Lasting Memories of Mom

Mom - Milly Fiet2 - copy

By Judy Berman

As a child, my favorite hangout on the weekends was a room filled with electronic gizmos and tubes.

I marveled at the naked TV tube that sat on a table. There was no cabinet surrounding it because my father, an electronics engineer, was always tinkering with it – even though it worked perfectly.

When Captain Midnight’s show came on, I’d pretend I was part of his daring adventures.

By the time the show’s sponsor – Ovaltine – came on, I was running downstairs to the kitchen and nagging my Mom for a cup of that chocolaty milk drink.

My Mom would heat up that drink or fix something else. By then, I’d be caught up in what she was listening to on the radio.

It might be the mischievous antics of Froggy on the “Smiling Ed’s Buster Brown Gang” (which became “Andy’s Gang” on TV), an opera or pop music of the day.

This is where I learned to appreciate many types of music.

But what I loved most was when she’d put down what she was working on and read to me.

I confess that I didn’t really get into reading on my own until I was in fifth grade. Oh, I could read all right. But I preferred to listen to Mom as she told the story.

“You may have tangible wealth untold, Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold, Richer than I you can never be. I had a mother who read to me,” (Strickland Gillian)

She opened my eyes to a world outside of what I knew, where I could immerse myself in the stories and take on the role of one of the characters. Mom introduced me to authors that she enjoyed. They soon became my favorites as well.

I’m sure Mom preferred that I was inside reading, rather than off on one of my adventures. If only she knew some of the derring-do I attempted outdoors, her hair would have turned white decades earlier.

I thought of those escapades with dread many times as my own girls were growing up.

“Being a mother is learning about the strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.” (Linda Wooten)

Mom and Dad - Boulder City, Nevada

My Mom, who passed in 2001, taught me well. Hopefully, I passed those lessons on to our daughters, too.

When I was hurt or had worries, Mom would be the one I turned to for comfort. Like the song, “Mama Said,” by the Shirelles, Mom always said something to lift me up.

“What is a mom but the sunshine of our days and the north star of our nights.” (Robert Brault)


Wishing all mothers, stepmothers, guardians an early Happy Mother’s Day. This quote from Sophia Loren says it best: “When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”


Music Video: “Mama Said,” Shirelles   

Photo: Mom and me

Photo: Mom and Dad (Milly and Joseph Fiet)

A Stranger’s Kindness

Edward Hopper - Nighthawks - 1942

By Judy Berman

A load of laundry and a notebook, ordinary things in our everyday lives, have a very special place in my heart.

They are reminders of times when strangers came to my rescue.

When I lived in the country, wash day was a mixed blessing. Most of the wash went out on the line.

The scent of fresh air lingered long after they were trotted inside, folded or ironed, and put away.

But, that routine changed when I moved to Syracuse, New York. My apartment had no place to wash clothes or hang them out to dry.

So, I trudged to a Laundromat about six blocks from my home. I had no choice. I didn’t have a car.

While I was going thru the mindless tasks linked to washing clothes, I was unaware of what else was happening at the Laundromat.

Another woman, her kids in tow, came up to me. She spotted a man watching me. She said he took his clothes out of the washer before the cycle was complete and threw them into a dryer. She suspected he was trying to finish the same time as me.

She asked if I’d like to walk with her to her apartment. I gratefully accepted.

I don’t remember if we shared a cup of coffee or how long we talked. All I recall is that when I left, I felt like a guardian angel sent this woman to watch over me.

I never saw her again, but I think of that day quite often.

Kindness - kitten and quote - No act of kindness no matter how small is ever wasted

There, no doubt, have been many kind strangers that I’ve crossed paths with. One, who I never met, entered my life during my first year of teaching.

I left the comfort of the world I knew – newspaper reporting – about a year before. When I entered my classroom, so much was foreign to me.

Oh, I had several kind mentors, fellow teachers and administrators to help me over the hurdles. But one challenge that loomed large every day was: What will my lesson be for the next 45 minutes?

That map is vital. It is the tool needed to focus on what to teach with the end in mind. What do students need to know to meet the standards and to build on for success for their next school year.

In trying to figure this out, I felt like I stumbled more than a few times.

Then, one day, I found a notebook filled with lesson plans left by the teacher who had been there the year before.

There, in a neat, white binder were the guidelines that included everything from the “welcome to the new school year” packets, class expectations and lesson plans to accompany teaching a book.

