Grace and Hope in Time of Calamity

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Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Grace and Hope in Time of Calamity

I write and file this column midweek, when the fierce and pitiless winds are at a lull, and so the drama will have resumed by the time you read this. All the same, these sentiments will surely have been reinforced when the devilish Santa Anas roared anew.

I write these words after returning from a middle-of-the-night evacuation and, blessedly, finding my home still standing.

I write this bleary-eyed – and with tears in my eyes.1venturastrong

I write this with a heart that feels like it has been stomped upon by a marching band wearing army boots, yet I write this also with a heart filled with love and pride and hope because of the way my longtime hometown has responded to the home-and-heirlooms-purloining Thomas Fire.

Ventura, perhaps as never before, has shown itself to be We-tura.

So, too, has this same spirit emerged in Sant-Us Paula and Our-jai, and all our local communities, as the Thomas Fire scorched a path like General Sherman marching from Atlanta to the sea during the Civil War.

Indeed, when I write “I” here it truly echoes of “we” because the Thomas Fire touched us all in similar ways.

As mentioned, I (we) had to evacuate when flames crested a hill from the north and encroached Foothill Road with our home mere yards across the two-lane blacktop on the south. At 3 a.m. I (we) knocked on front doors and honked car horns to make sure our neighbors were awake and we all got the hell out of Hell’s way.

I (we) had countless friends, co-workers and family members who likewise needed to evacuate and worried about them one and all, as well as about those we do not know at all.

I (we) felt an earthquake rattle my soul learning about dear and longtime friends who lost their homes in Clearpoint and, as the fire surged on, in Ondulando.

I (we) learned of more friends, further down the fire’s path, who similarly were suddenly made homeless.

I (we) worried about relatives – me, about my father’s home at the ocean’s-view-crest of Ondulando and, below in the same tract, my eldest brother’s home and the home of one of my nieces. These fears extended a mile away to my other older brother’s home that lay directly in the evacuated path of this vicious monster.

I (we) hoped against hope all my family members’ homes – along with everyone’s homes – would survive.

Finally, I (we) learned of these fates, one by one: My niece’s home escaped unharmed, as did my older brother’s home. Meanwhile, the fire made a Pickett’s Charge-like charge and overtook the backyard fence of my eldest brother’s home before being defeated.

As for the fate of my 91-year-old father’s home, a home he has lived in for 44 years, his home that holds so much of my late mom? Answer: a solemn shake of the head, “no.” It is gone. Memories from half of a long lifetime disappearing in flame and smoke in a cruel instant.

Thinking of my father and my (our) friends, co-workers, neighbors and everyone who lost their homes, I (we) feel “Home” Survivor Guilt.

Why did my (our) home survive and theirs did not?

1friemanThere but for the grace of god, and the direction of the fickle winds, goes my (our) home instead of theirs.

Grace certainly was on abundant display. Our family members and friends naturally offered one another helping hands and shelter, food and drinking water, hugs and compassion – and so did strangers offer these same things to strangers.

In other words, in Latin, E pluribus unum – “out of many, one.”

Firefighters, as always, were heroes. In truth, however, most everyone rose to the occasion, standing tall and together like our famous “Two Trees. ” It seems a fitting simile, for while our iconic landmark was charred by the Thomas Fire, what it symbolizes – standing side by side as We-Trees – remains unconquerable.

I (we) have never been more heartbroken for my hometown, and yet conversely my heart has never been filled fuller for We-tura.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

My Readers Chime In

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Clearing Out Leftovers From the Email In-Box

Because I believe this space belongs to my readers and I am merely its steward, and also because playing hooky from writing this week sounded good, today I turn the forum over to some email responses to recent columns.

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Barbara shared her similar experience arriving late at the airport for a 4:30 p.m. flight:

“It is now 4:14 and I see a line snaking through the ropes to get where you go through the scanners. I know I cannot wait in line. So this old lady goes around the line to the man checking people through. I show my boarding pass & I.D., saying my plane leaves in 10 minutes. He looks at me & stamps me through.

