18 years ago today …

American flag afghan… I was working in the Technical Services Department of Lamont Library at Harvard University.  It was a small, open office with five people plus a student worker or two. It was a typical morning, and we were all just getting settled to start the day. Jay went to Boston.com, the online version of the Boston Globe, to check the news, and said, “Hey, they’re reporting that a plane has just flown into the World Trade Center in New York.” I thought, and may have said, “That’s awful; they had that bombing in the basement of the Trade Center just a few years ago.”

I initially assumed that this was an accident and that it was a small plane, similar to the plane crash into the Empire State Building in 1945. When Jay passed on a report a few minutes later that a second plane had flown into the Trade Center, I thought, “Well, that’s just impossible. Two planes almost one after another? Couldn’t happen. This is just an example of the wild rumors that surround news stories at first.”

We didn’t have a TV, but we found a radio and started listening as reports came in confirming that two planes had hit, that they were large commercial airliners, and that a plane had struck the Pentagon and another might be heading for the White House. At hearing the last report I felt as though the ground had opened up beneath us. What was this? Were we being invaded? Would the government fall? It was the first and last time in my life that I felt radically unsure of the future—not just my future, but the future of our country.

In Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth, she describes the feeling much better than I could:

“You could divide the whole of humanity into two distinct camps, as far as she was concerned, simply by asking them to complete a very simple questionnaire, of the kind you find in Woman’s Own on a Tuesday:

  • Are the skies you sleep under likely to open up for weeks on end?
  • Is the ground you walk on likely to tremble and split?
  • Is there a chance (and please check the box, no matter how small that chance seems) that the ominous mountain casting a midday shadow over your home might one day erupt with no rhyme or reason?

Because if the answer is yes to one or all of these questions, then the life you lead is a midnight thing, always a hair’s breadth from the witching hour; it is volatile, it is threadbare; it is carefree in the true sense of that term; it is light, losable like a key ring or a hair clip. … [W]hy not overthrow the government on a whim, why not blind the man you hate, why not go mad, go gibbering through the town like a loon, waving your hands, tearing your hair? There is nothing to stop you—or rather anything could stop you, any hour, any minute.”

That is how it felt that day 18 years ago. Fairly early in the day we were released to go home—I ended up staying most of the day and boarding a nearly empty commuter train about 4pm. At home I called my parents, and then spent the evening avoiding coverage of the tragedy—not easy because stations that were not covering the day’s events were not broadcasting at all, out of respect for the dead.

But for me the feeling lasted just one day—by the next day it felt as though the country was going to withstand the blow and the government had things under control. The world, for many of us, was stable and predictable again.

But, to get back to Zadie Smith’s quote, what about people for whom the world is perpetually unstable? How does that affect what they do and don’t do? This is one of the ways privilege works—when our world is predictable, safe and stable, we have a solid basis on which to plan and act. The question for each of us is: how do we use this advantage to make things better for all?  How do we act to honor those who lost their lives before, during and after the 9/11 attacks, and the many more who have lost loved ones? With anger and hate, or with compassion and courage? It is a choice that each of us face, every day.

Posted in Immigration, Responsibility | 1 Comment

American greatness

American flag afghanI love this country. I love the freedom it has given me to grow, to make mistakes and to create—and recreate—my life. I love the ideals of tolerance, mutual respect and community that most of us try to live by, even though we have never fully realized those ideals. I love that Americans aspire to do and be better, and that we retain the optimism to believe that we can do and be better.

Most of my ancestors came here in the mid-nineteenth century, when immigration was not restricted by the myriad of laws that currently constrain it. But the reason most immigrants come to this country today—legally or illegally—is the same reason my ancestors came to this country 200 years ago: to take advantage of the economic opportunities afforded by the United States and to give their descendants a better life. I can’t fault them for that, and cannot believe that they forfeit their human dignity and inalienable rights when they seek to enter the country—legally or not.

Now people wanting to immigrate to the United States have to jump through all kinds of legal hoops to do so, and this can take years. Many are fleeing desperate conditions in their own country and do not have the time or the money to go through a legal immigration process. I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of U.S. immigration history or law to know whether our current laws are necessary or not—maybe the country just cannot accommodate the number or needs of everyone who wants to live in the United States.