I felt like I’d entered the cave with Indiana Jones and discovered hidden treasure.

That notebook, written by Amy Gamerl, was more valuable than the richest find by any treasure-seeker. It guided me thru my first unsteady year of teaching.

I never had the opportunity to thank Amy. But I am very indebted to her.


My post was inspired by this article on Buzzfeed: “What’s the Nicest Thing a Stranger Has Ever Done for You?

Please share your experiences.


Music Video: “Try a Little Kindness” by Glen Campbell (1969)  

Photo: Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” painting at the Art Institute of Chicago (1942)

Photo: Kindness – “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” (Aesop, author of “The Lion and the Mouse” – a Greek fable) (620 BC – 560 BC)

Selling Memories and History

A soldier and his mother in a strawberry field in Florin,_Sacramento_County,_California.

By Judy Berman

The yellowed, tattered newspaper clippings and mementos that were part of my late mother-in-law’s life brought back a flood of memories.

As my husband started to inventory his mother’s belongings years ago, I thought about how little she spent on herself. Yet she was very generous to her family.

To anyone outside of the family, Jennie Dicker’s mementos might have little or no value. To us, it was as if she were with us still.

How can you put a value on memories?

That’s what an auction house planned to do with artifacts made by Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned during World War II over fears that they might be spies.

The Rago auction house was going to sell off 450 photographs and artifacts made by Japanese-Americans in internment camps.

After an outcry from the public, including Star Trek’s Sulu (played by George Takei), the auction house in Lambertville, New Jersey, decided to withdraw the art pieces that were for sale.

Rago Arts and Auction Center founding partner, David Rago, issued this statement on April 17: “We know what the internment camps were. We know that it was a disgraceful period in American history, but we did not understand the continued emotional impact embodied within the material. We just didn’t get it.” (Associated Press)

Internment camp - Japanese-Americans during WWII

Takei was 5 years old when he was sent with his family to an internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, and has been a strong advocate to make sure that this time in history is remembered. On his Facebook page, he said: “These irreplaceable works represent the struggles and indomitable spirit of our community against a great injustice.”

He said this “dark time” is a “chapter that we must never repeat and never forget.”

When he was 8, they were released from the internment camp. He said they had “lost everything.”

Internment camps - maps of World War II - Japanese-Americans imprisoned

Like others interred, his family was given a one-way ticket when they were released to wherever they wanted to go to in the United States, plus $20. Many were embittered about their experience and decided to relocate to other parts of the country.

His family chose to return to Los Angeles. Life was difficult. Many would not hire Japanese-Americans. They were denied housing.

Despite the bitter struggle, many like Takei’s family worked to put their lives back together. Their memories, sometimes, were all they had to recall life before World War II.

That’s why Takei is grateful to those who protested the sale. Advocacy groups and supporters want “to ensure this artwork was not sold off piecemeal to private buyers, but rather will be appreciated by generations to come.”

“The internees gave their artworks and furniture to historian Allen Hendershott Eaton while he was researching his 1952 book, “Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese in Our War Relocation Camps,” according to an article in The New York Times (April 13).

Eaton’s daughter sold the lot to the unnamed consigner. The auction house will not identify the owner of the collection.

Takei said that Rago Auctions “will sit down with interested Japanese-American institutions and parties to ensure that the collection will find a home where pieces will be properly cared for and curated.”


What are your views on this topic? Another battle over art – this time stolen by the Nazis prior to World War II – was a decades-long struggle to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer 1. It was made into a movie, “Woman in Gold” (2015).


Main photo: (May 11, 1942) A soldier, 23, and his mother in a strawberry field in Florin, Sacramento County, California. The soldier volunteered July 10, 1941 to serve in the U.S. Army. The mother, 53, came from Japan 37 years ago. Her husband died 21 years ago leaving her to raise six children. She worked in a strawberry basket factory until her children leased three acres of strawberries last year “so she wouldn’t have to work for somebody else.” 453 families were to be evacuated from this area.

Photo: Internment camp – Japanese-Americans in U.S. during World War II –  Los Angeles, California. Japanese Americans going to Manzanar gather around a baggage car at the old Santa Fe Station. (April 1942). They were boarding a train bound for one of ten American concentration camps.

Video: Japanese American Relocation –

Video: George Takei, on an interview in ‘Democracy Now!, (2-28-14)” describes his family’s experience in a Japanese internment camp during World War II.