“Then I had to walk/run to gate 17 at the end – just made it. Pays to have boarding pass the day before.”

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Russell took exception to my column about the FDR Presidential Library & Museum’s exhibit “Images of Internment: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II” and my condemnation over the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent – including approximately 80,000 American citizens:1MailbagTypewriter

“It might be great for you to feel like the liberal white guy that reviews history after 75 years and has the answers. Had we lost, you and your son may not have had those field trips. Get some perspective. You are a big reason our Country is in trouble.”

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Linda, however, had a different viewpoint:

“Your column on internment injustice was a great reminder and something we should never forget, nor repeat.”

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Bob, however, disagreed with Linda and me:

“During the 1930’s my Illinois grandfather would take wagons of onions to the Chicago produce markets and find no buyers. He returned to the family farm and plowed them under. My uncles with small farms, just 50 miles south of Chicago, didn’t get electricity and indoor plumbing until the early 1950’s.

“Yet the 120,000 internees in the early 1940’s had three meals a day and a warm bed at night while much of rural America was just scraping by.

“Further, it has been said that interring 120,000 was unnecessary as no acts of sabotage took place. The more logical statement should be no acts of sabotage took place because 120,000 were interred.

“Last add. A number of Japanese-Americans served with distinction in the European theatre during World War II but were prohibited from serving in the Pacific theater. Betcha a lot of our soldiers in the steaming jungles of the South Pacific would have loved to have had that same restriction.”

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I am tempted to rebut Bob – warm beds? three meals a day? correlation implying causation? – but Kenzo does so with far more authority:

“Thanks for your column about the Japanese-American internment caused by Executive Order 9066.

“I was of those who spent over three years behind a barbed wire fence in Northern California, guarded by the army. I was fingerprinted and my mug shot was taken when I was twelve.

“And I was to be stripped of my citizenship. Fortunately, that wasn’t done and I was able to get a secret clearance when in Korea in 1953, when I was in the MIS attached to the 2nd Division.

“The worst part is when I was called for jury duty here in Ventura County and asked by the judge if I was ever detained by any police agency: federal, state or local – and I always answered in the positive.

“Asked how long, and the answer was three-plus years and that I was never charged with any crime.

“Asked why was I detained, and the answer was that I was possibly a threat to the security of the U.S. and that I was nine years old when detained.”

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Lastly, Gary Clevenger, my classmate in middle school and high school, responded to my “Holiday Ball Drive” column about Brent Muth and his late friend, Mike Sandoval:

Inspiring article, Woody. I had 10 basketballs sent. Have a Merry Christmas.”

Thanks to Gary’s generosity, an additional 10 kids certainly will.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

 

Friendships & Holiday Ball Drive

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Friendships kick off Holiday Ball Drive

Brent Muth has a favorite quote from the old “Our Gang” TV show, spoken by Stymie: “You only meet your once-in-a-lifetime friends . . . once in a lifetime.”

Brent was a lucky Little Rascal for he met his first once-in-a-lifetime friend early on, while in kindergarten. It was not long before he and Mike Sandoval were, as Brent puts it, “thick as thieves.”

Recess, club soccer, chess club, basketball; Brent and Mike were inseparable from Poinsettia Elementary through Balboa Junior High through Buena High.

As seniors, in 1988, their Bulldogs varsity basketball team lost only three games. Brent credits his best friend for the season to remember: “Mike was the greatest athlete/game player I’ve ever known. When Sandoval was on your team, you always felt that somehow, some way, you were going to win.”1friendshipWooden

Oftentimes, friendships wane after high school. Not theirs. Even with Mike off to Stanford and Brent taking a winding educational road to Fresno State, they remained brotherly close. Mike was the best man at Brent’s wedding; Brent is a godparent to Mike’s daughter, Megan.

One of the many special things about Mike, Brent shares, was this: “He was not just my best friend – he was that special best friend to a lot of people.”