But if we must have laws restricting immigration, and must turn away many who seek to live in our country, we should do so compassionately and with respect. We owe that to our immigrant ancestors, and to the ideals on which this country was founded. Separating children from parents, detaining people in conditions lacking adequate food, hygiene and supervision—we are a better country than that. We are a richer country than that—we can afford to be kind and compassionate, and to treat people with respect and dignity. We debase ourselves and disrespect our country when we do otherwise.

What has made America great is that it is a living culture, constantly changing, growing, and adapting as it encounters new cultures and ideas. Immigration is one of the primary ways that the United States encounters new cultures and ideas. If America stops changing and growing, if it begins to look to the past more than it looks to the future, it will cease to be great.

America began with a revolution, with the innovative, disruptive ideas of the Enlightenment. It is disruptive innovation that is the best guarantor of our future greatness, and people who come here from elsewhere are the most effective agents of innovation. As the lucky beneficiaries of our ancestors’ industry, courage and intrepidity, we owe it to their memory to treat with respect present-day immigrants who seek to realize the American dream.

Posted in Immigration | Leave a comment

On turning 60 …

Mount Washington 2013Today is my 60th birthday. This morning I spent some time looking back over the last 10 years. A lot can happen in a decade!

In 2010 I became Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian at Wesleyan. I joined the Middletown Rotary Club, as a way of reaching beyond the ‘Wesleyan bubble’ to connect with the larger community. At first I felt a little out of place, but the welcome I received from Rotarians (soon friends) was so warm and whole-hearted that Tuesday meetings quickly became a highlight of my week. Rotarians’ commitment to truth, good works, and fellowship is powerful and life-affirming. Rotary—first in Middletown and now in Ketchikan—has greatly enriched my life.

Also in 2010, I became President of the Board of the Middlesex County Historical Society. Working closely with Executive Director Debby Shapiro and the Board of Directors was fun, challenging and enlightening in equal measure. Debby’s enthusiasm for Middletown’s history and her ability to bring people together to preserve and celebrate that history was inspiring. She sparked my interest in local history and the amazing collections of the Society as well as its Mansfield House headquarters, a 200-year-old brick building on Main Street.

In 2011 we began a controversial library collection weeding project at Wesleyan, to make room for expanded study areas.  And in February of that year, I began a new blog, ‘150 years ago in Middletown, Connecticut,’ reading a local newspaper from the Civil War era and posting interesting articles from each edition.

2012 was notable as ‘The Year of the Root Canal.’ Early in the year I had my first root canal, which initially was a lot less painful than I thought it would be. But it never did ‘take’, and a few weeks after each visit to the dentist the pain in the tooth returned. I had never understood the phrase, “sat bolt upright in bed” before, but that is exactly what I did again and again from the pain. After several months a tiny hairline crack was discovered in the root, and my dentist pulled the tooth. My long personal nightmare was over.

In 2013 I climbed Mount Washington in the White Mountains, a feat that had been on my bucket list. On the way up a young family ‘adopted’ me, and they helped me to persevere through the relentless wind and cold. (To qualify: I climbed Mount Washington but took the shuttle down. I couldn’t face picking my way back down Tuckerman’s Ravine!)

In 2014 we finally completed the weeding project at Wesleyan University Libraries, and a month later I was abruptly fired from my job—a very scary experience. But the support and encouragement I received from Wesleyan staff, faculty, and students, as well as from fellow Rotarians and friends at the Historical Society, was amazing and gave me a much-needed morale boost. Faculty members who had been very critical of the Library weeding project were kind and supportive. Friend and mentor Karl Scheibe talked me through the challenge of job hunting (quite a challenge in one’s mid-fifties!). Cynthia Rockwell and the Friday morning knitting group welcomed me–the lone crocheter–into their midst. Volunteering with the Society and in Rotary gave me a sense of purpose and value. There is nothing like getting fired to learn how people really feel about you, and how adaptable you can be!

