Archive for July 2022

“My Father’s House” appreciated in Bristol, Connecticut   6 comments

July 21, 2022

I have read My Father’s House: Remembering my Swedish-American Family which has now found a new home in the library of The Bristol Historical Society. Thank you for that. I found it most interesting. You write so easily and descriptively that one feels they are there witnessing those events.

I’m very familiar with a lot of the names that you have included. Jim Critchley’s sister Celia was my first boss when she hired me as a high school page for the Bristol Public Library and ultimately as a fulltime employee. Mona O’Hara, whom you mention as the inspiration for your given name, was a library Board member for several years.

I remember Paul and Astrid Gustafson and their daughter Janet and the aroma of Astrid’s coffee. I was told how she would put eggshells in the brewing coffee.

Places and businesses that you mention bring back fond memories of how vibrant Bristol was at one time, with a great downtown. You mention the Freshman Building of the high school, which has been home to the Bristol Historical Society now for some twenty years. Your old high school on the Boulevard has been recently renovated and updated for its reopening as a magnet school.

Ironically, back in 2001, I wrote an article about Officer James McNamee (1890-1930) who was killed in the line of duty whom you mentioned as your sister’s friend.

It has been a pleasure revisiting these memories.

Thank you for your contribution,

Ellie Wilson, Program Planner for the Bristol Historical Society


In case it isn’t obvious, I’m making fun of the way academics talk. I think it’s OK for me to do this because I’m one of them. In plain English, what I mean is, “Academic words can cause trouble because they have a special meaning not clear to most of us.”  In case it’s not obvious, this post is a rant about the confusing and therefore toxic words “Critical Race Theory.” I’m driven to do this because the wide-ranging, angry, hysterical, downright mean, responses to those words are producing in me an awful stomach-curdling, heart-shattering, sleep-disrupting, stress reaction. And just when I was becoming hopeful that we might broaden the scope of study of American History to include all of it.

I’m sure Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a highly respected law professor at the U.C.L.A. School of Law and Columbia Law School and her group thought they were making perfectly good sense when they coined that term to describe their work. And they were! — if you realize they were talking to people with years of training in talking their jargon, “special words or expressions used by a particular profession or group that are difficult for those outside their group to understand.” Almost any profession has its jargon. Listen to a group of lawyers, or medical people, or architects, or electricians or plumbers , or even artists or writers …. I’m quite sure you will hear jargon. The problem is that academic jargon often derives from English words that sound enough like “real” English words so folks think they know what they mean. You know, the words that have people fighting – sometimes literally coming to blows – at schoolboard meetings and other places.

Jargon is a handy shortcut when you’re communicating with others who use the same language but obfuscating for others. (To obfuscate: render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible.)

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of “Critical Race Theory,” please join me in playing a bit with what I have experienced in my former life as a psychology professor.

Decades ago, when I was about to begin my career as a college instructor teaching “Introduction to Psychology,” a more experienced friend of mine said, “You’ll be surprised how long it takes for your class to understand what it took you only five years to learn.” So true!

Way back when my children were small. my big sister explained to her husband, “Mona’s a psychologist. They talk funny.” It was funny when she said it, but true.

I want to believe, for example, that my students came to know and understand the specialized meaning of words like:

Reinforcement: In plain English it means “strengthening the rickety steps to the back porch.” In psychological jargon it means “strengthening the connection between stimulus and response.”


Rationalization: In plain English it means “applying rational thinking to a problem.” In jargon it refers to the action of attempting to explain or justify behavior or an attitude with logical reasons, even if these are not appropriate. –  a defense mechanism.

One last example, Denial: In plain English it means “I didn’t do it.”  In jargon it’s “refusing to admit to oneself the truth or reality of something unpleasant.”

And, beyond jargon, I learned something else that’s important. Words evoke emotions, or interpretations one may not have predicted.

So what’s this got to do with “Critical Race Theory?”

Commonly when people hear the word “critical” they hear “You are being criticized because you did something wrong.” That presumed attack creates a defensive, often angry, sometimes screaming reaction.  In academic jargon, on the other hand, “Critical” refers to “an effort to see a thing clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly.” (Go ahead. Check me out. Google it.)

And the word “race?” Holy smokes, what does “race” mean? That’s what’s in need of study “in an effort to see it clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly.”

And that final word, “theory.” I confess I can only guess at what the theory is that the “Critical Race Theory” folks intend. What I do know is I’m upset that people haven’t stopped to ask before they began screaming and passing laws. And I’m bothered any time I hear someone say, “It’s only a theory,” apparently thinking it’s just some idea that popped new-born out of someone’s head. For scientists, “theory” has nearly the opposite meaning. It’s honored with the word “theory” only after a long history of study, experimenting, and fact checking.

So, the best plain English translation I can offer is, “Critical Race Theory” means “Let’s examine race through careful research and study in an effort to see it clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly.”

 Now can we get down to the business of whether we are willing as a nation to examine race through careful research and study in an effort to see it clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly? And how should we do part of that through our educational system? Can we just take an honest look at our history, being prepared to incorporate both the good and the bad? Or are we too scared or set in our ways to take a careful look?

End of rant for now….



I just posted the following review on amazon and Goodreads.


Don’t even think of reading this book if you’d rather not know the truth, or if compassion is annoying, or your compassion has worn you thin, or you don’t need or want to know anything more about the lives of your fellow Americans, or if people don’t count as fellow Americans if they are surviving below your status.