Photo: Map of forced Internment camps during World War II where Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in the U.S.

Hash Browns and Hooligans

Diner - 1982 - starring Kevin Bacon

By Judy Berman

A four-on-one catfight in a garishly-lit eatery with tinny Muzak in the background is certainly a far cry from vicious attacks by roving thugs that you see on the nightly news.

Yet the five-woman brawl in the suburban eatery was a disturbing incident. It left me wondering how far it would have gone if restaurant workers, customers and Onondaga County sheriff’s deputies had not been there to stop it.

The reason for the outbreak is even more unsettling. The four women apparently just didn’t like the fifth woman’s looks.

What the restaurant lacks in atmosphere, it sometimes makes up for in free entertainment. This night, it was: “hash browns, but hold the hooligans.”

On a bleary-eyed weekday morning, some people are drawn here for the good, hot coffee. Fewer still for the food.

Most go there because it’s one of the few places that’s still open after the pubs close.

This setting is a familiar one to fans of the movie, “The Diner” (1982). In the movie college-age characters hang out at their beloved diner as they struggle with their passage into adulthood. The struggle here in this diner is real as well.

A typical overnight eatery

A typical overnight eatery

I take in the confrontation and suspect all five might have had a run-in earlier at some bar. Or maybe too much booze led to the overflow of insults that led to the assault.

One of the four women, a brunette, made no effort to conceal her contempt for the blonde who was waiting on a bench with two guys until they could be seated at a table.

The brunette, dressed in black, looked like she was itching for a fight. She verbally slammed the blonde for the way she looked and dressed, and for being with the two men. Any patron near them could overhear the steady stream of insults. The blonde said nothing.

But when the blonde and the two guys got up to go to a table, the blonde accused the women of being jealous.

Suddenly, the restaurant floor became a tangle of bodies. At first, it was only the blonde and the outspoken brunette. Within seconds, the brunette’s friends joined the fray, and all four of them were outside the blonde’s weight class.

When the going got tough, the blonde’s companions got going. They disappeared into the woodwork until the fighting was over.

Bystanders tried to break up the fight and pull the women on the floor apart. The brunette continued to kick the blonde while she was on the floor. Then, someone gave the brunette the bum’s rush outside.

Moments later, the brunette returned and renewed her attack on the blonde and on a man who had tried to pull them apart. Before police arrived, the brunette and her friends continued their scratching and gouging.

One of the girls delivered sly kicks to the blonde on the floor who was getting the worst of the mismatch.

A man who tried to end the fight earned a few bruises for his efforts from the brunette who jumped on his back and began pummeling him. The arrival of the men with badges didn’t initially dampen her ire, either.

The stories woven on how and why the fight broke out depended on the author of the moment. The deputies were doing their best to sort it out outside so the restaurant could get back to business – some of which it had already lost.

Two handfuls of blonde hair by the restaurant’s doorway were the only reminders of the brawl.

Coffee in a cafe - 2004

The blonde’s companions remained in the background during the questioning, just as they had during the fighting. The man who tried to stop the fight and tend to her injuries comforted her until the two guys decided to join the blonde.

Wild things run free and unchecked. But one Friday morning, years ago at 3.a.m., they were only a few feet away.


Have you witnessed an unsettling experience while dining out … or shopping?


Music Video: “Whole Lotta Shakin Going on” Jerry Lee Lewis …. (1964 live performance)

Photo: The Diner (1982) – Kevin Bacon starred in Diner alongside Mickey Rourke, Steve Guttenberg, Tim Daly, Ellen Barkin and Paul Reiser.

Photo: Diner (not the one I ate at) – taken 2008 in Maine by Svetlana Miljkovic

Photo: Coffee in a  Viennese café in Vienna, Austria – taken in 2004 by Andreas Praefcke


Ponyboy – Stay Gold 

The Outsiders - cast

By Judy Berman

Living life on the fringes. Always feeling like you’re on the outside looking in.

That’s the theme of the novel, “The Outsiders,” by S.E. Hinton. It’s one I can relate to, and I’ve been out of school for a few decades. The book and the movie still resonate with readers today.

Elvis, The Beatles, leather jackets, D.A.’s greased-back haircuts and madras shirts. They evoke a different time – the early-‘60s. That was when America worried about a nuclear attack and building bomb shelters. We had not yet gotten involved in Vietnam and the flower children of the mid-1960s were still a few years away.

