An Old, Dear Friend

Mr. Benjamin Musser and relatives

By Judy Berman

He was nearly eight decades older than me. But, as friends go, the age span was never an issue.

The moment I met Mr. Benjamin Musser, I knew by his kindly eyes and shy smile that he was someone I could trust. He became my fishing buddy, my good friend and my protector.

My parents and I had a room on the third-floor in my Grammy’s row house. I was excited when he moved in just down the hall from us.

Our family quickly adopted Mr. Musser. By family, I mean the WHOLE family. Aunts, uncles and cousins all accepted him as kin. He was included in our family reunions and other get togethers.

At 82, some might envision a frail man bent over and leaning on a cane. Not Mr. Musser. His daily walks put us all to shame.

One time, shortly before Christmas, he went shopping for a Christmas tree with my Mom and me. We must have scoured every tree merchant’s business in the city. I was the lucky one. I got to ride on a sled – up until we finally purchased a tree.

When we got home, my Mom collapsed on the couch. She was just worn out from our excursion. Then, we heard Mr. Musser’s footsteps coming down the stairs.

He took one look at my Mom and said, comfortingly, “That’s it. You rest now. I have to go run some errands.”

Mr. Benjamin Musser 1

Remember the role Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morito) played to Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) in “The Karate Kid” (1985)? His lesson was that fighting is “always the last answer to problem.”

I learned a different lesson from Mr. Musser. One about patience.

That’s a critical skill when you’re fishing. First, Mr. Musser put a corn kernel on the hook, and then we’d wait for some unsuspecting fish to take the bait.

We caught a few sunnies that way. He cleaned them and cooked them for our dinner. Some of our cats might have benefited from our outing as well.

The only time my Mom raised an eyebrow about Mr. Musser’s influence is when he – and Grammy – allowed me to have coffee. I was about 6 or 7. They’d pour the scalding, dark brown liquid in a saucer. Added a lot of milk and let me drink it.

Mom hinted this practice might get me booted out of any proper social gatherings. But she didn’t put a halt to it.

One day, after school, I came home with some disturbing news. I told my folks that a man, who was driving a black car, stopped across the street from my bus stop. He told me that he worked with my Mom and offered me a ride home.

I had been conditioned by my folks to never accept rides with strangers and said “no.” When I told my Mom about this stranger, she was rattled.

Mr. Musser volunteered to walk me to the bus and come pick me up when the school bus dropped me off.

At work, Mom asked everyone she knew whether they had offered me a ride or knew any one matching the description I had provided. They didn’t.

Looking back, I feel that I lived in this very loving, protective cocoon. Imagine my reaction when I was nearly 8 and learned that we’d be moving because my Dad had accepted a job in another state.

I didn’t want to go. Mom, trying a bit of psychology, gave me the choice of leaving with them or staying with Grammy and Mr. Musser.

Tears ran streaming down my face as I blubbered that I wanted to stay with Grammy and Mr. Musser. I don’t know what Mom and Dad did to finesse that situation, but I was soon on my way to a new home several hundred miles away.

Mr. Benjamin Musser

While we were miles apart, Mr. Musser remained a friend and a part of our family until he died at 105.

He was the dearest friend anyone of any age could have.

 

 

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Music Video clip: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” by Randy Newman. Song in “Toy Story.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zy4uiiy0qgA 

Main Photo: Mr. Benjamin Musser with my Aunt Lois Meyers, cousin Dar Mowery, and Aunt Ida Gilbert. (Thanks to my Aunt Susan Wagner, cousin Sherry and cousin Ruby Reich for sharing these photos.)

Photos: Mr. Benjamin Musser

Hunger in the Land of Plenty

Child - El gato

By Judy Berman

The boy fought back tears when we talked. He worried about where his next meal would be coming from during the long holiday weekend.

He’d had no steady address for several weeks after his parents split up.

Our school offers free breakfasts. He, like many other children, was no doubt enrolled in the free or reduced-price lunch program.

But the uncertainty that weighs on children like him is the nagging thought about the weekends and the long holidays. Where will the food come from?

Hunger in the Land of Plenty? Unthinkable.

Last weekend, that young man was on my mind when I agreed to join my husband, Dave, and his co-worker, Stacey Barchenger, in the “World’s Largest Food Packing Event” in Melbourne, Florida.

