Thursday, May 31, 2018

Once Again Routes Often Taken Beckon

I can't seem to stay home for any period of time. Whether travel for business, pleasure, special events or visiting the grandkids, hub and I are (too) often on the move.
Recent short journeys are summarized in the following pictures.
Notice the yellow Howdy printed on the wing of the plane?
Hub and I endured another Spirit Air trip south to the Sunshine State.
Except it rained the five days we were there.
But we enjoyed our granddaughters' school play.
Granddaughter (on the left) as Grandpa Joe in 
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Returning home for a couple of days to do laundry and begin planting the garden,
we soon packed our bags again and ventured north. This time we traveled 
(for too many hours) in our trusty Mazda unsportscar 
to the Green Mountain State (a.k.a. Vermont).

We witnessed a granddaughter run a half-mile race and our son complete a marathon.
There was a soccer game (teams of six and seven year old girls),
and competitive bowling.
I did not win. My bowling skills are pitiful. 
The day's activities ended with a Mexican dinner and cotton candy dessert (for kids only).

We attended a Memorial Day parade.
It is hard to see in this picture, but along the parade route folks parked
pick-ups and enjoyed the spectacle from the back of their truck.

A long ride accompanied by thousands (maybe millions) of other holiday vacationers heading home seemed interminable. But we made it unscathed, tired, and glad to be home again.
Until our next trip...

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

One Man’s Childhood Journey Chronicled in Hillbilly Elegy

I have never been to Kentucky, but have ventured through West Virginia, southern Ohio and eastern Tennessee, all part of Appalachia, a region that stretches along the Appalachian Mountains from Alabama north to Pennsylvania. The people calling this expanse home are unflatteringly termed hillbillies, white trash, rednecks. (Remember the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies? The Clampetts strike oil on their land in the Ozarks and move to California. The Ozarks are not part of Appalachia but were settled by folks with the same Scotch/Irish/English ancestry as Appalachian settlers).

J.D. Vance, author of the bestseller Hillbilly Elegy, documents his traumatic upbringing amidst the land, people and culture of Appalachia, culminating in his escape from the lifestyle that entrapped his family for generations. I rarely review books, but for anyone interested in attempting to understand (some) Trump supporters and their world, Hillbilly Elegy is a must read. And a stress-free read (not academic, scholarly or loaded with long-winded, dry factual data).

The book was published before Donald Trump’s 2016 election as President. The millions who voted for him are an anomaly to many Americans who could not then and still cannot understand why folks are drawn to the Trump persona.

The people populating Hillbilly Elegy – the author’s immediate and extended family, the adults who came into and out of his life like a revolving door, his siblings, friends and neighbors, reflect the views of many individuals interviewed on the question, “Why Trump?”  Disappointment in political leaders, prejudices, lack of job opportunities, poor education, financial illiteracy, religious beliefs and adherence to fake news all play a part in the lives of J.D. Vance’s people. Reading about their struggle to survive, I understand why so many are attracted to the outsider’s (a.k.a. Trump’s) vitriol. They consider themselves outsiders and seek a savior. Unfortunately Trump is not their protector or rescuer, but a false Messiah.

But I digress.

The heart and soul of Vance’s narrative is his effort to move forward despite a dysfunctional family, particularly his mother’s life choices. As the reader witnesses Vance tackle one obstacle after another, it is easy to recognize why so many facing similar circumstances get discouraged. 

I am not sure why Vance succeeded in overcoming his environment. Vance attempts to explain his success and offers suggestions on how to support folks striving for a better life, realizing some people cannot be helped. 

Hillbilly Elegy offers insight into a world many are unfamiliar with, yet want to understand as the country experiences the Trump Presidency. Vance’s story sheds some light on the great divide challenging our country today. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Doing My Civic Duty – Part Two

I received a reprieve from civic duty this week. A call from the county court house informed me there were no scheduled cases. I need not report for ‘work’.

