My Work Families

Having spent the busiest month of my work year in order to join my siblings to care for my 88-year old mother as we transitioned her over to assisted living, I found myself entering a hidden world of elders where so many extraordinary tales were waiting to be told. I’ve hashed through my mind several chapters and standalone stories worth their weight in gold. But today, a different one emerges.

One thing I realized both when I was gone and especially when I returned, was how extraordinary my co-workers were during my absence. I always knew I worked among a group of people who care about each other and have each other’s backs, but I had not experienced the impact of it firsthand until now. Many reached out when I was gone to provide support and assurance to not worry about work. Others offered more words when I returned and had to find my footing once again. So many picked up the extra weight that comes with the start of a Fall semester at a university and shined while doing so.

As I thought about my local work family, another one, full of colleagues from other universities who I meet with regularly and who also sent me words of support and encouragement during this time, came to my attention.

As I was heading to bed last night, I received an email from the Program Manager of my Higher Ed Forum, a group of higher education professionals in the IT Help Desk industry that meets three times a year at various schools throughout North America. We meet and engage in intensive meetings on the latest topics of interest in our profession, share ideas, and open our campuses and hometowns to each other. We work hard and play hard together and grow close in the few days a year we connect. We come from all walks of life and backgrounds, yet find a common thread that makes it easy to share and open up to one another. We have seen each other go through marriages, divorces, sickness, childbirth, losing loved ones, and now, losing each other.

When I saw the email reach my inbox with the subject line of “Sad news”, I thought for a moment that someone was leaving the forum. I didn’t expect to hear that Rion Morgan, a young and brilliant light of a man, was one of the victims of the Plano, Texas shootings this past weekend. I had only met Rion on a couple of occasions when he attended meetings, but he was quick to participate both in our professional discussions and our after hours gatherings. He had a smile that was contagious and a warmth that made you feel like you had been longtime friends.

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One of my absolutely favorite nights out was in November 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas when our forum met at Texas Christian University. We had just completed a Vertical Lessons leadership program with Manley Feinberg which included “mastering” the indoor climbing wall at TCU.  A group of us found ourselves wandering the area after dinner and landed at the Fort Worth Water Gardens. It was dusk as we walked down into the gardens and I remember Rion very quietly and sweetly offering me a hand as I found my footing down the steps in the dark. When we came upon the Mountain sculpture, of course, we decided it was an opportune moment to scale it.  It wasn’t until afterwards that we noted it may not have been the safest thing to do in our street shoes (Belay off!) when we saw the “no climbing” sign on the wall. If there is one thing about this group, it is that you always go home with a story!

I didn’t know Rion well, but I will always remember his light and he will always have a special place in my heart and be a part of this extraordinary family.

RIP Rion

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#BaseballMagic (The Best of 2016)

As I reflect on the year past and concede the death of my childhood on many levels with the loss of famed figures such as Florence Henderson, Prince, Muhammad Ali, and Pat Summit, there is one ending that occurred in 2016 that I rejoice in, and continue to process as the days and months pass.  I was born into a Cubs fan family and have bled Cubby Blue throughout my five decades on this earth.  This year I saw the end of an era – the Era of the Lovable Losers.

Like many Cubs fans, the post-season flooded me with memories of watching games with my Dad, and in particular, a late season game in August of 1984. That was the year I truly believed the Cubs were going all the way and was also the last year the Cubs only sold Bleacher seats (good ol’ Bleacher Bums) on game day. Dad and I stood in line and were able to get one of the last tickets sold in Standing Room Only in the Bleachers. The sun was ablaze and my poor Dad looked like a lobster at the end of the day. I don’t remember the game much, but there was most definitely hope in the air. I had heard from my brothers that Dad attended the last Cubs World Series game, Game 7 against the Tigers on October 10, 1945, but I also seemed to know it wasn’t something to bring up. At that game in 1984 though, I asked him about it and he told me how he took the train across town to go to the game. He stared out to the field and recalled how the Tigers were clobbering the Cubs before the first half of the first inning was over. As he unfolded the heart wrenching details, his eyes drifted back to that place and time. I silently listened as he spoke of players whose names were unknown to me, what they did during the season, how great they were, and how they came apart in that final game. It was an extraordinary moment. In it all, we stood there in the August sun with a new sense of hope.