Specifically, Mike was also the best friend to the other three members of their “Our Gang”-like group of five guys who grew up together: Mark Franke, Adan Valencia, and Craig Rasmussen.

Tragically, the gang lost its leader in 2009 when Mike passed away from a blood clot after undergoing Achilles tendon surgery. He was 39.

Last year, Brent donated a basketball in tribute to his fallen comrade to my annual Holiday Ball Drive. This year, he had a grander idea. He recently invited the ol’ gang of Mark and Adan and Craig, plus a bunch of other friends, to his home for a backyard party of sports competitions. He called it “Ballapalooza.”

“Bring a ball,” Brent told his guests and they did, collectively donating more than 20 new basketballs, soccer balls, and footballs in Mike’s honor to “Woody’s Annual Holiday Ball Drive” to bring joy to disadvantaged youth.

Brent is a Phys Ed teacher and knows about kids without. Early in his career, he worked in a low-income school district and would routinely go to a big-box sporting goods store to buy athletic shoes for his most disadvantaged students.

Brent’s stories echo the inspiration behind the Holiday Ball Drive. About 20 years ago, I was at a local youth basketball clinic when NBA All-Star Cedric Ceballos presented autographed basketballs to a handful of lucky attendees.

1WoodyHolidayBalls

A few of the hundreds of balls generous readers donated to “Woody’s Annual Holiday Ball Drive” last year.

Leaving the gym afterward, I happened upon a 10-year-old boy who won one of the prized keepsakes – which he was dribbling on the rough blacktop outdoor court, and shooting baskets with, while perhaps imagining he was Ceballos.

Meanwhile, the real Ceballos’ Sharpie signature was wearing off.

Curious why the boy had not carefully carried the trophy basketball home and put it safely on a bookshelf, I interrupted his playing to ask.

“I’ve never had my own basketball,” he answered matter-of-factly between shots.

That Christmastime, thinking of that boy – and other boys and girls who do not have their own basketball to shoot, soccer ball to kick, football to throw – my Holiday Ball Drive was born.

Once again, I am encouraging you to drop off a new sports ball – or balls – at any local Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, youth club, or church and they will find a worthy young recipient.

Or drop balls off (weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Dec. 20) – or have mailed-shipped to by Amazon.com and the likes – at Jensen Design & Survey at 1672 Donlon St. (near Target on Telephone Road in Ventura) and I will take it from there.

Also, please email me about your gift at woodywriter@gmail.com so I can add your generosity to this year’s tally.

Who is your own Mike Sandoval, the once-in-a-lifetime friend – or special teacher, coach, mentor, role model – you can honor with a “Ballapalooza” donation to a kid in need? Together, Our Gang can spread a lot of holiday cheer.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

Whispers Amid the Noise

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Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

Whispers Among a Cacophony of Noise

Fifth and final in a series of columns chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.

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New York City is cacophony of honking car horns and shouting pedestrians, of street vendors hawking their wares and jackhammers at work, of rumbling subway trains and ambulance sirens.

Central Park offers an escape from this a never-ending assault on the eardrums. Here the cacophony is a symphony of songbirds and human singers, of laughing children at play and street performers playing the violin or guitar.

Central Park even has secluded spots so serene not only can you hear yourself think, you can even hear a whisper.

In his play, “The Winter’s Tale,” William Shakespeare wrote: “Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses?”

My son Greg at one end of "The Whisper Bench" in Central Park's Shakespeare Garden.

My son Greg at one end of “The Whisper Bench” in Shakespeare Garden.

In the Shakespeare Garden, nestled beside Belvedere Castle within Central Park, a whisper is everything. And one need not be check to cheek with noses meeting to hear sweet offerings.

Created in 1913 and originally called Garden of Heart, the four-acre site was renamed three years later on the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The flora includes a white mulberry grown from a graft of a tree planted, it is claimed, by the great playwright himself in 1602.

