Monday, May 30, 2016

Memories of Dad

John Colman Mott, my father, was born 100 years ago, on May 29, 1916.  During his 88 years, his actions demonstrated his passion for ethical principles, interest in world events, and commitment to family. 

Some of this found early expression when he was the editor of the editorial page of his university daily newspaper, the Crimson.  Although authorship is not attributed, I can guess some of the editorials he wrote by his big-picture, philosophical style, advocating for peace and good governance. 

An example of his early pacifism can be found in a 1936 editorial: .  Despite not being a member of one of the historic peace churches, he was a pacifist even during WWII. (His local draft board granted him conscientious objector status but quickly changed this to a health deferment as soon as a hospitalization with ulcers gave them an excuse.)  He later served as a draft counsellor starting with the Korean War to help men consider their options.  During the Vietnam War he anchored one end of the weekly peace vigil in our village downtown park dressed in his business suit and fedora, alongside a line of motley teenagers in tie-dye.    

He also had concerns about maintaining the separation of federal powers as a 1937 editorial illustrates.
In addition, he was dedicated to improving civil rights and race relations.  He helped residents in Ridgewood NJ found the Broad Ridge Housing Corporation, which raised funds throughout the community to rehabilitate three dilapidated buildings and allow minority families to purchase their own apartments.  He took me to hear Martin Luther King’s speech at Riverside Church in NY on April 4, 1967.  He went to the Poor Peoples Campaign March on the Mall on April 22, 1968 (again dressed in his business attire complete with fedora). 

His Wall Street profession was not necessarily typical for a Quaker activist.  For much of his work-life, Dad managed portfolios of investments, many of which were pension funds for labor unions and companies.  I took some pleasure in responding to declarations on the evils of Wall Street by asking proponents whether workers should have reliable retirement income.  In any case one couldn't find a more sober, responsible investment manager than my Dad.  He did not approve of speculation or investment decisions through quantitative formulas, although he had a healthy and knowledgeable respect for the cyclical history of stock prices – include a huge chart on his office wall.   His approach to investment decisions drew on investigative journalism skills – taking into account a broad range of qualitative and quantitative factors that affect long-term growth and income.

It was in the spring of 1944 that he met my mother, a fellow pacifist.  After my brother was born their search for a church led them to become convinced “Friends” and members of Ridgewood Friends Meeting.  During my childhood this meeting became the center of their social life, with its membership serving as part of our extended family. 

Outside interests and work notwithstanding, he always let us know that family was the most important part of his life, and his proudest accomplishment.  He was dedicated to his parenting role.  No Saturday morning cartoons for us – that was the time to work on household chores with Dad.  His lessons on safety drew on actual real-life memories of people he knew and over fifty years later are still vivid for me -- e.g., lawn mowing (images of chopped fingers!), wood chopping (images of chopped toes!), starting bonfires of brush (images burned hair and skin!).  He also (very) patiently gave me batting practice so I wouldn’t be the last team member picked for baseball during 6th grade gym.   

Daddy was affectionate and expressive.  At bedtime he rubbed our backs and told us stories of his childhood.  I remember the quiet of Sunday evening summer Quaker meetings for worship, lying with my head on his lap, listening to chirping birds through the open windows.  His bear hug greetings were famous across the extended family.  One of our favorite games was “monster”, when my two sisters and I would try to pin him down from his hands and knees on the living room floor, but usually he was able to hold all of us down instead.  He always had high praise for whatever we did – music, dance, etc.  -- but if I wanted a more dispassionate appraisal I turned to my mother. During my teen years I called him “mushy” and sometimes squirmed under his attention. 

He often had a relaxed approach to schedules and other details.  He generally relied on my mother to keep him organized and on-time, and this was sometimes a source of tension.  We kids noted with amusement that mom could never send him to the grocery store with explicit instructions, without his returning with other items not on the list, in spite of the scolding he would receive.   From time to time he could get very angry, but with the help of family counseling my parents learned to not bottle-up their disputes until they exploded, but instead affectionately bicker on an ongoing, but much less frightening basis.