Children's Hunger Project - Copy

There were nearly 3,000 volunteers who helped pack meals for elementary school children to take home over the weekend. It’s part of The Children’s Hunger Project.

It was an opportunity to provide the start of a brand-new day for some child.

Bob Barnes, executive director and co-founder of the nonprofit organization, said the program serves more than a 1,000 children a week in 27 schools in Brevard County.

A few years ago, he said he was stunned to learn from a news report that claimed “17 percent of children nationwide are on the free or reduced-price lunch program.”

Barnes told volunteers there that he’s not going to argue about why this is happening. He just wants to do what he can to end child hunger.

I’ve heard the criticisms: parents or guardians are to blame for not managing money better, or for not having the right priorities for their spending. Or some blame charities for spending money on advertising or huge salaries for their top officials, instead of focusing donations on those it’s intended for.

But it’s the children who are the victims in this.

“The Children’s Hunger Project is driven by the belief that knowledge is power, and only by being attentive and driven in the classroom can children absorb knowledge properly.

“A hungry child is less likely to do either one,” according to its website, http://www.thechildrenshungerproject.org/about-us.html

Check your area to see what is being done to ease child hunger and malnutrition.

Children's Hunger Project - Stacey Barchenger, Dave Berman and me - 2-8-14

We found that the time we spent helping pack boxes of food was well-spent. I just wish that there wasn’t a need for an organization like this.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music Video – “Brand New Day” by Joshua Radin – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhUfVcLLvjo 

Photo – Child – El gato – Taken June 8, 2012 by Juanedc, Zaragoza, España    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9a/El_gato_%288293825146%29.jpg/640px-El_gato_%288293825146%29.jpg

Photos from the Children’s Hunger Project in Melbourne, Florida on 2-8-14:

  • volunteers packing food trays for needy children – taken by Stacey Barchenger
  • volunteers: Stacey Barchenger, Dave Berman and Judy Berman

The Thief of Time

Tardis - Dr. Who

By Judy Berman

Suppose you could jump into Doctor’s Tardis. If you could turn back the hands of time, what would you do? What would you change?

Fear and regret are the thieves of dreams.

Regret over things you cannot change steals away precious time from the present.

You’re unable to let go of the past. Old hurts, broken friendships, misunderstandings, bitter exchanges that you wish you could take back.

I recall a time I was mulling over a bad work relationship as I was out walking my dog. I stood there in the yard, rooted to the spot and rehashed one painful scene.

As I looked across the yard, in the dark, I could see my neighbor sitting on his front porch. He probably thinks I’m crazy, I laughed to myself.

Yet, here I was … five years after I’d left the job, still agonizing over how I was treated and wondering what if …

What if we could wipe the slate clean and begin anew? If only, we could just say, “I forgive you. Do you forgive me?”

Well, a year or two later, I ran into my nemesis at the beach and had a bit of insight into how I could resolve this.

I flashed a smile her way and gave her a cheerful hello. She froze, glared at me, did not return my greeting and walked away. I thought, “Well. I tried.” And I Iet it go.

That felt good.

It’s also not the end of the story.

A couple of years later, she saw me at a basketball clinic where I was reporting, and ran up to talk to me. I’d like to say that she had an epiphany herself, but she just wanted me to interview her daughter.

I did. Inside, I was chuckling. No hard feelings. I’d let it go some time ago.

Fear also harms the future by paralyzing us into inaction. “Well, there’s no sense writing a book. No one will buy it,” you rationalize as you squander your time playing Candy Crush on the internet.

What Will the Day Bring

What will the day bring we ask as we peer out the window.

Happiness is always ahead of us.

You reason that things will be better if you win the lottery or after you get a job that pays more. Or, life will be a dream once you move across the country.

At one time, I dreaded my long commute to work – 55 miles each way – and wanted to land a job closer to home. The move wasn’t in the cards.

So I hunkered down to do the best I could at the newspaper I worked at. Before I knew it, I had a new appreciation and a better attitude about my workplace.

Things were really turning around. When I wasn’t looking to move, that’s when an opportunity opened up … and with mixed feelings I decided to go for it.

Free - Mountain biking

When you dwell on the past or worry about what the future will bring, you’re missing out on the best part: today.

Make the most of it. Put regret in your rear-view mirror. Look fear in the eye, and embrace a new challenge.

