Flesh and Blood, Bits and Pieces

I walk for hours. Sometimes my hip will end up hurting from the unevenness of the trek, one foot on the shore, the other in the water. I have learned to wear an old pair of sneakers tied tight so rocks don’t get in my shoes. My hair is now long enough to pull back out of my face when the breeze blows. I have become my favorite animal, the red tailed hawk, able to spot even the smallest bit of colored glass in large expanses of wet stones.

I grew up in a little town on Lake Ontario. My sisters and I used to gather beach glass after swimming. Our collection is long gone, seen as just a foolish child pastime. Our jar of precious gems has been thrown away.

At age eighteen, I left Western New York to start college but I have returned from time to walk the Ontario shore to reclaim the lovely smooth glass pieces weathered down by 20 to 30 years of wave action. My travels have taken me even deeper into uncharted territory, to a new exotic place called Barcelona, New York on Lake Erie. The beach glass is abundant there because, over the course of history, 2000 shipwrecks have found a resting place below its cold waters.

I have jars of glass but I love the search. Walking on the beach is a kind of meditation nicely interrupted by the excitement of seeing the sparkle of green, brown, or blue treasures among the pebbles. I have found rare red glass, four pieces to be exact. Red is the ultimate prize for all who roam the shore. Even having achieved this, I still go back and I think there are many beachcombers who would understand.

I decided to stay a week in Barcelona in early September. I considered my continuum of comfort and my budget. Should I tent? The campsite I usually stayed at sometimes had high winds that in the past have blown over my equipment. At the other end of the spectrum was the option of a hotel room but that would have been expensive. I compromised and chose to rent a little barebones cabin at a KOA campsite. It would be economical but sturdy enough to shelter me from any type of weather.

I drove across the state to the campsite on the NYS Thruway. I stopped once to get a cup of coffee and use the restrooms. I glanced at the large posters on the walls that gave historical information about the area. I knew some of the history of my state. I had gone to Seneca Falls to the Women’s Right Museum and sitting on Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s porch, I silently thanked her for all she did in 1847 to help females get the vote. I took art classes at The Chautauqua Institute established in 1874 as a church camp and later turned into an education center. I knew Frederick Douglass frequented this part of the state and that John Brown, the abolitionist, was buried in Lake Placid. The Underground Railroad had passage through New York and after Harriet Tubman helped so many slaves escape to freedom she settled in Auburn, NY. I had heard once about the strange Oneida Community founded in 1848 which offered a system of free love to all its members. In Lily Dale, the Spiritualist community that has been in existence since 1848, I listened with a bit of scepticism to the claims about contacting and communicating with deceased relatives.

I noticed the words “The Burned-Over District” on a poster directly in front of me as I drank my coffee. It explained that this was the label given Western and Central New York in the early 1800’s. What? I had never heard that phrase before. Was there a fire? Maybe a very big explosion that had scorched the area? A book was mentioned,The Burned-Out District, published in 1950 by a professor named Whitney R. Cross and before I got to my campsite I had bought it for my Kindle.

Every morning at my little cabin, I would start a fire, make my coffee and read for hours.

Social science was my major in college and still peaks my interest as I have come to realize nothing in life or history is one dimensional. My reading of Mr. Cross’s book confirmed this as I read through the clues that explained the dynamics of the antebellum era of my Western New York home. I soon learned that this area had been a hotbed of reform. All my life there were hints around me but, in school, history was only presented in dates and battles. I have come to realize that the true story is one of flesh and blood and actual things that happened, bumping and pushing around in one big motion that goes on and on and touches us today.

In the early 1800’s, our new nation was already looking for ways to expand. People in The East wanted more farmland and space. The Appalachian Mountains running from the south to The Adirondacks were a difficult wall to cross. But there was a way to get through, The Mohawk River. Using this natural waterway, the Erie Canal was started on July 4, 1817 and completed when it reached Buffalo on May 17,1821. Transportation was easier on this much shorter route to The Atlantic as compared with the route to the ocean down the Mississippi to New Orleans.

Because of the sudden rapid development and migration from the east, at this time at least thirty spiritual movements, cults, utopian communities or religions sprong up. The Shakers, Mormons, the Oneida Community and the Spiritualist are the best known. And there were many more divergent groups that are now gone and not as well know.

Joscelyn Godwin in his book, Upstate Cauldron, states “the whole phenomenon, with its concentration in time and space, is without parallel in social or religious history.” The forming of the Burned Over District itself that got its name from the emotional experiences of revival meetings lit the fire of new ways of thinking all over the countryside. Charles Finney was instrumental in this evangelist movement. I had no idea he moved and peach throughout my county and got his ministerial training from a mentor in Adams, New York.