Since that time, I never fully believed in my heart that the Cubs were going all the way like I did as a teen in 1984 — not again, until this year. As many others have stated, this team was different, this team was special.  I “watched” each post-season game with my brothers and sisters via text messaging with Dad’s spirit nearby. I also found myself connecting with old friends via Facebook, many of whom I have had little connection with other than the Cubs. That is one of the magical things about baseball – regardless of differences, depth of connections, frequency of contact, baseball seems to bring people together, even non-baseball fans. It is a common thread and it is something we need more than anything today.

So, when I wondered out loud about the possibility of going to Wrigley for a World Series game, one of my closest and wisest friends quipped, “Pay for experiences, not things,” and I took it to heart.

Long story, short, I found myself going to Game 5 at Wrigley Field which was potentially the final game of the World Series since the Cubs were down 3-1 at that point.  I knew I’d regret not going to see it if it turned out to be the last time the Cubs played a WS game in my lifetime.  So, I bit the bullet, and with a few clicks of an iPhone app, had a ticket to my first night game at Wrigley. It was glorious. My seat was phenomenal – Section 102, Row 9, Seat 1. When Eddie Vedder came out to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” I couldn’t imagine anyone better.  Moments later, Vedder topped it when he asked the fans to sing along with Harry and he and the left field jumbotron pulls up a video of Harry Caray. An audible “Oh!” came from the crowd, followed by a choking of tears, followed by huge smiles and joyous singing.  That is baseball magic. The game was a nail biter, but the Cubbies came through and held off the Indians with a 3-2 win. Until November 2, 2016 it was the greatest baseball game I had ever attended.

I bought tickets for Game 7 along with two friends on the way back from Chicago the next day. It may take another year or ten before I am able to truly process that game. There will never be another like it in my lifetime, I am certain of that. Many will discuss the highlights and dissect and reconstruct the game pitch-by-pitch, but the collective emotion that was in Progressive Field that night between both Cubs and Indians fans, was something beyond adequate description. I had a level of stress in those final innings that left me holding my pounding head and rocking side to side with only the ability to cry out, “We Love You, Cubbies!” because I remembered hearing Joe Maddon once state in an interview how he would hear that one Cubs fans up in the nosebleeds and how much that meant — I was going to do my part (which I also did by not getting my hair cut for the last two months of the season so not to jinx the team)…

What was most magical about being at that game was how much it felt like we were transported back to a 1970s baseball game (sans the electronic scoreboards and jumbotrons). Players and fans alike, displayed a sportsmanship that seems rare these days. I sat with a mix of Cubs and Indians fans. We expressed our excitement of being there, shared stories of family members passed with each other, and teased each other in good spirit as the game became more tense. Two Cleveland fans sitting behind me offered and traded seats with two friends so we could all sit together. During the short rain delay, someone yelled out, “How ’bout we just call it a draw?!” and many on both sides agreed we should. When all was said and done, there were handshakes and congratulations and empathy expressed. I’ve never witnessed a sporting event like this in my life. Then again, none of us there, ever had.

 

I will always be a true blue Cubs fan, win or lose, but can say that Cleveland is now my second favorite team and I wish them final victory someday as well (so long as it’s not against the Cubs).

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Pearl Harbor: In the Words of My Mother

Today is the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  My mother who was twelve years old at the time and her family were on the island of Lanai during the attack.  Twenty-seven years ago I interviewed my mother for a Women’s History class in college which included asking her about that day and the ensuing days, weeks, and months following the attack.  Below is an excerpt from the paper I wrote for that class. 

Socorro and her family had no knowledge of the bombing when they came home from church that day.  They returned home and her mother turned on the radio, but nobody seemed to notice that there was no broadcast.  The radio stations had been silenced to keep Japanese planes from homing in on the islands.

The local authorities on Lanai rounded up the leaders of the various communities.  Since Socorro’s father was a store owner and thus considered one of the neighborhood leaders, he was asked to attend a special meeting where he was informed of the Japanese invasion.  He returned home and told the family that the U.S. was at war with Japan.  Socorro remembered her reaction to the news:

It was a horrible feeling.  This fear that literally clutches at your stomach…  We didn’t have very much protection on the little island of Lanai…  The few men in the National Guard were whisked off immediately to Honolulu.  And what was left to protect us?  One Sea Scout troop and one Boy Scout troop… They would patrol the streets to make sure the blackout laws were followed.