 —

I’d like to thank a visiting priest at our church, Father Eugene O’Reilly, whose inspiring message about the thieves of our time – the past and the future – prompted me to write this post.

Video Clip: Doctor Who – Rose – series1 – BBC ‘ “Is It Always This Dangerous?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WX-R1lfycmw

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo: Tardis – Doctor Who, author: aussiegall, Sydney, Australia http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/7e/Dr_Who_%28316350537%29.jpg/480px-Dr_Who_%28316350537%29.jpg

Photo: What Will the Day Bring? Taken Oct. 29, 2010, author: Alex Proimos, Sydney, Australia http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/cc/What_will_the_day_bring%3F_%285124379114%29.jpg/640px-What_will_the_day_bring%3F_%285124379114%29.jpg

Photo: Free – Mountain biking – taken Sep.t 5, 2012, author: Pdemile http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f5/Free-ride.jpg/640px-Free-ride.jpg

Make Someone Happy

Homeless shelterBy Judy Berman

One wintry evening in Syracuse, New York, an unlikely group gathered for a good meal and conversation.

Our companions were from all walks of life. At our table: a college student, a reporter (me), an advocate for the homeless and two homeless men. Mismatched for sure, but we had a wonderful time.

I don’t recall what we talked about or even what we ate. What I do remember is I was sad to see the evening draw to a close. Yet the afterglow of that shared experience makes me happy just thinking about it.

It brings to mind the tune, “Make Someone Happy.” Jimmy Durante’s sings: “Make just one someone happy, and you will be happy, too.”

While Durante’s singing about making someone you love happy, the song applies to all those we meet. When we reach out to others, we make their life better. That good feeling is contagious.

OK, the world might still have been the same when we stepped back on the sidewalk. But that encounter can make a difference to those we meet. I know it did for me.

The power of a smile and a kind word can be transforming.

“A joy that’s shared is a joy made double.” (John Ray)

May you have many moments of joy to share this holiday season and in 2014.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music video: Sleepless in Seattle – song “Make Someone Happy” by Jimmy Durante  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88ysQcoZUNY 

Photo: Homeless shelter – Boston (Feb. 2, 2007) – Sailors assigned to guided missile cruiser USS Mahan (DDG 72) serve lunch to homeless veterans at the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c5/US_Navy_070202-N-8110K-047_Information_Systems_Technician_1st_Class_Tanya_Whitner_and_fellow_Sailors_assigned_to_guided_missile_cruiser_USS_Mahan_%28DDG_72%29_serve_lunch_to_homeless_veterans_at_the_New_England_Shelter_for_Homeless.jpg/640px-thumbnail.jpg

A Roadblock Leads to a More Rewarding Path

Reporter Lois Lane in a scene from the cartoon, "The Arctic Giant" (1942)

Reporter Lois Lane in a scene from the cartoon, “The Arctic Giant” (1942)

By Judy Berman

Sometimes, it’s best not to ignore those nagging voices inside your head. The ones that tell you, maybe, you should rethink what you’re doing.

My moment of clarity came when a recruiter at a place I wanted to work at told me I didn’t appear to be the “go-to person” at my job. That’s not exactly what I expected – or wanted – to hear.

In basketball terms, the go-to-person is the one who other players throw the ball to when they are in a difficult spot and they want their team to score.

His harsh words prompted me to assess what I was doing and what I needed to change.

Just what were my options? Curling up in a fetal position and pounding my fists on the floor? Carrying the taste of defeat and bitterness with me for years? Or resigning myself to working in a job that I didn’t enjoy or find challenging?

His myopic view of my capabilities didn’t mesh with my own. Negativity just wears you down and out. It distracts you from achieving your goals. I’m reminded of Sean Connery’s character, (as Jim Malone, an Irish beat cop), in the movie, “The Untouchables.” Connery confronts Eliot Ness about how he plans to respond to mobster Al Capone, “What are you prepared to do?”

I chose to re-evaluate my career. I looked at the work and actions of those I admired. My mission was to become the type of person employers wanted.

Then, a strange thing happened. As I transformed, my stock rose in management’s eyes.