Many look at those times as being more innocent. But it had its share of troubles, too. Like the author, I had friends who were rich, as well as those who were poor and lived “on the other side of the tracks.” A few were “hoods” and, around me, they were great guys. I knew that neither life was problem-free.

S. E. Hinton wrote about the clash of those two groups. She was 15 and still in high school when she began writing her novel. It was published in 1967, when she was a freshman in college. She has said that the characters were not based on any one person she knew. Ponyboy, Johnny and Dally’s characters each had their own universal appeal, she said.

The movie, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is one I’ve shown to my students the past several years. I prefer the PG-13 version over the PG because the story thread is much closer to the book.

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” That’s Ponyboy Curtis’ opening line in the novel.

A few blocks later, Ponyboy is jumped by members of the Socs (or Socials, the rich kids). When he yells for help, his brothers and gang members of the Greasers, the hoods, rush to his defense.

Their next encounter is deadly. It forces Ponyboy and his friend, Johnny, to run away to avoid arrest. At one point, they’re focused on the countryside’s beauty and wish that scene could remain forever.

The Outsiders - Johnny and Ponyboy

I recall a similar experience when I lived in the country. As I looked out our kitchen window, the whole countryside was awash in gold. Then, sadly, as the sun rose higher, the golden hues began to yield to nature’s green coloring. Ponyboy, in repeating lines from Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay:”

“Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day, Nothing gold can stay.”

When Johnny asks what it means, Ponyboy tells him that things cannot remain as they are.

Like the scene they witnessed, their innocence will slip away. What they’ve gone thru will transform them forever. Near the end of the book, Johnny told Ponyboy to “stay gold.”

Little has changed since the book was published in 1967. But there are still cliques and those who are on the outside. Hopefully, as teens read this book and see the movie, they will see the harm that comes from stereotyping, from forming cliques, and how they view others who are not part of their group.

Ponyboy realized that just because he was poor didn’t mean he’d be stuck in that life. He was going to make something of himself. That’s an excellent observation. One that I hope my students take away from the story that Hinton crafted when she was a teen herself.


* Main photo of cast in “The Outsiders”

* Photo of Ponyboy and Johnny from the movie

* Video clips from the movie, “The Outsiders,” and Stevie Wonder singing “Stay Gold.”

* Video of Ponyboy and Johnny. Scene where Ponyboy recites Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

* Video of author S. E. Hinton on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She talks about some of the inspiration she drew on for her novel, “The Outsiders.”


Wordpress - milestone-200 posts

This is my 200th post on WordPress. I chose to repeat a story that I first published April 28, 2012. I love “The Outsiders” message and how this novel continues to speak to young people today as it did to their parents. Some students tell me that while they hate to read they really love this book.

What story – or movie – has stayed with you long after you put the book down?

Radio Daze Flashbacks

Stand By Me - movie - boys on railroad tracks

By Judy Berman

As I head home for dinner, a song comes on the radio, and it transports me into the way-back machine.

Some tunes have that power. They bring to mind people and places that you miss.

When I hear Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” I recall the coming-of-age movie. It took me back to more innocent times: roller-skating car hops, drive-in movies, and time spent with my family and friends.

But I also remember driving thru Syracuse’s north side and cranking that tune up when it played on the radio. Workers, leaving the Crouse-Hinds plant, pass by and smile. One gives me a sign of approval.

What is there about certain tunes? Some are a flashback to my teen years. Others, to my days working in radio.

Just a few notes from “Use Ta Be My Girl,” and I smile. It’s 1978. I’m in the news booth at WOLF-AM radio. Across the hall, I see “Big John” Gabriel in the DJ’s studio.

“Oh My. Oh Gee. Oh Wow. O’Jays,” Big John intones in his inimitable baritone just as the song is about to begin.

Then, my thoughts bounce back to my bumpy beginnings at WOLF. (Story here) Folks like Ron Bee, my first news director who hired me, John Gabriel and Peter King were among those who helped me overcome the rough spots.

Ron Bee, my former news director at WOLF-AM radio

Ron Bee, my former news director at WOLF-AM radio

Whether it was technical advice or just a sympathetic ear, it was appreciated. Ron Bee helped me shape my writing and interview skills. On the flip side, I also learned a lot thru Peter King’s knowledge of music trivia when I worked with him at WOLF and later at WHEN-AM.

I’m soaking all this in. Later, these early lessons prove useful when I add music beds and sound to my radio news stories.