The Girl Scouts, in which Socorro was involved, also played an important role on the island.  A Junior Scout at the time, Socorro learned and passed the Red Cross First Aid Course and the Home Nursing Course to prepare for invasion.  The Senior Scouts carried messages by foot to huts in the sugarcane fields and made sure no lamps were left burning during blackouts (after sundown, no lights whatsoever were allowed to be seen outdoors in order to prevent being spotted at night by enemy planes flying over the island).  Islanders began community gardens should food shipments be cut off and began stocking up on food should there be a shortage.  Gasoline and food was rationed and ration cards were issued to the residents while storekeepers made sure no one went past their allotted limit.

Family photo (Socorro, back row, on left)
Family photo (Socorro, back row, on left)

All residents of the islands were issued gas masks that were from World War I.  Everyone was required to carry their gas masks everywhere they went.  They also all had to be registered, finger printed, and immunized.  U.S. Government money was withdrawn and special money was printed with “HAWAII” stamped across the bills.  Socorro said the reason for the money switch was that in the event Hawaii was invaded and taken over, the government treasury could disavow the “HAWAII” money.  She believed that the U.S. government was willing to give up the Hawaiian Islands if they were invaded again,

For a very, very long time after Pearl Harbor, there was still the fear and the possible danger of the islands being invaded.  And the islands were written off immediately.  If the Japanese invaded they were to be allowed to fall, because in order to allow the government to retrench along the West Coast, we were to be expendable… It’s really amazing that the Japanese didn’t follow through because if they’d followed through, the islands would have fallen before the end of December, I’m sure, because we didn’t have what was necessary to hold them off.  If their fleet would have come through we would have fallen.  We were expendable.

Government-issued identification (side one)
Government-issued identification (front)

The beaches were barb-wired and for a long time no one was allowed on the beaches.  Many families were distressed by this restriction because they depended on fishing for their food supply.  Almost a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, people were allowed to go on the beach if they had permits.  The beaches were under close surveillance by the military:

One time our family went down to the beach for a Sunday picnic.  And I brought along my drawing pad and my drawing pencils and I was sitting on the beach trying to draw this sand dune; and all of a sudden there was this military reconnaissance plane buzzing the beach!  It came down once!  It came down twice, quite low!  Then all of a sudden my father realized what was happening.  They saw me drawing on the beach.  You know, this great fear of spies.  He was buzzing to try to get close to see what I was doing.  So my father said, “Put that away!”… Then the Signal Corps sends this jeep down the road and my father went and talked with them and brings my drawing pad and says, “No, she’s not a spy, she thinks she’s an artist.”

Government-issued identification (side two)
Government-issued identification (back)

Because of the state of emergency, schools were closed until early January.  While in school, students were required to engage in gas mask drills (“which usually happened after you forgot to clean out the dust from your gas mask”).  Socorro learned about blackouts and memorized facts such as the number of miles away a lit cigarette could be seen in the dark.  The students also dug trenches along the front of the school to go to for protection in case of attack.  Trenches were also dug at all the residents’ homes.

By the time the schools reopened, Socorro had befriended many of the neighborhood children who were Japanese-Americans.  On her first day back in school, Socorro witnessed the newly arisen prejudice against the Japanese students:

I walked into my homeroom and all the Japanese kids were on one side of the room.  And on the other side of the room were the Filipino kids and the Korean kids and the Chinese, except one Filipino boy was sitting with the Japanese boys.  And I walked into the room toward the Japanese girls whom I was close to and a Filipina girl says, “Hey, don’t go with them, you know, they’re Japs! Come over here!”  And I remember, Helen Tamura says, “It’s not our fault.”  And then Jaime, the Filipino boy who was sitting with his friends who were Japanese… he says, “Yes, it’s not their fault.  They didn’t bomb Pearl Harbor!”  And at that point, the class went back to normal.  We mixed and suddenly there wasn’t this empty space in the middle of the classroom.  And to my knowledge throughout all that time, that was the only time that I remember that there was a disparity there.

Although Socorro perceived the prejudice against the Japanese in Hawaii as less severe than that on the mainland, she realized that many Japanese were being arrested on the islands and taken to the mainland.  One was the father of Francis Imura, a close friend of hers.  He was sent to a high security camp in Montana where he stayed until 1946.  While he was incarcerated, his eldest son had volunteered for the U.S. armed forces and was killed in Italy.  He returned to Hawaii a completely changed and broken man.  Socorro remarked that Mr. Imura’s treatment “was the most unjust thing I’ve ever witnessed.”