In early 2015 Russell Library Director Art Meyers hired me to be a one-year interim Assistant Director. I hadn’t worked in a public library for over 20 years and was nervous about making the transition. But Art and the amazing and ingenious staff of Russell Library took me under their collective wing and taught me what I needed to know. So much of what I do now at the Ketchikan Public Library I learned to do at Russell. The year went by quickly, and before I knew it we were celebrating Art’s retirement and the end of my apprenticeship.

2016 was a year of job-hunting. At the Historical Society we were planning a new exhibit, A Vanished Port, on Middletown’s history as a seaport and its connections to the slave trade. I am particularly proud of a short video I created based on logbooks of two sea voyages in the 1750s from New London, Connecticut to Sierra Leone to pick up enslaved people, and from there to the Caribbean.

2016, being a leap year, had 366 days, and it was also the 366th anniversary of the founding of Middletown. The Historical Society blog ‘Middletown 366’ posted daily stories about Middletown history—some written by Debby Shapiro and Historical Society interns, others contributed by residents, with some photographs and documents from the Society’s collections and many newspaper articles. It was a lot of work to compile it all, but also a lot of fun!

2017 was a momentous year for me. On January 1 I drove off the ferry in Ketchikan to start a new job and a new life in Alaska. Because it was a holiday, a Sunday and the middle of winter, the streets were deserted and I felt a little deserted as well. But the welcome I received from everyone in the Library, the City and the community soon dispelled that feeling. As much as I missed my friends and life in Middletown, I quickly grew to love Ketchikan. 2017 and 2018 were years of getting settled and established in a new place.

2019 has been hard. Mom had been diagnosed with dementia in 2016, and her suffering became more severe and unremitting as her disease progressed. So in March when my brother Tom called early one morning, I figured something had happened to Mom. “Pops is in the hospital. He has cancer; the doctors give him a few hours to a few days.” Dad died several hours later, at home and surrounded by family. Two months later, Mom had stopped swallowing and was in hospice. We gathered again to say goodbye to her; she died on May 6.

A lot can happen in a decade. We’ve had some sad losses in the family. But when I turned 50 I could not have imagined meeting so many wonderful people and doing so many interesting things. I don’t know what my 60s will bring, but I’m looking forward to finding out!

Posted in Family history, Wesleyan University | 2 Comments

A Call to Lead #akgov #akleg

Alaska flag(In this post I am expressing my personal views only as a private citizen and resident of Alaska.)

Last Friday, July 12 the deadline passed for the Alaska Legislature to override Governor Dunleavy’s line-item vetoes. So the Governor’s budget cuts for this fiscal year are in place, and the University of Alaska system, municipalities, arts and human services organizations, and many Alaskans must figure out how to survive with much-reduced budgets.

Governor Dunleavy, your leadership is critical to the success or failure of these budget cuts. Will they make Alaska stronger, more economically secure, a better place to live? Or will they weaken the state, lead to a devastating recession, and make Alaska a worse place to live? You made the cuts for the good of Alaska, but the battle is not yet won. As Governor it is your responsibility to lead us in the difficult process of implementing the new budget—to serve as an example and to provide hope and inspiration to Alaska’s people and communities.

Where do we go from here, Governor?

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What Is Your Vision of Alaska? #akleg #akgov

Alaska flag(In this post I am expressing my personal views only as a private citizen and resident of Alaska.)

On June 28 Governor Michael Dunleavy vetoed $444 million from Alaska’s $8.7 billion operating budget for this year, remarking that the state cannot be everything for everybody.

What do these cuts say about what the Governor thinks the State of Alaska should be?

When I first moved to Ketchikan and visited family in Indiana, people I met would often say, “You live in Alaska? That’s fantastic—I’ve always wanted to move there!” There is a romance to the idea of living in Alaska—the romance of being entirely independent, braving the weather, the wildlife and one’s own insecurities—of being free and beholden to no one in a place that is challenging and majestic.

This vision of Alaska is one shared by many Alaskans. Some endeavor to live this vision to the extent they can. Others imagine living the vision sometime in the future—when they save enough money to quit their job, or when the kids are grown, or when their resolve becomes firm enough to break away.