Gardening was a life-long passion.  Each of my siblings and I, at the age of about five years, was in turn assigned the task of planting the carrots, subsequently graduating to harvesting the green beans.  In Dad’s opinion, nothing beat a juicy red tomato fresh out the garden.  He shared his love of gardening with my mother, and this continued until the end of his life.  I continue to appreciate a photo of the two of them in their garden plot, which is still posted in the entrance of their retirement community.

He loved socializing.  My early memories include tugging on his coat jacket seeking to end his conversations at the rise of Meeting for Worship.  He loved to wax on ideas, history and current events.  My Dad tended to pause only in the middle of the sentence, leaving my poor husband at a complete loss on how to politely interject or draw a conversation to a close – those of us in his immediate family tended to just interrupt or even walk out of the room.  Mealtimes were always a favorite time for both conversation and the food. 

His final decade of life was difficult.  He was physically uncomfortable – his internal thermometer didn’t work properly so he often felt chilled even in summer.  His hands and chin shook with his “familial” tremor.  He had little stamina due to congestive heart failure.  And he had a series of mini-strokes, one of which led to temporary period of aphasia and several of which undermined his memory and cognition.   Worst of all he was fully aware of his diminished mental capacity.  But he always knew who we were, bravely tried to be cheerful, looked forward to meals and visits, and expressed appreciation for assistance and attention.   He died in May 2004.   I regret that I did not spend more time with him during his final years, nor be more patient when I was with him. 

Overall, I am grateful to have had him as my father, and for the contributions he made to the world at large.  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

2015 Family News

Annual greetings from Keith and Jessica!  We’ve come through the past year on an even keel, and wish the same or better for our correspondents.    

Keith continues leading Bikes for the World.  It has had its ups and downs, generally up, e.g., strong local Washington DC “production” of bicycle donations and shipments, augmented this year by satellite efforts in New York, which shipped its first 40’ container in October, and Pittsburgh and Charleston SC, which hope to ship in 2016.  This expansion is supported by three capable and dedicated staff members, a helpful board of directors, and an active cadre of volunteers.  But there have been setbacks, as with the unexpected loss of a significant corporate partner.  After ending financially in the red for the first time in 2014, Bikes for the World broke even in 2015, better than expected, putting the organization in a good position to afford commercial storage space following the anticipated loss of donated warehouse space at the end of 2016.

Despite one scare in the spring, Keith appears to have stabilized health-wise (see last year’s blog). However, he is no longer as active physically at Bikes for the World, so needs to catch up with Jessica and do more hiking, biking (yes, ironically), and other exercise.

Jessica continues her life as a “dilettante retiree”, albeit with a focus on personal fitness and health.   Beginning in the spring, aided by a Fitbit HR, Jessica lost the 20 pounds she had gained the previous year during Keith’s illness.  When she isn’t visiting her mother in PA, she attends a “core conditioning” class three times weekly at the county rec center; makes a weekly bike ride along the Potomac; and hikes, bikes, or takes other bike trips.  Recently, she has also been doing physical therapy to recover from neuropathy in her left hand and associated cramping in her shoulder and back, which stem from a dislocated front collar bone (an old injury that can’t be fixed).

Another priority of Jessica’s is support to her 94-year-old mother Kay Mott.  During the year, Jessica has been more regularly visiting Kay at her continuing care community some three hours’ distant.  Despite increasing physical limitations and a move this year from the assisted living to the nursing home section, Kay continues to exhibit gumption and cheer as she carries out the basic tasks of daily living.  Not un-relatedly, one of Jessica’s favorite of many books read this year—and recommended to others of our generation--was “Bittersweet Season--Caring for Our Aging Parents and Ourselves” by Jane Gross.

Jessica also became more active volunteering for the Langley Hill Friends Meeting, principally as Treasurer and Clerk of Finance Committee, as well as a member of the Nominating Committee.
If you are on Facebook, look for her.  Although her own postings are still limited, she has moved beyond sporadic, passive “stalking” to checking in more often and increasing her roster of “friends”.

