Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Blanche Lamore

When I arrived at her house Blanche Lamore was reading the newspaper.  Blanche is 98 years old, born in 1912 in Cabot Vermont, just a few miles from where she lives now.  Her family were dairy farmers who also tended the sugar bush in winter.

Asked how she had stayed so fit, Blanche told me people had always called her a tomboy.  She had enjoyed hunting, fishing and trapped foxes and coons as a girl.  She fished her whole life until last year when her fishing partner was no longer up to it.  That man's son sent her some perch though, knowing she'd miss it.

And Blanche likes to walk.  She grew up walking in the woods and fields, walking the mile to school in Lower Cabot, home for lunch, back to school and home again ("'Course it got dark in those days, too, if you didn't walk right along home. We couldn't be fooling around on the road"), walking to town, walking for fun.  Blanche has been in the hospital a few times in the last couple of years, but always comes out ready to start walking again.  She also likes to garden and pull weeds and hangs her laundry outside.  She swears this is OK in the winter, too, because when the clothes freeze she brings them inside and they dry out just fine.

Blanche worked in the cafeteria in high school to earn money to buy the next year's books.  After school she worked as a waitress at Joe's Pond, then got married the next year. She and her husband Wilford farmed, timbered, sugared and did other jobs "to help people out".

In 1933 they moved into Blanche's uncle's house in Lower Cabot where she still lives.  They added on a bit and raised their son Morris.  Blanche worked in the Lower Cabot village store and did housework for mostly older folks around town "who wanted a little something".  Around that time Blanche says, rich people began moving to the area, mostly for the summer, but some stayed year round.  She did housework for several families, but signed on with one particular family for nearly 40 years, even living at their home after Morris was out of school.  She always enjoyed work, "or I'd have told them 'no'", and had the opportunity to travel around the country with the family.  Blanche stopped working at age 87 but has stayed close to the children in this family and they refer to her as their adopted grandmother. 

Wilford died 38 years ago of lung disease after years of breathing wood dust.

Blanche says she doesn't care for TV and prefers to keep busy.  She's chairman of the Cabot Fall Foliage Festival, a project she's been involved in for 54 years, treasurer of the Cabot Historical Society and an active fundraiser for many organizations around town.  A friend takes her to the United Church of Cabot every week, but she's sorry to see the church community dwindling.  Blanche is also an active Justice of the Peace and has married countless couples over the years.

Two years ago the wheel fell off her car "but that was a good thing, because I shouldn't have been driving then anyway".  She misses her independence, though and says having a car gave her the opportunity to get involved in so many things. Blanche thinks you need a great variety of interests to keep you busy and that "you have to be awful broadminded" today.  You can't just sit and wait for the world to come to you.

Blanche is a lifelong Democrat and likes to "keep up".  She remembers the 1930s as hard but says everyone worked, even if they didn't have a job.  "They didn't realize they were missing things". They sang, skied in the fields, cooked and helped others out as much as possible.  They made their own fun and certainly didn't have "the problem of too much stuff".  Now, she says, people seem to depend on "stuff".  Blanche is a great admirer of Bernie Sanders who "has a good head on his shoulders and knows what's important".

Blanche says she enjoys things as much as ever, likes to putter around and feels lucky to be at home where she can make her own decisions.  "I can't complain", she says, always had work, family and fun.  Whenever she thinks of the beautiful dress she might have had, she thinks of what would have been spilled on it!  "You make yourself happy by helping out where you can".

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Robert Senghas

My great grandfather was a Unitarian minister and my family attended that church throughout my time living at home all over the South and Northeast.  I was active in the Unitarian Universalist youth group (LRY) in junior high and high school.

After that, though, I spent 16 years not attending any kind of church, too busy with work, children, day to day concerns.  When I moved back to Vermont in the early 1980s, I rejoined my family church in Burlington and was lucky meet and get to know Bob Senghas who was the minister there and his wife Dorrie.  After living in the West for many years, it felt great to return to a community of thoughtful people who, for the most part, shared my inherited liberal secular humanism.

Bob Senghas was born in Cleveland in 1928.  In his third year at Harvard Law School he married Dorrie who had just graduated from Radcliffe (or Harvard, as she preferred to call it).  He joined a large law firm in San Francisco and practiced estate planning law for five years.  He became restless, feeling he was saving a lot of money for people who had plenty.  He began attending a UU church with Dorrie who was brought up in Concord, Mass., the seat of modern Unitarian Universalism.  One day, after listening to the sermon he said, "I can do that."

Bob spent the next three years at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA while Dorrie taught at a local high school.  After receiving his degree Bob served as minister in Davis, California, Wellesley Hills, Mass. and at the UU denominational headquarters in Boston before coming to Burlington.