It is in many ways an attractive vision of Alaskans as rugged, free, self-sufficient individuals. The Governor’s stated purpose in realigning the budget supports this vision. A full, $3,000 Permanent Fund Dividend for each Alaskan benefits individuals, as does his proposal to reduce state taxes and deeply discount electrical services.

The Governor’s funding cuts are to programs and services that support a slightly different vision of Alaska. In it, Alaskans are rugged, free and independent, but also recognize the essential roles that community, communication and education play in Alaskan life.

Support for the most vulnerable among us—children, the sick, the poor and our elders—benefits most of us directly at some point in our lives, and indirectly by building an inclusive, caring community in which all feel safe. The Governor’s proposed cuts undercut support for elders, disabled people and their families, people who suffer from mental illness, and the poor.

Alaska’s size and the distance between communities makes communication within each community and between communities essential. Community radio and television connects us to what is happening in our community, our state, our nation, and the world. The State Library’s OWL telecommunications system makes it possible for local public libraries to join together to provide information about Social Security and other important social programs. The Governor’s cuts will make it more difficult to share information with each other about the issues that affect us and our way of life.

A strong elementary and secondary educational system, with adequate pay for teachers and staff and funded programs for the arts and special needs students, gives young Alaskans a strong foundation for their lives and an incentive to stay and contribute to its economic growth. The Governor’s cuts will make it more difficult to attract and retain good teachers, greatly increase class size, and require additional local funding to maintain a basic level of education.

A strong University of Alaska not only keeps more college-age Alaskans in the state, but draws talented young people from elsewhere to Alaska, where many of them stay after graduation. The research conducted at the University of Alaska focuses on issues of vital interest to our state. The Governor’s cuts will devastate the University of Alaska system, drive from the state most young Alaskans seeking a college degree, and prevent research into the economic and social problems we face.

The fact is that people—even rugged, free, independent Alaskans—are all dependent on one another at certain times, to a certain extent. And like it or not, we are all affected by what happens in the rest of the country and the world. Alaskans need to be educated, connected, and supported in times of need, in order to maintain this way of life that we love.

The Governor’s budget cuts will end much of this support, in favor of a vision of Alaska that is incomplete, unrealistic and unrealizable. They will damage the institutions and organizations that make Alaska strong. I urge the Legislature to override the Governor’s vetoes.

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Letter to AK legislators #akleg

This is the text of a letter I have sent to my representatives. It is not as eloquent as many I have read, but it is essential that our voices be heard:

I am writing to urge you to vote to override Governor Dunleavy’s line-item vetoes in the 2019-20 state budget. If implemented, the Governor’s budget cuts will have devastating effects on Alaska’s economy, society and culture for decades to come.

I attended the Governor’s April 8 talk in Ketchikan. In it he clearly outlined the negative consequences of our current budget situation. However, his analysis did not extend to the possible negative effects of his proposed cuts, or how these might be mitigated by extending budget adjustments over several years. Instead he deflected responsibility for determining how to implement the cuts to the affected entities, apparently believing that the cuts will spur ‘leaner, meaner’, more efficient organizations. Given time and resources, it would no doubt be possible for the University, K-12 education, and other affected entities to significantly reduce spending while continuing to provide essential services. But these entities are not being given sufficient time or resources to do so.

The cuts to the University of Alaska system will drive most Alaska college students out of the state for their education, and many will not return. The reduction in state support for K-12 education will force municipalities to raise local taxes or face significant increases in class size and gutting of services to special needs children. The elimination of supplemental support for low-income elders will cause additional suffering and hardships to an already-vulnerable population. The elimination of the OWL (Online With Libraries) program will sever links among Alaska libraries, links which enable them to bring information on Social Security and other social services to elders and disabled Alaskans.

All these cuts will make Alaska communities more expensive and dangerous, and less attractive places to live and work. Alaskans with sought-after skills and education will be drawn away from the state to places with better educational systems, support for cultural enrichment, and a lower cost of living. Teachers, researchers and other skilled professionals, necessary to sustain economic development and even now difficult to retain here, will be almost impossible to attract to Alaska.