 Do make contact with this book if you care about our democracy and still hope for its long and healthier survival, or your compassion leads you to care about the lives of other people, or if you still believe that understanding/knowledge will help construct a road to solution.

This in-depth, detailed report of real people – mostly black – living lives of poverty in the inner city – to which they have been confined by laws and regulations – cannot but make you sad, angry, maybe even hopeful that something might be done to make this more like the America you want to live in. Consider this on page 295: “The persistence and brutality of American poverty can be disheartening, leaving us cynical about solutions. But as Scott and Patrice will tell you, a good home can serve as the sturdiest of footholds. When people have a place to live, they become better parents, workers, and citizens.”

 Spend a day with mothers whose time is completely taken up with the search for an apartment not only that they can afford, but that will accept them. Be with them when they have been evicted because their son or daughter has done a childish act of disturbing mischief that led to eviction – eviction, which is now a cause for rejection from other apartment rentals. Be with them when the apartment they do manage to rent – for a huge portion of their take-home pay – has non-functioning plumbing which they hesitate to report to the landlord because complaint can lead to eviction. Learn about the complex understanding of the financial and relational economic system that governs life on the move from one eviction to another. Try to raise a child who is regularly moved from one school to another because of frequent evictions and homelessness.

 Also on p. 295: “If Arleen and Vanetta didn’t have to dedicate 70 or 80 percent of their income to rent, they could keep their kids fed and clothed and off the streets They could settle down in one neighborhood and enroll their children in one school, providing them the opportunity to form long-lasting relationships with friends, role models, and teachers. They could start a savings account or buy their children toys and books, perhaps even a home computer. The time and emotional energy they spent making rent, delaying eviction, or finding another place to live when homeless could instead be spent on things that enriched their lives: community college classes, exercise, finding a good job, maybe a good man too.”

(And remember, until recently most renting families could reach the goal of spending not more than 30 percent of their income on rent.)

 Notice that each of the quotes above begins with names, and that’s the value of this disturbing but essential book. The author is telling the real stories of real people he has come to know in depth. These are not cold statistics reported by some distant observer. The author knows the renters – and the landlords – their lives and problems.

 For those who have the courage to reach into and understand these lives a new world of understanding will open and, one hopes, a world of new, creative, saving potentia

 Yes, I’m passionate about this most unusual and important book.

SUSAN, LINDA, NINA, & COKIE   2 comments

Recently I posted this review on amazon and Goodreads.

SUSAN, LINDA, NINA, & COKIE: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR, by Lisa Napoli

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this [audible] book read by the author. Her voice was perfect for conveying the atmosphere, maybe even the period, in which these women grew and worked. Perhaps if I’d been reading a paperback I might have been offended by some of the specific language usages critiqued by a previous reviewer, but for me it was as if a friend had carried me with her to provide a personal flourish to the stories of these four women. Their family backgrounds were generally of a higher caste than mine, but oh how I did resonate to their college experiences! In a way it surprised me given that they were over a decade behind me in age. As with my experience at Connecticut College for Women (only in the 60s did they admit Conn. men) academic progress and creative focus were intense and satisfying, With the overarching expectation that the talent would be used in supporting productive husbands and raising successful children! I think it was Cokie’s story that especially grabbed my attention with her discovery that “supportive wife” was a position that depressingly used only a few of her abilities.

Their struggles with gender bias were all too familiar to me, not only from personal experience, but also as a former professor of the Psychology of Women. To tell the truth, I was a bit dismayed that women so much younger than I had faced such battles in their career progressions. I resonated as well to Cokie Roberts “mixed” marriage, and I appreciated the importance of the wise and strong men in their lives who were willing to grow in their own marital roles. What I really enjoyed, though, was the down-to-earthiness of the stories as Lisa tells them.

To be honest the purpose in writing the book was not clear to me, and it’s not the kind of story that keeps me up late at night wanting to know what’s next, but I do know I anticipated with pleasure each listening session I could find time for. I guess it’s not a great literary work – but then, it doesn’t pretend to be. So, it’s a five-star book simply because that’s how much I enjoyed it.

And, by the way, I hadn’t appreciated the extent to which women had facilitated the progress of public radio. Maybe gender bias helped to make it possible. After all, who, at that time, might have had their defenses up anticipating that women could propel such competitive influence.


Recently I posted the following review on Goodreads and Amazon

I’m glad I read the first book with my book group, but one needn’t have read it to enjoy Book 2. (To tell the truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if there would be a Book 3). As a previous viewer has pointed out, there is so much to learn. I’m sorry it’s no longer a shock to me to learn of human cruelty, but it did horrify me to learn that – at the time I was busy getting educated and married (1950s) – there were children imprisoned for being orphans or the wrong color. I haven’t done the research thing to validate the story, but I’ve decided to accept it as true.

This wasn’t a can’t-put-it-down-in-time -to-go-to-bed novel, but it was gripping when I did spend time with it. Listening to Katie Schorr read it on the audible book enhanced the effect of being there in the Kentucky hills. I do have friends, however, who tend to skip past descriptions to get to the action who might, therefore, find it a slow go. I, on the contrary, enjoyed being immersed in the sights and smells of an area otherwise unfamiliar to me.

I have to admit I would have liked more detail/understanding of how the story ended for the original Packhorse Librarian and her husband. It seems to me some potential richness was overlooked there. Maybe we’ll get more in the next (?) book?

But these comments, rather than reflecting disappointment, reflect the extent to which I was gripped by the characters. I have a warm feeling even as I remember the book woman’s daughter.

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