Furthermore, bronze plaques with corresponding quotations from Shakespeare’s works appear along the winding pathways to identify various plants featured. As example: “What’s in a name? / That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet. – Romeo and Juliet.”

Fittingly, a statue of the famous lovers, in embrace and about to touch lips, is on the grounds.

And near the garden’s crest is a lovely bench made of polished granite and 20 feet long. It is officially named “The Charles B. Stover Bench” and was dedicated to the “Founder of Outdoor Playgrounds.”

The Stover Bench is better known as “The Whisper Bench.”

It is an appropriate nickname because two people, seated at opposite ends, can pivot outward and lean down and speak – indeed, whisper – into the nautilus shell-shaped corners and be heard clear as a bell by each other.

Of the 9,000 benches in Central Park, The Whisper Bench is one of a kind. And, yet, Grand Central Terminal has a marvel of a similar kind.

Amidst the hustle, bustle, and noise inside the historic train station, my son and I found a spot quiet enough to enjoy a violinist performing for donations in a hat.

Mere strides away, up a gentle-sloping walkway, we visited an even more hushed spot, a Whisper Bench-like place.

“The Whispering Walls” similarly possess a magical acoustic property. Standing at diagonal corners in this high-domed atrium and facing the wall, as if being punished in a child’s timeout, two people can whisper and be easily heard by the other a full 20 paces away. Mystically, the heard voice is amplified deeper and richer than the original whisper.

The domed ceiling and one corner of "The Whispering Walls"

The high domed ceiling and one corner of “The Whispering Walls”

As I observed earlier in this series, the unexpected theme this road trip took on was Eleanor Roosevelt. It was ER’s wisdom, “Do one thing every day that scares you,” that inspired me at travel’s beginning; her presence was naturally loud at the FDR Presidential Library & Museum; and her whispers carried through to Shakespeare Garden and Grand Central Terminal.

Charles Stover, he of The Whisper Bench, was a co-founder of the University Settlement House that assisted immigrants and even featured the first kindergarten in New York City in 1886. Interestingly, Eleanor Roosevelt, at age 18, was a volunteer instructor there.

ER’s aura was also in the ether at The Whispering Walls. It seems she and her husband, as did other VIPs, had access to a hidden underground railway leading from Grand Central Terminal to a secret entrance and elevator up to the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

It is easy to imagine ER pausing to whisper into one of the four enchanted corners to be heard by FDR diagonally across the way. Perhaps she quoted Shakespeare: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

Wowed in Person and in Marble

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Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

Inspiration in Person and in Marble

Fourth in a series of columns chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.

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The New York City theater was, quite honestly, underwhelming.

Located in Hudson Yards, SIR Stage37 seems more like a warehouse than an event site for the prestigious The New Yorker Festival. The ceiling is lofty, but unfinished; the floors, cold cement; the stage, temporary. Seating consisted of a few hundred folding chairs fastened together in rows with plastic zip ties.

As a word to the wise has it, however, don’t judge a book by its cover.

"The Thinker" in bronze by Rodin

“The Thinker” in bronze by Rodin

Or a book talk by its digs.

“Book talk” is actually a misnomer. This was a moderated conversation with three authors. Specifically, two winners of the Pulitzer Prize and this year’s honoree of the esteemed Man Booker Prize.

Indeed, the timing of my trip to visit my Manhattanite son was explicitly chosen so as to attend this discussion featuring Colson Whitehead, Jennifer Egan, and George Saunders. The trio did not disappoint.

To the contrary, I dare say this was the most enjoyable, most enlightening, most inspiring talk by an author – or authors – I have had the privilege of attending. And I have been to dozens.

Lacking the space to delve into their discussion, here are some book jacket-like blurbs about the event’s three protagonists.

Whitehead’s newest novel, “The Underground Railroad,” is the most compelling book I have read this year – perhaps in the past few years. Without question, it merited its 2017 Pulitzer honor.

