January 13, 2011

Funeral for a friend

I spent part of the last weekend at another funeral, which is something I hope does not become a habit. This time, the memorial was for a remarkable woman who was my one time boss and long time friend.

Elizabeth Ann "Toney" Reese, grew up in the coalfields of Boone County, where her father died in the coal mines. For most of my childhood and a good chunk of my adulthood, she was the librarian in my small town.

(She even broke up a fistfight of mine in the alley beside the old library when I was in junior high.)

I hung out there a lot as a kid and got a job there while going to college as a part time janitor. It was a calling I pursued with lackadaisical diligence. It was while I should have been running the vacuum cleaner that I discovered such things as the poetry of Langston Hughes and the radical beliefs of American icon Mark Twain on issues of race, religion, empire and politics. After a while I started doing other things there and a summer job turned into a 10 year detour.

She had the amazing gift of turning that small library into the kind of place where everyone felt welcome. People sometimes have to go to schools, courthouses, social service agencies, and the department of motor vehicles, but nobody has to go to a public library. You have to make it the kind of place where people want to go. And she did.

I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the work. I loved bantering with all kinds of people, trying to come up with creative programs, and finding the answers to challenging questions patrons had in those days before Google. And I learned a lot about my hometown along the way.

I'm glad that I had the chance to tell her more than once before she died that I learned everything I knew about how to deal with people and work in the community from her.

She turned that little library into a liberated area. While it may well be a utopian dream to think the whole world could be like that, I learned from her that here and there it can be done.

CREATING "THE OTHER." Here's an interesting take on violent rhetoric and dehumanizing political opponents and the consequences thereof.

I THINK I REFUDIATE THIS. In Sarah Palin's denial that political rhetoric can lead to violence, she used the term "blood libel," which is an example of exactly the kind of rhetoric that led to a great deal of violence. The term refers to the old anti-Semitic accusation that Jews used the blood of Christian children in their rituals. Such accusations frequently led to murders and pogroms in Jewish communities. Not surprisingly, a number of Jewish groups are not amused.

REVISITING THE SOCIAL SECURITY FIGHT. Here are some words of sanity on the subject from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

PUBLIC EMPLOYEES are the latest object of attack on the right, which maintains that these are overpaid in comparison with private sector workers. Here's a little reality check.

UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT: the WV state senate. Meanwhile, acting Governor Tomblin's first state of the state seems to indicate continuity with Manchin-era policies.

TALK ABOUT OLD WINE. People were brewing it in Armenia over 6,000 years ago.


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