The devastating effects of the cuts the Governor seeks will drive the State into a downward spiral of economic stagnation, increased poverty and social problems, and a population less skilled and educated than their parents. Alaska and Alaskans deserve better!  Please vote to override the Governor’s line-item vetoes in the 2019-20 state budget.

If you live in Alaska, please write, call or talk to your representatives, before the June 12 deadline!

Posted in Alaska | Leave a comment

Our Dad

Dad and Carolyn

Our dad, Robert Tully, died unexpectedly of cancer in March. That is, it was unexpected for his family and friends. He probably suspected he was ill for some time, but told no one. When, five days before his passing, Dad could no longer deny his illness, he fought it with all he had. Dad took Dylan Thomas’s advice to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.

For Dad’s funeral service all of us—his wife of 40 years and our stepmother, Carolyn, and his five children—put together our thoughts and memories of him for the presiding minister. This remembrance is based on those anecdotes.

Dad was very organized; there was a system and plan for everything and every tool, trinket and piece of furniture was always in its proper place. His grandsons remember that one year he helped them build a tree house, starting with the development of detailed floor plans. Within these rigorous systems, Bob thought creatively about ways to solve problems and improve things. This attention to detail and creative drive made Dad an excellent cook and very demanding of his sous-chefs (Carolyn, me and whoever helped him in the kitchen or at the grill).

Dad loved any mechanical thing, particularly if it was beautiful and cleverly designed. He collected mechanical clocks and was curious about their operation. His expertise in repairing engines of all kinds stemmed from his love of beautiful, functional, complex machines.

I was staying with Dad and Carolyn one year when they purchased a new vacuum cleaner. There were three or four components to put together, and clear directions for what went where. I would have just done what the directions said to do, but Dad had to understand how it worked and why each piece fitted where it did. If I was a little impatient, I did not let it show. Dad was a contrarian and if he suspected you wanted him to do one thing, he tended to do the opposite.

The farm

Dad loved his home, including the yard, rose bushes, gardens and greenhouse. His spring, summer and fall hobby was mowing their acres of lawn. He and Carolyn were meticulous in their gardening, and strangers would often stop and compliment them on their lovely roses and manicured lawns.  Dad took great pride in creating a lovely, well-maintained, and comfortable garden landscape.

Dad was an attentive and gracious host. At any gathering he always had the biggest laugh and the broadest smile. When he was in a room, he commanded the room. When we were little, we knew our dad was the youngest, strongest, and best-looking Dad on the street.

Fourth of July

Dad and Carolyn gave several picnics and parties each year for family, friends and neighbors. The biggest of all was the annual Fourth of July picnic. Dad brought us all together to celebrate Independence Day in style. Everyone brought a dish, beverage or dessert, and Dad (and later grandsons Tom and Joe) fried, smoked and grilled the meat.

Lisa’s fishing spot

Our cousin Lisa Loehl and Uncle Ernie would set up in their favorite fishing spots, and the kids would play at fishing too. Everyone lined up on the porch when the food was ready. Dad (Uncle Robert to our cousins) made sure everyone had what they needed and were comfortable. He often didn’t eat himself until late in the evening after most of the guests had gone home, he was so busy taking care of everyone else.

Each Fourth of July picnic was a little bigger than the one before and eventually included live music and, of course, fireworks. The fireworks display, organized by Dad and our cousin Ernie Loehl, was the talk of the neighborhood. The parking lot of the Mud Pike Baptist Church next door would fill up with people waiting for the fireworks to start.

When Dad knew he was dying, he insisted on going home. The lovebirds in the greenhouse were silent all that afternoon and evening, until Dad, surrounded by his family, took his last breath. For the first time that day the lovebirds began singing, serenading Dad on his last journey. He did not go far. Dad is buried in Mud Pike Cemetery, with his beloved house and garden visible from his grave.

Although complicated and sometimes difficult, Dad was a man of deep feelings and strong convictions. He loved his family, his home, his community and his life. We miss him.

Posted in Family history | 2 Comments