But here is what really struck me: Whitehead seems as splendid in person as his words are on the page. He was immensely interesting and authentically charismatic, and also humble, seated on stage.

All of the same can be said of Egan, who won the Pulitzer in 2011 for “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” Her new novel, “Manhattan Beach,” is on my to-read list.

Saunders, meanwhile, recently won the Man Booker Prize for “Lincoln in the Bardo.” It is one of the most innovative novels I have ever read.

Saunders, who teaches at Syracuse University, came across as Everyone’s Favorite Professor. He was warm and humorous, affable and insightful. After answering questions posed directly to him, Saunders would engage his stage mates for their thoughts, no small thing.

I am certain that writers and non-writers alike left the warehouse theater feeling inspired to be better at whatever they do, be it selling insurance or playing the guitar, gardening or performing surgery.

1tempest

“The Tempest” in marble by Rodin

I am confident of this because while I am no artist, I left the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, a half-hour subway ride from Sage37, feeling as buoyed as I had been by listening to Whitehead, Egan, and Saunders.

Most especially, I was inspired by two temporary exhibits: “Leonardo to Matisse” and “Rodin at The MET.”

The former features approximately 60 magnificent drawings, in ink and pencil and crayon, by Leonardo da Vinci and Henri Matisse and a handful of other virtuosos. It is difficult to imagine a better example showing that masterful things can be accomplished with the simplest of tools.

Marking the centenary death of Auguste Rodin, more than 50 bronzes, marbles, plasters, and terracottas by the French master are on display. “The Thinker,” in bronze, is an iconic masterpiece in the show but I favored his works in marble.

In “Orpheus and Eurydice,” the ancient Greek lovers emerge smooth and luminous from the raw and rough white rock that remains behind and below them. It is a striking example of Rodin’s words: “I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.”

“The Tempest,” meanwhile, seems to release sound from stone. Rodin sculpted a shrieking woman, her face and shoulders surging forward from the marble while her streaming braids anchor her – or even pull her back – to the stone. Imagine a female Olympian coming up for a gulp of air while swimming the butterfly stroke.

Conversely, my breath was taken away. Gifted artists, and authors, do that to me.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Inspired by “First Lady of the World”

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Inspired by “First Lady of the World”

Third in a series of columns chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.

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Road trips tend to take on their own themes, oftentimes unexpected ones. So it was with my recent travels to New York City.

The theme that emerged, the brightest thread that continued to reappear in the tapestry, was Eleanor Roosevelt.

It was her wisdom, “Do one thing every day that scares you,” that spurred me to ask dozens of strangers for cuts in line so as not to miss my flight from LAX to JFK Airport.

Two days later, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum, our nation’s longest-serving First Lady again made her presence felt.

My son and I were greeted by many surprises at the Library & Museum, from the emotional exhibit on the Japanese American internment camps resulting from FDR’s Executive Order No. 9066, to a large artwork hunk of the Berlin Wall.

Author Eleanor Roosevelt's prolific typewriter

Author Eleanor Roosevelt’s high-mileage typewriter

But the biggest surprise, we both agreed, was that by the end of our four-hour tour we were most impressed not with FDR, but with his four-term First Lady.

“ER” – as Eleanor Roosevelt is commonly referred to throughout the Library & Museum – came into sharp focus as a champion fighting injustices.

For example, ER fought her husband – fiercely, albeit futilely – on his Executive Order No. 9066. She did so not only privately, but also publicly by visiting internment camps.

She declared, loudly: “These people were not convicted of any crime but emotions ran too high, too many people wanted to wreak vengeance on Oriental looking people.”

Too, ER boldly battled against segregation and race-based wage differentials.

“No one can claim that . . . the Negroes of this country are free,” the First Lady said, and further demanded: “One of the main destroyers of freedom is our attitude toward the colored race.”

As a heroine for women’s rights, ER succinctly noted: “It is the person and not the sex which counts.”