I can honestly say jury duty is work because I am paid - $5.00 per day. My first paycheck arrived in the mail this week.

My experience as a grand jurist has been an interesting one. I serve one day a week until the end of June, assuming cases are scheduled on my reporting day. 

the jury
The 23 members of the grand jury file into the courtroom, many bearing drinks - non-alcoholic of course. We are allowed to bring beverages and snacks into court, a more informal situation than trial courtroom practices. Actually it is inaccurate to state 23 members enter the room. Each week three or four do not appear. On the first day we were informed that it is OK if necessary to take a week or two off. Twelve jurors constitute a quorum and are required to vote on whether or not to indict an individual, meaning send the case to trial, or not. 

My fellow jurors are supposed to represent the county’s demographics, and to an extent they do. Folks range in age (I am guessing; did not take a survey) from 30ish to 70ish. Blue and white-collar workers, unemployed and retirees, black, white, Hispanic, and undetermined (not sure of everyone’s background – did not ask). Insufficient factual knowledge (except speculation) about education, economic circumstances, family situation. 

the witness
the prosecutor
The jury remains silent as court proceedings progress and are recorded. A witness is sworn in, the prosecutor asks questions, dismisses the witness and reads the indictment. The jury asks questions based on the case’s facts and point of law. Then the recording stops, and the jury discusses the case. Sometimes there are questions and debate, sometimes not. Occasionally the witness returns to the room for follow-up queries. Once discussion concludes, the jury votes.

the perpetrator
 We have heard a variety of criminal cases involving drugs, domestic abuse incidents, burglaries, robberies, thefts and other offenses. First-time offenders as well as habitual law breakers find their way into criminal court.

The experience opens a window into a world not a part of my everyday routine. I encountered women in domestic abuse situations when I taught at a business school, and the school witnessed a varied cast of characters, a few of whom probably ended up in criminal court.

 A few weeks to go, and so far cases have not risen to a level of national prominence in magnitude or interest. I wonder if one of Trump’s secret liaisons lived or worked in my county and the case lands in court, or one of his fix-it lawyers happens to live in town, or a Russian oligarch patronized a penthouse suite in an upscale hotel and participated in – or was the victim of – hanky panky. That would be fascinating courtroom drama.

I think I am the victim of too much detective TV, having grown up watching Perry Mason, Columbo, The Rockford Files, Matlock… 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Happy Mother’s Day Heroines of My Past

This article is revised from an earlier one posted in 2012.

I was lucky to have strong, independent women role-models growing up. I did not realize the impact of Nana’s, Aunt Jean’s, Aunt Nettie’s and Mom’s experiences until years later. These women (and others not mentioned in this article) created a mosaic of memories that shaped my life. Among the values absorbed was the importance of financial responsibility. A boring trait, definitely not warm and fuzzy, but an important one to everyone’s long-term happiness, security, and well-being.

In honor of Mother’s Day I remember and celebrate two generations of women who influenced my life.

Dad’s father died when he was about four years old and his sister, my Aunt Harriet, was six. On the eve of the Depression, 1929, Nana was left with two children to support. Married, job-hunting women in their 30s were an unwanted commodity. Nana lied about her age, dropping eight years, and as a good-looking 20-something woman found employment. She worked most of her life, never remarried, and struggled for many years. Yet she always looked glamorous to me, a tall, regal, well-dressed lady, every hair in place, whom I wanted to emulate.

I was ten years old when my Uncle Ed died. His wife Aunt Jean floundered, lost without her husband. Uncle Ed handled all the couple’s affairs, including everything financial. I remember Grandpa sitting at the dining room table, hunched over, concentrating on piles of papers strewn across the table, attempting to organize Aunt Jean’s life. She had never written a check and had no idea how much – or how little – money she had. My grandfather taught her how to write a check, keep track of her checking account, and helped her create a budget. The year was 1960.

