ago I was oral history consultant for a Tri-City Community Mental Health Center project on ethnicity called “Pass the Culture, Please,” funded by the Indiana Committee on the Humanities. In 1982 I conducted several interviews with the Spanish-speaking matriarch with son Ray acting as translator. Then I taped a group interview with her ten children during a Sunday gathering after mass featuring plenty of Mexican food. Years later, Ray and Trish completed book-length manuscript and asked me what I thought of it. It was a charming and valuable document right up my alley as a social historian, and I agreed to edit it and furnish chapter introductions. I wrote the Foreword and got IU professor John Bodnar, author of “The transplanted,” to do the Introduction. Bodnar wrote:
Not unlike many immigrants from around the world at various times, Maria lived a life of hardship and turmoil. At key moments in her life decisions were forced on her. As a child she had to follow relatives to Texas, living the life of a migrant in a boxcar. Her mother coerced her into marrying at age 14 a man from a higher social station in the vague hope she could improve the family’s fortunes. Throughout her adult life her spouse, Miguel, was generally insensitive to her needs and insisted she remain confined to her domestic duties. But Maria did not always let others shape the course of her life. In the early years of the Great Depression, when the United States sought to return Mexicans to their homeland so that they would not compete with native jobs, Maria – scarred by her early years of deprivation in Mexico – refused to leave. She only returned to Mexico with her children to care for her mother when the elder woman was deported. Soon she brought her family back to America, despite her husband’s objections that he could not afford to support them. Faced with countless forces that tried to run her life, Maria retained the ability to fight back and to seek what she thought was best for her children – traits that earned her their everlasting love. When a Catholic priest once asked her to confess her sins, she retorted that with all the cooking, washing, and caring she did for a husband and ten children, “do you really think I’ve got time to sin?”
Kincaid’s students peppered me with questions and talked about local history projects they were doing, some involving their own families. Asked if, looking back, I’d do anything different, I wished I’d interviewed Maria’s children one-on-one and asked more intimate questions, about sexual behavior, for instance. I talked about daughter Jenny, who the family wouldn’t talk to for two years after she defied their wishes and joined her boyfriend in California and then married. Asked what my favorite parts were, I cited the chapter where Maria defied husband Miguel and journeyed from Mexico to Indiana harbor with eight kids and another (Ramon) on the way. I also brought up when Maria burned Miguel’s leftwing literature during the Red Scare, fearing that they might be deported as radio coverage of HUAC hearings taking place in Gary investigating the suspected communist sympathies of union leaders. When I mentioned Ray’s statement that whenever he or his siblings left town, they’d kneel before Maria or her mother Rita while she was alive and seek their blessing for a safe trip, two Latinas gave smiles of recognition and said it was the same in their families. After student named Emily, noting my Rainbow Connectionz ribbon, told me the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, transgendered, Straight Alliance (LGBTSA) was holding a campus event where participants could dress and wear make-up as persons they’d like to become.
I learned from Bucknell magazine that Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas (1884-1968), above, attended my alma mater for a year while his father was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg. He then transferred to Princeton after a wealthy relative paid his tuition, graduating in 1905 as valedictorian. After Thomas himself was ordained a minister, he sometimes preached in his father’s church during the summer.
I spoke on the phone with granddaughter Alissa, who works with Grand Valley State’s overseas program, about hosting counterparts from other countries such as Ghana and China. For several years, since meeting Isaac Kofi Spellino (above), he has expressed a desire to visit Ghana.
Unlike the Jeopardy contestants I knew all the answers in the Veep category, including Nelson Rockefeller, whom Gerald Ford appointed after taking over for Nixon and Harry Truman’s running mate, Kentuckian Alben W. Barkley. I even knew most Etiquette answers; my mother would have been proud.
Speaking about the Fourth Crusade, which was supposed to liberate Jerusalem but instead climaxed with an attack on and pillaging of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, Parnell brought up two divergent theories to explain the chain of events. The first claimed it was a conspiracy motivated by greed and hatched by Venetian doge Enrico Dandelo to wrest control of trade and commerce from an economic rival. While there is no contemporary written corroboration, those involved in the conspiracy would have to have their plans kept secret. In the last quarter-century or so, scholars have tended to subscribe to a so-called accident theory in which what happened was the result of unanticipated events. The dispute reminded me of conflicting interpretations of the Vietnam War. Economic determinists see American participation as the logical culmination of American imperialism and that business leaders turned against it when they regarded it as unwinnable. Other historians subscribe to a version of the so-called quagmire theory whereby American policymakers kept getting in deeper and deeper until stuck there.