Following FDR’s death in 1945, ER remained a force on the world stage until her own passing in 1962. For example, she served as United States’ first Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952. President Harry Truman called her the “First Lady of the World.”

In addition to my son checking off another presidential library visited, I surprisingly ended up adding to my own collection of famous authors’ homes visited.

My registry includes the names John Steinbeck, Edgar Allen Poe, Thornton Burgess, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner and Jim Murray.

Typewriters used by these wordsmiths hold for me a special interest and magic. Looking at their QWERTY keepsakes, I can almost hear the clickity-clack-clicking echoes of the past.

A few of the 28 books "ER" authored on display

A few of the 28 books “ER” authored on display

More magic. Burgess’ antique (circa 1910) Underwood No. 5 on display is the exact model I inherited from my paternal grandfather.

And I once had the thrill of typing on my hero Murray’s 1946 Remington Rand, which he used throughout most of his career.

So it was electric to see the 1904-1905 Smith & Corona Inc. manual typewriter that ER used to write the thick of her books, articles and newspaper columns.

I had previously not thought of ER as a writer, but that was my great ignorance. Her “L C Smith Super Speed” model, now under glass, is in remarkably pristine condition considering its high mileage. Indeed, she wore out miles of ink ribbons.

Here is how prolific ER was: she authored 28 books; penned nearly 1,000 magazine articles; and wrote serialized columns, both daily and weekly, from 1933 and 1962.

Douglas Wood, an author whose home I have not visited, writes in his memoir “Deep Woods, Wild Waters” about “the ‘spirit of place’ that infuses itself like the scent of pipe smoke into the words and pages of … books.”

Even more so than of its namesake, the FDR Presidential Library & Museum to me is a “spirit of place” infused with the words and deeds of Eleanor Roosevelt.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Powerful Field Trip to FDR Library

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Photos, not Books, Most Powerful in this Library

Second in a four-column series chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.

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Growing up, my favorite part of school was the field trips. I think more learning occurs on them than in the classroom.

As a grown up, I still love field trips and try to go on one as often as possible. And so it was that I recently visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY.

The destination was my son’s choosing, for he collects visits to presidential museums and libraries the way others collect baseball trading cards.

Traveling by foot, by subway, by train, and by Uber, the Library & Museum was nearly three hours from my son’s apartment in Lower Manhattan – and nearly a century back in time.

Entry to a powerful exhibit at the FDR Presidential Library & Museum

Photographs are powerful in telling an ugly chapter in U.S. history at FDR Presidential Library & Museum.

Moreover, we learned that Matthew Vassar’s operation was so profitable it allowed him to establish numerous benevolent causes, including nearby Vassar College. Beer and books have a long college history, indeed.

More history awaited us at FDR’s Springwood estate, which also houses the Library & Museum. The family home is impressive, yet pales to the two homes we visited on our prior presidential field trip: George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s.

At Mount Vernon and Monticello, the sin of slave ownership by our first and third presidents is addressed in depth. At the Library & Museum of our 32nd president, a similar ugly stain is on display front and center: Executive Order No. 9066.

Signed by FDR on Feb. 19, 1942 – 10 weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor – the order led to the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent, including approximately 80,000 American citizens. They lost their freedom, as well as almost everything they owned.

More than 200 photographs in an exhibit entitled, “Images of Internment: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II,” turns those massive numbers into individual human faces and stories.

In the same manner that Ansel Adams’ black-and-white photographs show the beauty of Yosemite Valley as even color pictures cannot, wall after wall of black-and-white images reveal the ugliness and injustice of this infamous chapter in American history. Adams’ work, by the way, is among the internment images featured.

The photographs reveal cabins with tar-paper walls; horse and livestock stalls used for “evacuees”; living spaces resembling slave quarters at Mount Vernon and Monticello.

The photos show camp conditions that are both freezing and boiling, windy and sandy, desolate and depressing.

The photographs show American citizens as POWs in America.