Still frame from the animated cartoon "Superman: Billion Dollar Limited" (1942)

No longer the mild-mannered reporter.                                                                      ["Superman: Billion Dollar Limited" (1942)]

About three years later, no longer the mild-mannered reporter, I wrote a letter to that recruiter and thanked him for his comments during that job interview. I told him that he had inspired me to make changes at work, and the response from my bosses was positive.

Shortly before I wrote that letter, my employer had named me Employee of the Month for front-page stories I’d written about a man who had been in isolation for three months even though a jury had cleared him of any wrongdoing in a prison riot. After my stories ran, the state reversed its decision and released the man to the general prison population.

That same week, my editor wrote in my annual review that I’d become the “go-to reporter when we have a tough nut to crack.”

How sweet that was.

I never received a response to my letter. But that wasn’t necessary. I had turned a negative into a positive. That brutal discussion, years earlier, forced me to re-examine what I was doing and to look at alternate ways to approach my job. As I did so, I fell back in love with my job. I felt valued and I was in a working environment where I could bloom and grow. The bonus was I was working with and for people I liked and respected.

Sometimes life’s lessons reveal that the only thing that needs changing is how we look at things and how we respond to them.

As Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

Movie clip – Nine to Five – I didn’t work 9 to 5, nor did I have these experiences. But, many workers can relate to these characters. 

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo: Reporter – Lois Lane – cartoon – Lois Lane in a scene from the cartoon, ‘The Arctic Giant’ (1942). http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/25/Lois_Lane_en_la_caricatura_%27The_Arctic_Giant%27.png

Photo: Jobs – Superman – cartoon – Still frame from the animated cartoon “Superman: Billion Dollar Limited” (1942). http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dc/Superman-billiondollarlimited1942.jpg

Listening for Santa’s Sleigh Bells

A child gives Santa a gift during an annual party.

A child gives Santa a gift during an annual party.

By Judy Berman

This time of year, right around Christmas, I step into a time warp to a place back home in Central New York.

It is the first snowfall. Streetlights highlight the stark whiteness. Dave, our girls and I drive around the neighborhood to see how the houses are decked out. One neighbor has a huge snow dragon in his front yard, and part of it is dyed green. Other homes look like the Griswalds’ – a light show consuming every inch of their home.

I love it when the snowflakes are huge, white crystals like the detergent Ivory Snow. Or, when the snow is like butter and just slides off the top of your car with one gentle push.

But, now, at nightfall, the snow is like granular sugar. You can tell it is cold just by how the snow crunches underfoot. Like that scene in the 2004 film, “The Polar Express,” where a young boy is beginning to look for signs to confirm Santa’s presence.

It’s that moment that parents like Shona dread. She suspects her child is beginning to question the existence of that widely talked about, but rarely sighted jolly old elf. In a letter to Santa, her daughter asks how he can deliver so many presents in such a short span.

Shona's daughter writes to Santa

Shona’s daughter writes to Santa

Never mind more probing interrogation such as: How can Santa get into Jimmy’s house when they don’t have a chimney? How does he get up the elevator in the high-rise? How can the sleigh fly if it’s weighted down by so many presents? They’ve heard the naysayers.

Still, like the boy in the story, many don’t want to rush to judgment. They just want reassurances.

“On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I lay quietly on my bed. I did not rustle the sheets. I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound – a sound a friend told me I’d never hear – the ringing bells of Santa’s sleigh,” wrote author Chris Van Allsburg in “The Polar Express.”

Well, he does hear a sound. But it’s not the gentle ringing of a bell. It’s the “sounds of hissing steam and squeaking metal. I saw a train standing perfectly still in front of my house.”

He ran up to the train. When the conductor said it was the Polar Express, the boy clambered aboard. By the time the boy returns home, any nagging doubts he had have been answered.

I love the scene where the boy realizes he could have any gift in the world. It reminds me when my brother, Hank, was about 3. Hank asked for only three things for Christmas: Golden Books, Chiclets and Sun Maid Raisins. He was delighted to find them under the tree Christmas morning.

The little boy in the book and the movie also was ecstatic to discover he got the gift he thought he lost: a beautiful-sounding silver bell that fell from Santa’s sleigh. It’s a bell that can only be heard by those who truly believe.

We have a copy of that bell. The kid in all of us wants to believe in magical moments and a time of innocence.

I shake the bell, and smile when I hear its melodic ringing.

Santa greets children in Singapore.