As Mr. Godwin points out progressiveness of this area was due to”the mass emigration of New Englanders cut loose from their home churches, the mushrooming of towns along the Erie Canal and the opening to the West, with its sense of a new world dawning, and the growing disgust with institutional racial and gender injustice.” The passion of the revival meetings pushed many to action. The temperance movement gained strength and the crusade for women’s right to vote took off. The Liberty Party founded in 1839 in Warsaw, New York was dedicated to the freedom of slaves and had followers all over the state, including in my village in The North Country. Churches in almost every town worked for the abolitionist cause.

All these revelations about my home, the places that I thought knew but never really did, overwhelmed me. People in my state once banned together to help others. Why wasn’t I taught more about this? Has too much history passed for us to remember the good that was done? Has The turmoil of The Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and The Civil Rights Protests moved us away from the original goals of fairness and inclusion?

My little cabin faced a small creek and I spent some peaceful moments just thinking. I thought of the present, my existence in a world with so much conflict. I wondered if I would have been happy two hundred years ago in my little town in Burned-Out District. At least there wouldn’t be any internet. But would it matter? We are all on this continuum called history and each one of us must find our place in all the pushing and pulling. The people of Western New York did the best they could. Can we do better? Maybe our salvation as a society will come when we stop slipping so close to the edges and realize that over two hundred years later we are, still, all in this together.

Copyright 2019 @ The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

India-The Value of Education and Stubbornness

Education is of very great importance to me, followed by the quality of stubbornness. Like many families, my relatives don’t like to talk much about feelings. Dark secrets are buried and many tales are hidden away. As Yuval Noah Harari, writes in his book, Sapien, all cultures are based on stories and those in power decide which stories will dominate. But I have another viewpoint, that eventually the truth comes out. It leaks through holes of forgotten revelations and suddenly remembered events. These conjure up “ah-ha” moments, bursts of clarity when the mind declares “so that’s why things are the way they are”. One brain scientist stated the mind “remembers patterns not rules”. Thank goodness or we would all be living in a state of bewilderment. If we really listen and observe , we can finally see the inconsistencies in fantasies accepted as true. And if we look deeper yet, we can see the lasting influence that our past and heritage have on our lives.

I remember my grandfather, sitting in the kitchen of his house on Welch Avenue in Niagara Falls, NY. I was about four but I can still see the brown radio on a little wooden shelf way above his head and mine. It was always on when he was present, squawking Polish, his native lauguage, or playing happy Polkas He was always reading a newspaper, coming from who know where, written in the language of the “old country”.

It was years later that my cousin told me the legend of my grandfather and my grandmother. A story that has impacted me and will influence future generations in my family forever.

Before coming to this country before World War I, my grandfather was part of a prosperous family of doctors who expected him to pursue a career in medicine. My grandfather had other ideas, he wanted to marry my grandmother and be a duck farmer. His family was livid and ridiculed his decision by making fun of my grandmother who was illiterate. But she was extremely stubborn and would not allow herself to be shamed. She secretly slipped two duck eggs into her apron, sold them at the market in town, bought chalk and a small slate, and taught herself to read and write.

This spirit of perseverance and the belief that education was the key to a better life and a sense of pride was passed down to my mother who was unfortunately a victim of history. She never went passed the eighth grade because she worked during The Great Depression cleaning houses for a dollar a day. She later worked as a cafeteria lady and a cook but she had learned how important education was. By working hard and saving , my mom put aside enough money so my two sisters and I were able to go to college. She stubbornly rejected the advise of some family members who said education wasn’t important for girls. I owe so much to the strength and persistence of my grandmother and mother. Education was my golden ticket to a professional career as a teacher and now has provided me with the resources to travel. My education has also made me a curious lifelong learner, something I enjoy everyday

Of course, when I visited India I was interested in their education system. School attendance is compulsory for children ages six to fourteen. But I learned there are glaring discrepancies. Private school have more resources.

Public School

What is even more disturbing is the fact that about 60% of the Indian population lives in rural areas and according to a study in 2008, the absentee rate for teachers in rural schools was on average 48% each day.

And to make matters worse, as of 2018, 28% of schools (19% public schools) have internet, 9% have computers (4 % for public schools) and only 68% of all school have usable toilets.

Those who have enough money for a good education, mainly those who go to private schools and /or have additional funds for the services of tutors are more likely to get into one of India’s 900 universities or 40,000 colleges. This privileged group does very well as professionals in the fields of technology, information, medicine, engineering, management, and economics. They have great social mobility and are sought by corporations and businesses in the US.

There is hope. Progressive companies in India like Tata Consulting Services (TCS) runs the largest private digital education school for potential employees. 400,000 employable students are coached in data analytics, cloud computing, and the “internet of things.” The company also rotates 200,000 employees at a time in a program to continuously update their techs in 600,000 competencies. “Based on market demand or project specifics, education for workers is always immediately relevant”.

Aravind Eye Care System also trains its workers and is able to provide eye care for poor Indian citizens. They have gone a step further and opened a plant that manufactures intraocular lenses that cost one fourth of those imported from the US.