Here is a long line of families, dressed in their Sunday best as though heading to church, boarding railcars while a gauntlet of uniformed U.S. soldiers oversees them.

Here is an American soldier in uniform, on a few days leave, helping his family move into a stark internment camp.

Here, similarly, is a son, father and mother posed together before an American flag backdrop – and on her lap she is holding a framed photograph of a second son in U.S. military dress.

Here is a barren, dust-blown internment camp with two long rows of small cabins. In the open dirt area, two children – the only people in view – are running together. And at the center of the camp, dominating the photograph, is an American flag waving high in the wind. It is a haunting image.

That is an important thing about field trips: the best ones don’t necessarily entertain you, so much as they affect you.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Silver Lining Appears Before Clouds

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

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Silver Lining Appears Before Flying Into Clouds

First in a four-column series chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.

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“People don’t take trips,” John Steinbeck observed in “Travels with Charley: In Search of America”– “trips take people.”

My previous visit to see my son in New York City was less than 24 hours underway when the trip took me to urgent care for 16 stitches after a subway door mugged my right index finger.

My most recent trip to Manhattan, last week, took even less time to get off track. Again it was transportation related – my shuttle to LAX got caught in late-morning traffic that was worse than usual, meaning it was horrific.

Fortunately, I am of the ilk that likes to get to the departure gate two hours early. This has served me well in books read and never missing a flight.

Unfortunately, this time I had brain freeze doing the simple math of subtracting four hours – two hours for the shuttle ride, one hour to get my boarding pass and pass through security, and a safety cushion to read “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders – from my flight’s boarding time.1scarequote

I did not realize my muddleheaded error until Sky Way nearing LAX became a virtual parking lot. The slower the shuttle crept, the faster my heart raced.

Adding to my panic, I was flying out of distant Terminal 7.

“I could run faster than this shuttle is moving,” I thought as we crawled to Terminals 1, 3, Tom Bradley International, and 4.

And so that is what I did. Even pulling a rolling suitcase and weaving between pedestrians, I left the shuttle in my rearview mirror, so to speak, as I raced to Terminal 7.

Reaching my airline, the long line inside brought to mind this famous line from Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Directly ahead of me was a family of four, plus two dogs and luggage enough for the Queen of England. I asked when their flight left and the father answered, “Three o’clock.” This was more than two hours hence, so I desperately explained mine began boarding in ten minutes, adding: “Can I please cut ahead of you?”

“No. Can’t you see we have two dogs?” came the unsympathetic, and nonsensical, reply.

My FastPass forward, one family by one couple by one lone traveler at a time, was thwarted before it began.

Ten minutes passed and the line advanced only two spots while the number of agents working diminished by one. I texted my son telling him I was going to miss my flight.

No sooner had I hit “Send” when I received a bolt of inspiration out of the ether in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Asking strangers for special privileges, especially because the fix I found myself in was of my own making and dull-headedness, is a dozen ZIP Codes outside my comfort zone.

No matter. The introvert in me swallowed hard, stood up tall, and announced bravely but politely: “I’m going to miss my flight to see my son – would any of you mind if I took cuts in front of you?”

The family directly in front of me notwithstanding, everyone else said “Yes!” or “Sure!” or “Of course!” or raised an affirmative waving hand. Words fail to describe the surge of warmth their kindness gave me.

With my boarding pass in hand and my suitcase out of my hands, I apologized once more to my traveling altruists and offered another sincere “Thank you,” only to receive more kindness.

“Good luck!” one told me.

“Hurry!” said another.

“Have a great time with your son!” shouted a third.

Good luck was unexpectedly having TSA Precheck and sailing through security.

Hurry I did, running through the terminal to my gate and onto the plane as the final passenger to board.