When Jolly Old Saint Nick is busy, his helpers step in. Chief Warrant Officer Marc Lefebvre dressed as Santa to greet children in Singapore.

Movie clip: The Polar Express – A boy visits the North Pole as he seeks answers about Santa and the magic of Christmas.   

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Main Photo – Santa – A child gives Santa a gift during the annual 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Christmas Party. Taken Dec. 8, 2010 at the Marston Pavilion, Camp Lejeune, N.C. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b4/USMC-101208-M-8527P-045.jpg/640px-USMC-101208-M-8527P-045.jpg

Photo – Santa – letter from Shona’s daughter. Dec. 2012

Photo – Santa greets children – When Jolly Old Saint Nick is busy, his helpers step in. In Singapore, Chief Warrant Officer Marc Lefebvre dressed as Santa and greeted children at Singapore’s Child at Street 11 Care Center. Here, Sailors and Marines from the USS Makin Island (LHD8) give gifts to children as part of a community service project. (Dec. 22, 2011) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6b/US_Navy_111222-N-DX615-057_Chief_Warrant_Officer_Marc_Lefebvre%2C_dressed_as_Santa_Claus%2C_greets_children_at_Singapore%27s_Child_at_Street_11_care_cent.jpg/640px-US_Navy_111222-N-DX615-057_Chief_Warrant_Officer_Marc_Lefebvre%2C_dressed_as_Santa_Claus%2C_greets_children_at_Singapore%27s_Child_at_Street_11_care_cent.jpg

A Look Into the Rear-View Mirror

By Judy Berman

Faded photographs. I fall down a rabbit hole. On the other side of a mirror’s reflection, I spot a girl I vaguely remember. Now I see her thru a different set of lenses.

Like the White Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland,” the clock races – this time, backwards. I’m 15, traveling solo for the first time, on a bus from Central New York to visit my grandparents in Pennsylvania.

At a bus depot in Wilkes-Barre, some of the other passengers invite me to have lunch with them. One is an Air Force man, Jim Peterson, who is with his wife. Before we went our separate ways, Airman Peterson told me, “Don’t ever change. Stay just as sweet as you are.”

I want to say, “You talking to me?” My perception of me was the polar opposite. I felt like an awkward, barely noticed teen. His compliment changes how I see myself.

How I envy Molly Ringwald (as Andie Walsh) in the movie, “Pretty in Pink.” She is from “the wrong side of the tracks,” but Andie has a pretty good sense of self. She has a crush on a rich student, Andrew McCarthy (who plays Blane McDonough). Blane breaks the prom date with her because his snobby friend, James Spader (as Steff), put Andie down.

Andie decides to go to her high school prom by herself, but her childhood friend, Duckie (Jon Cryer), is there to escort her. Blane realizes that his friend’s disparaging remarks stem from Andie refusing to go out with Steff. He tells Steff off and confesses his love to Andie.

”You said you couldn’t be with someone who didn’t believe in you. Well, I believed in you. I just didn’t believe in me,” McCarthy/McDonough says.

Why are we so hard on ourselves?

In another photo, my hair is in a slicked-back D.A. – a failed attempt to look hip like Elvis. I have a mental image of the Cheshire Cat chuckling over it. But my Granddad Fiet writes that he is astounded “that a vessel of vinegar” like himself could produce such a looker.

Really, I thought Granddad’s glasses must be Coke-bottle thick or he had a bit of Irish Blarney in him. Were his comments just familial pride? What had I failed to notice?

My lack of confidence went beyond my appearance. A high school English teacher I respected, Robert Gloccum, predicted that I would go far as a writer. Yet, outside of school, I hesitate for years to show anyone what I write. What did he observe that I was too blind to see?

Who sees the best in you? Too many times, we shortchange ourselves. I know I did. When I look thru our dusty photo albums now, I see this distant reminder of who I once was looking back at me. My mysterious smile hints, “If you could just see what lies ahead … “

It is like being in a field of daisies. Nothing set me apart from the other wildflowers.

Then, one day, I feel more like a budding rose coming into my own.

Now that field is wide-open with endless possibilities. Unlike the White Rabbit, you may discover as I did that there’s always time to pursue your dreams.

—-

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

—–

Main Photo: “Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Manufacturer: Walker Books Ltd., 2001

Photo: Judy – high school yearbook