What will enhance the story? In my head, I hear their advice and I pay attention.

The music and the DJs’ banter were comfortable friends to have alongside, whether it was on a long ride home alone at night or a raucous wake-up call on my radio from Rick and Ron in the morning.

That wild and crazy irreverent duo made me giggle as they urged their listeners to get their “crack out of the sack.”

What a great way to begin the day.

John Travolta dancing - Saturday Night Fever

Then, the Bee Gees’ “Night Fever” comes on, and it has me dancing.

It’s not rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s all music and memories to me.

A year ago, I wrote about Ron Bee who gave me my first job in radio at WOLF-AM in Syracuse, New York. Sad news. He passed away March 18, 2015. Ron was a wonderful mentor, and he is missed.

What song brings back memories for you?


Main Photo: “Stand By Me” – movie – boys on railroad tracks

Photo: Ron Bee – on air – The news director at WOLF-AM in Syracuse, New York, who first hired me.

Photo:  Photo: John Travolta (as Tony Manero) dancing with Karen Gorney (Stephanie) in “Saturday Night Fever”

Music Video: Ben E. King – “Stand By Me” – (1961) This song is featured on the soundtrack of the 1986 film, “Stand By Me”

Music Video: The O’Jays singing “Use Ta Be My Girl” (1978)

Music Video: Bee Gees – “Night Fever” (1977)


Gators Are Just Misunderstood

alligator - ready to cross path in the Everglades - 2005

By Judy Berman

When our daughter, Danielle, went to Florida State University, I worried about gators.

No, not those Gators – FSU’s main rival, the University of Florida. But, alligators.

OK, I worried about many things with her being hundreds of miles away from home. But, gators were high on that list of concerns.

Danielle just joked that the landlord used the gators for speed bumps in their Tallahassee apartment complex’s parking lot.

Truth be told. She and her husband never saw an alligator UNTIL we moved to Florida. Then, those reptiles seemed to be everywhere.

alligator - knocks at door - Island Packet - 2006

I should have known when I spotted a photo of a gator ringing a doorbell at a home in Hilton Head, South Carolina, that they were quite intrusive.

This poor chap’s excuse, apparently, was that he was drawn to their home by the smell of teriyaki chicken that the homeowners were grilling on their back porch.

The homeowners wisely moved inside once they spotted the gator in a nearby lagoon.

So what brings these creatures that roamed the earth millions of years ago to our neck of the woods?

alligator - marshmallow

“Oh,” they drawl with that big toothy grin, “the swimming hole is just fine, there’s plenty of wildlife to share a meal with, and we’d love to be invited in to chat with your guests and cats.”

Uh, no.

An adult alligator is about 13 feet long and weighs up to 800 pounds. The largest ever recorded was found in Louisiana and measured 19 feet, 2 inches, according to Animal Corner.

Dave and I can’t seem to get away from them. We went to the Everglades, and, of course, the gators were there – in abundance.

One came out of the pond and crossed a path that we had naively walked around just a few hours earlier.

Then, a tourist stepped off the platform we were on to get a closer – too close for my comfort – photo of the alligator.

I was camera-ready for the money-shot. The gator just nonchalantly walked on by.

alligator - Myakka Golf Course - Englewood, Florida

Just imagine that alligator acting like a boss on the golf course.

Not sure if golfers at Myakka Pines Golf Club in Englewood decided to run in a straight line or to zigzag to avoid a confrontation with that huge beast. Either way works, or so they say.

I’d be on the first golf cart out of there. And, the song I’d be singing on my way to the 19th hole: “See ya’ later, alligator … ”


What wildlife is intriguing or too close for comfort in your neck of the woods? 


Music Video: Bill Haley sings “See You Later, Alligator” – that’s the tune I’ll be singing when I see one.  


Main Photo: Alligator ready to cross a path in the Everglades where a tourist is standing about 20 feet away and taking photos. Too close for comfort. Photo: Judy Berman, 2005

Photo: Alligator rings doorbell at home in Hilton Head, South Carolina –Taken by Richard Holinski/Special to the Island Packet – 2006

Photo: Alligator with marshmallow in its mouth.

Photo: Alligator on Golf Course – Photographed at Myakka Pines Golf Club in Englewood, Florida –

Alligator facts – Animal Corner –

Link to ‘Living Among Alligators’ – provides an alligator safety guide – tips on how to avoid an attack by an alligator.