Have a great time with your son – thanks to friendly strangers, and an assist from Eleanor Roosevelt, doing so began at the original ETA.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Readers Shoot Back Pro and Con

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

Readers Shoot Back Pro and Con

My 700-word column a week ago on the Las Vegas mass shooting, where I used the word “dead” 58 times and “wounded” 527 times to emphasize the carnage, resulted in thousands of words in email responses, including these praiseful ones from a reader named Bruce:

“You deserve a Pulitzer! You hit the nail precisely on the head very dramatically and with very few words.”

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A handful of readers, however, were more inclined to think of me as a putz than as a Pulitzer nominee, including Mike “An Ex Subscriber” who wrote:

“Thank you for your article. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I have finally decided to cancel my subscription to the Ventura County Star as I can no longer continue to support such a biased ‘news’ reporting vehicle.

“I’m surprised that you didn’t say we should pass a law to make it illegal to break the laws already in place. How many existing laws were broken in the Las Vegas shooting?1MailbagTypewriter

“I also find it hard to believe that I, as a Law abiding citizen, cannot carry a weapon to defend myself because when seconds count the police are only minutes away.”

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An anonymous reader agreed with Mike “An Ex Subscriber,” emailing just one word to me: “Fool.”

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From Peggy: “My opinion is that we have WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION un-checked. These are wielded by white men, not Muslims, Mexicans, black men, etc.

“No ‘spines’ in Congress.”

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Another Peggy wrote: “Thank you for your unique and startling column that not only disturbingly demonstrates the toll from the Las Vegas massacre, but also draws sharp attention to the change in weapons from what our Founding Fathers initially dealt with.”

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From Bill, who began with a sarcastic, “An impressive column” and proceeded: “But 58 dead by shooting is the average monthly homicides on the south side of Chicago.

“Former President Obama has a ‘residence’ on the white Hyde Park island around the University of Chicago. It is mere blocks away from the daily mayhem that Obama totally ignored while being president for eight years. So, who is really our idiot president?”

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From David: “Impactful article. I agree with your assessment of the American people. We have to be idiots to insist on gun rights and elect the likes of Trump. It’s not his sanity I question – it’s ours.”

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From Jim: “I thank you for making an incredibly powerful argument against the idiocy of our ‘gun love.’ ”

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From Chuck: “I’m sure you will hear a lot of negative feedback from 2nd Amendment, NRA, gun-rights extremists; but your are correct – America is stupid.

“However, I hold no optimism for anything being done about the easy availability and proliferation of guns in the U.S. If the Congress did not have the political or moral will to take any action after Sandy Hook and the slaughter of 24 first graders, nothing will be done now.

“It is sad that U.S. policies concerning weapons meant solely for mass killing in war is dictated by a minority of Americans.”

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Fred disagreed with me at length, but was rare in doing so with civility. He concluded: “Let’s face it Woody, we Americans are of two different worlds when it comes to defining what freedom is, and I hope with all my heart that as a country we continue to challenge each other with ongoing discussions such as this.

“I also hope and pray that we will never (ever!) be of only one political view because that would be the end of America as the Founding Fathers envisioned.”

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Terri echoed the viewpoint of a number of others: “The time for the uproar is now.”

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From Rick: “Thank you Woody, for such an enlightening, informative, cogent Article today. I learned so much. Instead of your usual pithy comments, you waste all of your space on nothing. Congrats!”

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Sorry, but I had no pith in my heart a week past. Next Saturday, I will try to again be pithy.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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Boston Massacre Misnamed Today

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

400 Roosevelt Court

Ventura, CA 93003

* * *

The Boston Massacre Misnamed Today

On March 5, 1770, eight British soldiers fired into a crowd of civilians and the result was The Boston Massacre.

What a quaint use of the word “massacre.” With flintlock muskets of the 19th century, the tally was: three dead and two mortally wounded.

On Oct. 1, 2017, one man with an armload of 21st-century assault rifles and here is what a massacre has become:

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If this—59 dead, 527 wounded, by one civilian—is what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment, they were idiots.

I do not believe our Founding Fathers were idiots.

I believe we Americans are.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden & Me Kickstarter Front PhotoCheck out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …

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