It’s heartbreaking to see the woundedness of India. The country needs a better education system but also upgrades in security, protection of property rights, health services, and infrastructure. Change is slow because of governmental corruption. Bribery and patronage are very common and widespread.

India needs a strong dose of stubbornness. The people have power in their numbers. Those who are poor and rural must rise from the shame of their situation. The light of justice must be focused on corruption so the government is more effect in serving all Indians. Also, the leaders in employee training need to be encouraged and recognized so their reforms can spread across all of India.

I owe so much to my grandmother who would not allow herself to be shamed. She had the strenghth and ingenuity to do something to better herself and I’m very proud of her stubborn determination. As she lived her story, she planted the seeds of power into the heart of her daughter, my mother. Because of my mom, my sisters and I were able to go to college. Now the grandchildren, and great grandchildren in my family believe in the importance of education also and this light will go on and on. We will all be stubborn and resilient in our resolve. Thank you so much, Mom. Thank you so much, Babci (the Polish word for grandmother)!

A Baby Boomer Crossing Over into A Millennial, iGen World and Loving It

 

I’m a  Baby Boomer (a person born between 1946-1964). I’m also a grandmother and after I visited my grandkids, I went shopping because that is what Boomers do. I live in a rural area so I decided to immerse myself in the big city life of Syracuse, NY.  I went to Barnes and Noble (my generation still loves to hold books in our hands), Trader Joe’s, Marshalls, and The Carousel Mall. Since I was 80 miles from home and it was  getting late, I decided to stay overnight in a motel.  I was headed to a  Best Western or Hampton Inn but I came upon something new.  It was sleek, modern and it was something called a Tru Hilton.  Probably too expensive, I thought, but  I decided to go in and find out.

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I was greeted by colorful outdoor furniture and positive sayings on the entrance door.

I soon found out that the average price for rooms at the Tru was in the $90 to $100 range.  I was sold plus this place was interesting. The lobby was one big room with the reservation desk and “market”, as they called it, in the center. The market was open 24 hours a day and served snacks, soda and single serve beer and wine. A sign in the elevator invited guests to come down to the lobby at any time for “work, eats, or laughs.” There was free high speed internet throughout the hotel and free coffee and tea  24/7. Near the elevator  was an interactive dry erase board where guests and staff could list  local tourist attractions, music venues, restaurants, and places to shop.  Guests were invited pick up a marker and comment about their favorites.

Someone in the Hilton organization had put a lot of thought into the design and feel of this hotel. I looked up Tru Hilton online and found that their focus was “Millennials, those in their twenties and early thirties who tend to like modern design, public spaces where they can work and socialize, and advanced technology such as mobile check-in”.

With the individualist spirit of this younger generation in mind, the furniture offered all sorts of seating styles; swinging basket chairs, places to accommodate groups, and individual secluded nooks with computer tables. A trendy bright mural on one of the walls paid tribute to the Syracuse area.

I entered my room and was surprised to see it wasn’t carpeted. There were no pictures on the wall and instead of drapes the window was cover with rolling blinds.   A space  with hangers, everything needed to iron, and a raised platform  for a suitcase offered an efficient substitute for a closet. Pegs on an opposite wall  provided an additional  place to hang things. To me, the sparseness of this room was not unpleasant. With all the stories in the news about bed bugs, germs, and longer flu seasons,  I found this new style of lodging comforting. This was a room that could be easily and thoroughly cleaned by the housekeeping staff.

 

The bathroom had plenty of shelf space and a walk in shower.  Shampoo, lotion, body wash, and condition were in ample supply in squeeze bottles attached to the wall.

The next morning I went down to the lobby for coffee and breakfast and checked out

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Because I’m a Baby Boomer, I needed to go to one more store, Pier I.  And since I love sociology, am a bit of a geek, and always have to know why things are the way they are, I drove to another Barnes and Noble a few miles down the road.  I was curious. The Hilton corporation had created a new hotel line to reach a younger generation. This made sense because Millennials are a very large demographic and”demographics are destiny”.  I wanted to know more.

I went over to the sociology section, took three books off the shelf, got yet another cup a coffee, found a comfy chair, and dug in.  I opened  iGen by Jean M. Twenge and  immediately learned that iGen (born between 1995-2012) were the generation after The Millennials  (1980-1994).

These two groups of young Americans were similar but  iGens  are more practical, career focused, and cautious. Bogged down by student loans, the ever changing job market, the threat of automation, and income insecurity, they are more logical than emotional about their choices.  They are nonconformist, less impressed by celebrities and fame, and would rather have experiences than things. Their money goes money for housing, food, education, and medical expenses.  If they do have extra money they spend it on travel, being with friends or a good meal in a nice restaurant.  Quality of life is more important to them than stuff.

The longer I live the more I see the consistency of charge. Younger people are and will change the trends and the world we live in.  But this Baby Boomer kind of likes some of the changes.  I crossed into a Millennium, iGen world at Tru Hilton, learned a lot, and left feeling good.  I’ll be going back.