Daughter Kate leads an active young adult life.  She continues to enjoy her job as reference librarian at Arlington Public Library and taking initiative in reaching out to job seekers, college students and young professionals. The American Library Association elected her as the Secretary on the Board of the Reference and User Services division (RUSA), the same division whose committees choose the annual ALA Notable Books, Carnegie Awards and other well-known awards and write the standards for professional reference librarians and other publications.

She is one of three co-clerks of the Young Adults part of Friends Meeting of Washington.  She also spends a lot of time with her boyfriend, Taylor, including numerous weekend trips. Despite all this, we actually see her with some regularity taking advantage of her residence nearby.

For those who may not have received our missive of last year, son Alex and daughter-in-law Carla Cevasco married in August 2014 at Boston City Hall.  The public celebrations followed later, first in late December 2014 here at home in Arlington, and then this past August in the beautiful setting of Carla’s parents’ farm in western Massachusetts.  The summer event took place under a large tent, in a field surrounded by flowers (which Carla’s mother grows professionally), with nearly 100 guests enjoying barbecued pork–an entire animal—prepared on-site by the caterer.

The pair lead busy and dynamic lives.  Alex, after over three years at MIT providing help in the use of “GIS” (geographic information systems) tools to student and faculty projects, is moving to a civil service  position with the John A. Volpe National Transportation System Center (aka “Volpe”), a self-funded research and consulting arm of the US Department of Transportation.  As Volpe is also located in Cambridge, Alex’s commute will change little.  Meanwhile, Carla is well on her way to a Ph.D. in American Studies at Harvard.  With the help of several recent research fellowships off-campus, she continues work on her dissertation on food and hunger in colonial New England.  Recognizing her scholarship, the History Department at Harvard has presented her with an opportunity, rarely offered to graduate students, to teach her own original undergraduate course, titled “The History of Hunger,” during the spring 2016 semester.  However, life is not all work; the couple take time to go on long tandem bike rides, care for their pet cat McGrath, and visit family and friends.

We’ve been spending more time with the mid-west branch of Keith’s family, the Smiths from Kansas City.  Early in the year, his cousin Glenn Smith lost his wife JoAnn to pancreatic cancer and we traveled to Kansas City for the funeral.   Since mid-summer, we’ve hosted Glenn’s daughter Brooke as she returned to her DC job punctuated by travels back-and-forth to Kansas City, and visits from her father.  Amidst this sadness, however, the Kansas City connection distracted and made this year’s World Series a more pleasurable affair.  It also afforded Kate, Taylor, and Keith the unique opportunity to attend--as the guests of Glenn, Brooke, and sister Jamie--a Royals baseball game in nearby Baltimore, and to witness a memorable ten-run inning, with two grand slams…which unfortunately for our hosts was not scored by the Royals.

Each year we struggle to say something constructive about things in the wider world.  We are pleased with the modest progress on confronting climate change demonstrated by commitments made at Paris.  We are trying to do our part, among other things, by installing a 3 mw photovoltaic (solar electric) system on our roof, which we expect to be operational by spring.

We also urge all people, including politicians, to put aside fear-mongering, to work to reduce gun violence, to seek peaceful resolution of conflicts locally and abroad, and to offer compassion and support to all victims of violence.  The examples of the forgiveness of Charleston church members, the diplomacy of John Kerry on the Iran nuclear accord, and the welcoming of Syrian refugees by the Canadian government inspire us.

Wishing you a happy, healthy 2016,

Keith & Jessica

P.S. More photos are attached below.

Kate giving a toast at August marriage celebration
Keith, Jessica, Carla, and Alex with Peter and Elaine,
Carla's parents

Carla and Alex with Jessica's relatives
Carla's childhood home &
site of August marriage celebration
Alex and Carla with Keith's relatives

flowers at the farm during celebration

On top of Monadnock, NH

Monadnock Mt.

Jessica with sisters Margy and Bethany and mother
Kay who was recovering from severe anemia

Jessica and Kay back at Kendal

Jessica, Keith, Kate and Taylor
during birthday dinner for Kate

Dinner out during fall visit of
Carla and Alex 
Christmas Eve with Kay at Kendal

Botanical Gardens
Botanical Gardens Xmas exhibit

Keith's sister Jory and
nephew John
Post Christmas visit to Great Falls