One of the most significant periods  Bob remembers was his involvement with the American civil rights movement in Alabama in 1965.  In those years, African Americans in the South faced tremendous obstacles to voting, including poll taxes, literacy tests, and other bureaucratic restrictions to deny them the right to vote. They also risked harassment, intimidation, economic reprisals, and physical violence when they tried to register or vote. As a result, very few African Americans were registered voters, and they had very little, if any, political power, either locally or nationally.

Like so many Americans, Bob and Dorrie watched the violence unfolding on TV.  When James Reeb a UU minister was murdered while marching in Selma, Martin Luther King, Jr. asked ministers from around the country to join him in protest marches.  Despite having a family, Bob felt he had to go since the Unitarian Universalists had taken a strong stand on integration.  The ministers stayed with local UU families and in an African American housing project.  Bob remembers the marchers, mostly middle class people - many women, including Catholic nuns, men in suits and ties, and the realization of the danger they faced.  He says he had never experienced and emotional moment quite like that before or since.

The deadliness of the situation in Alabama hit home when, after Bob returned to California,  his friend Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminary student from New Hampshire, was murdered shortly after picketing whites only businesses.  Bob visited Alabama again as part of the effort to keep state officials and police in compliance with Federal law after the TV camera crews had left.  During and after the marches President Lyndon Johnson advocated for and soon signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Bob's commitment to learning, philosophy and social justice directed his life and led him to write very moving, powerful and thought provoking sermons in the years I knew him.  Bob told me his 20+ year practice of Zen Buddhism at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, NY has changed the way he lives and relates to the world.  One important aspect of this serene practice was to help him overcome the frantic end-of-the-week stress of writing his sermon.  He was able to slow down, spread out and organize the process, approach it calmly, let it go in the hours he was not actually working, spend more time with his family and let the thoughts come without feeling frantic about a deadline.  Bob says he never rewrote a sermon.

Bob told me he thinks a primary responsibility of a minister is to earn and deserve the trust of the congregation.  One should be emotionally open and able to accept, if not agree with the differing opinions of people of goodwill.  simply reinforcing the beliefs of those we agree with is not the path of a true spiritual leader.

Cycles of Reflection: On The Mystery And Challenge Of Living, a selection of Bob's writings, collected by Julia Blake is available at the Northshire Bookstore or by emailing Julia.

Bob is a student of Zen Buddhism to this day and also enjoys time with family and friends, tennis, billiards and his viola, taken up later in his life.  He plays with the Amateur Musicians Orchestra and says he feels active, connected and happy. 

Beautiful, quick and courageous Dorrie Senghas died in 2002.  They were married 50 years.  Bob is the father of three children, a grand father and great-grandfather.

I know my own life has been enriched knowing both Bob and Dorrie.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Maize Bausch

I met Maize a couple of years ago when I photographed some of her paintings.  She is vibrant and lively, a force of nature.  Since I did this interview her grandson has posted an archive of her work here.

Maize was born in Greenwich, CT in 1925 and began painting in her early 20s and became seriously involved in her art around 1972.  She and her husband Carl moved to Vermont and designed and built their home in Charlotte in the early 1960s.  While they were raising their children, Carl began a boat building business and Maize continued to paint.  She remembers Carl's decision to build her a studio and her delight and anticipation as it progressed.

Using the studio, finished in 1980, made a huge difference in her painting.  Maize feels her work took a leap, became much more spontaneous and energetic.  She would spend hours working and listening to music on her tiny radio - classical, jazz, Billie Holliday.  When Carl heard the radio he bought a better sound system!

Both partners loved their work and spent many happy, productive years, rejoining each other for dinner in the evenings.  Maize's painting career flourished.  She was a member of the Womens' Caucus for Art in Vermont and she exhibited her work here and around New England.  Maize says her connections to the arts community and other artists are very important to her.  She looks forward to the South End Community Art Hop each year, exhibiting and meeting old and new friends, always showing new work.

She feels her life is very full now, with her work, children and grandchildren.  Carl died in 1988 and she muses about how he would interact with the family, what a wonderful grandfather he would have been.

I asked Maize how she stays so energetic.  She loves to be out and about, in the woods at home, gardening, especially flowers - high tone marigolds - and spending with her family.  She greets each day with her yoga practice, swims when she can, eats lightly.  Maize values good conversation, not just chit chat, but real substance.

Her inspiration?  Being alive.  "The statement - being alive - has a ring to it.  It wakes us up and directs good."  Of her art, Maize says, "It's abstract.  I'm not looking at anything in particular, I want to stay open; I don't paint exactly what I see, but what comes from within."