My Uncle Harry married Aunt Nettie, about as independent a woman as there ever was. Born 1900 in Montana, her independent and adventurous streak was imbedded in her DNA. As a young single woman she travelled cross-country with friends. She went to nursing school and eventually became an administrator at a large hospital in New York City. She returned to school in the 1940s and obtained an additional degree in social work. She and my uncle travelled all over the world. I got engaged while in college; her advice, “Whatever you do, finish college.”

Me and Mom
My mother was an only child and went to college, not a typical undertaking for women born in the 1920s. Most girls majored in education or nursing. Mom majored in math. She returned to school in the early 1960s. I remember Saturday mornings Mom and Dad in our basement, Dad hard at work on the typewriter while Mom dictated a report due in class later that day. She earned a master’s in library science and worked for years as an elementary school librarian. In the late 1960s Dad faced financial difficulties and a period of unemployment, and Mom’s paycheck bridged the gap until Dad was again employed.

Of course I made life decisions that may not have been the best, but I can only blame myself.

For the positive choices reached because of lessons learned from these women,

Thank You and

Happy Mother’s Day!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Doing My Civic Duty

I was never summoned for jury duty while living 30+ years in Lancaster, PA.

Eight years living in Atlantic County, NJ, and the municipality summoned me twice, the first time as a petit juror. I looked forward to the opportunity to sit on a jury, observe and decide an exciting case – maybe a homicide that made the local and regional papers and possibly national news. Or a financial trial involving a Bernie Madoff-type financial swindler. Or perhaps a case of any kind involving a famous person.

I sat on a personal injury case. The trial lasted two days before lawyers settled out of court. My jury experience concluded.

A couple of months ago an official-looking letter arrived in the mail. Most of my mail nowadays is junk mail. A real letter, official or otherwise, rarely appears in my box. The letter summoned me to court as a prospective grand juror. But before my court appearance I needed to fill out an online questionnaire.

The questions set a high bar (note the legal lingo):

Am I over 18 years of age? A no-brainer for this senior.

Am I a U.S. citizen? As far as I know. My birth certificate proves my existence began in a hospital in New Jersey. Unfortunately the hospital no longer exists, so if anyone questions the authenticity of the document I may be in trouble. But I don’t think I should worry. I am not going to run for President (of anything).

Can I understand and read English? No problem, most of the time. Sometimes I have trouble understanding my 2-year-old granddaughter. And the accents of actors in British films throw me. But I don’t think there will be many cases involving individuals with British accents in south Jersey.

Am I a resident of the county in which I am to serve? The exorbitant checks written for property taxes, the ticket received – one time only – because I forgot to move my car on street cleaning day, my addiction to local pizza and bagels, plus the junk mail accumulated in my name at my address are proof positive I reside in the county.

Have I “been convicted of any indictable offense under the laws of this State another State or the United States”? Definitely a no, and a search of all records will result in nothing.

The court wants to ensure that I “shall not have any mental or physical disability which will prevent the person from properly serving as a juror”? I would say no, although I cannot guarantee all my family, friends, and acquaintances would agree with me.

I passed the test. The next step was to show up in Criminal Court.

The decorum in the courtroom impressed me. Over 100 people sitting quietly, no one squirming or whispering, cell phone use banned, nothing to do but wait. The judge asked if anyone had a reason they could not serve on a jury. People raised their hand and one by one approached the bench. The judge and the individual had a heart-to-heart. Sometimes the person left the courtroom, sometimes returned to their seat, their excuse not compelling enough to sway the judge.

Once everyone hoping to be excused spoke with the judge, court employees conducted orientation, the main part a PowerPoint presentation on the crimes a grand jury may deal with – burglary, theft, domestic abuse, assault, homicide, financial fraud, arson…

We were sent home with instructions to report the following week. I will serve as a Grand Juror one day a week during May and June.

So what does a Grand Jury do? A prosecutor presents a case. The grand jury decides whether the case should go to trial. Or not.

I get paid $5 a day.