Old Secretary

Thoughts and jottings of an old legal secretary, now retired with lots of time to think and scribble. Look for political comments, life stories and tales of people I know and have known . . .

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Thank You Letter to Dad

Tried to think what I should/could do for your birthday and then it hit me.  I should say Thank you.

Here’s what happened.   That old John Howard Yoder stuff was brought up again – about his problems with women.  I looked at some of the stuff and wondered why women didn’t complain, didn’t go to the police, didn’t make a big stink when John Howard “molested” them.  I was told by several women that they did complain, but because they were Mennonite women of a certain generation, they only complained to his supervisors/employers and, in some cases, their pastors.  I was also told that all of these hundreds of complaints were hidden away somewhere in Elkhart because of who John Howard was; that this was covered up by the Mennonite church for years.  I have asked specifically what it was that John Howard did, since I’ve never heard any details of what sins he committed.  Did he compliment some prickly woman on how she looked or did he rape someone?  No one can (or will) give me a specific answer.  I wondered, “Out of hundreds of women of my generation who were bothered, molested, complimented, raped, whatever by JHY, there was not one “Take-no-shit-Daughter of Daniel?  Not one?”

So, I started thinking about why this kind of stuff happens.  I started thinking about how I figured out what to do when approached by men soon after I started my first job as a secretary at a law firm in Chicago, in 1973.  I’ve never told you this, but it wasn’t easy – there were no sympathetic (let alone powerful) women lawyers, there was no EEOC, there was no one to complain to if a man bothered you.  You were on your own.  It didn’t take long to realize that the men for whom I worked expected certain benefits, shall we say?  Within a couple of months of starting the job, I knew exactly who was sleeping with who.  And I soon knew that once it was over, the woman was the one who lost her job.  I determined that would never happen to me.  So, the first time someone approached me, I acted dumb and said, “I’m just a little Mennonite girl from the country.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Man, you should have seen his face!  I KNOW he had visions of a little Amish girl, with a covering and long dress, in a buggy!  Worked like a charm.
As time went on, I got older and bolder.  A managing partner once said something kind of creepy to me.  The first time I ignored him.  A couple days later, another remark.  I got up, went to his office, shut the door and said, “We need to talk. You’ve made some remarks in the last couple days that I don’t like and I wish you’d stop.” His face got beet red, he knew exactly what I was talking about and said, “Oh, come on, Bender, you know I was just playing.”  “No, Billy, I don’t know that.  And, if you just don’t say anything like that to me ever again, I won’t have to wonder, will I?  And, by the way, I play with my friends.  This is my job and I’d like to keep it on a professional level.  Understood?”  Never had another problem with him.

One evening, an on-again, off-again boyfriend of way-back-when got on my last nerve.  I remember demanding that he leave my apartment and went to open the door.  He grabbed my arm and said, “I’m not going anywhere.  Try and make me.”  He was at least a foot taller and probably 80 pounds heavier than me.  I puffed myself up to all 5’2” of me and said, “Get the hell out of my house.  If you don’t the next view you’ll have will be from the floor here in front of my door and it will be painful.”  Don’t know what I planned to do, but it sounded good.  He left.  I never saw him again.
I started thinking about some of my experiences with men on and off over the years and I wondered how I had the nerve to do and say some of the things I did.  And then it hit me.  I grew up with Dad.  I don’t know if you ever came right out and said it, but the lessons I learned from you were to never let anyone hurt me without telling, to not allow people to disrespect me, to always stand up for myself, to think for myself, to tell the truth, to never let anyone pressure me to do or believe something I didn’t want to.  Maybe it was your example – it certainly was your example – but I think you said it, too.  I remember you telling me that I had to read the Bible and think about what it meant and pray and come to a faith of my own.  Certainly, if that important area of my life was one I had to determine and control, so were others.  I think I told you about an attorney I worked for whose parents had been Church of Christ missionaries – he once asked me about the fact that I still believed (he claimed he didn’t) and I told him what you said.  He said, “You are so lucky to have had a Dad who was that wise, who knew you had to come to faith on your own.”  I laughed and said, “You’re just a child; read the Bible, pray about it, think about it, and you’ll get there too.  It doesn’t happen when you’re 26!”  He was one of the best, kindest, most respectful people I ever worked with and we’re still in touch. 

One last story.  Just before we retired, one of the Seyfarth partners came to my desk and said, “You know, every single attorney in this firm knows you.”  Yeah, right, all 400 of them know me.  “Well, they don’t KNOW you, but they know you.  Want to know what they call you?  The secretary who won’t take any shit.”  I laughed and said I’d wear that title with pride!  He said, “Here’s the rest of the story.  When they hear you’re available for an assignment, they’re beating the door down at HR trying to get you to work for them.  They all know you!”  Your lessons, your advice, your instructions worked, Dad!
So, thank you.  Thank you for your advice and instruction; thank you for your example.  Thank you for your love and care and protection.  Sorry it took me 64 years to figure this out, but glad you’re still around to thank!  Thank you.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ora Magdalene Kremer Bender, 1921-2014

Mom died on January 20, 2014, at 10:30 in the morning.  This is the piece I wrote for her homegoing service.

Good morning and thank you for coming.  My pastor, Leamon Sowell, used to say, “We are not here to mourn or cry; we are not here to be sad or shed tears.  We are here to celebrate a  homegoing."  Indeed!  Mom’s homegoing.
I am the firstborn of Ora and Daniel and was asked by my brothers, The Boys, to share a few memories and stories.  I have often been accused of embellishment and exaggeration when I get to telling stories.  It’s my nature.  The ones I’m telling this morning are true, the way I remember them.

One thing I don’t like about funerals is that folks know only one or two people in the family.  So, I’d like to take a moment and introduce us.  I lived in Chicago all my adult life, worked as a legal secretary, married a Chicago police officer and retired to Cape Coral, FL ten years ago.  Judy was born 13 months later.  She is married to Byard Yoder, a medical doctor in Manheim, PA.  They have two sons, Jeremy and Jonathan; Jonathan is married to Jonilyn.  Most of you probably know The Boys, Evan and Eric, who have farmed with Dad for many years here in Rockingham County.  Evan has a wonderful, brilliant, loving, long-haired dog named Sheila and more friends than Carter has pills.  Eric is still the baby of the family, an answer to many prayers after our family lost a little girl, Holly Ann.  He is married to LuAnn, who teaches at EMHS. They have four children:  Joseph, Malinda, Mary and Michael.
Mom graduated from high school at 16 and was teaching one-room country school soon thereafter.  She worked for 10 years before meeting and marrying Dad, as a custom dressmaker for Singer Sewing and as a cashier at a cafeteria frequented by military men stationed in Lincoln, Nebraska during World War II.  Lots of interesting stories.

But what sticks in my mind about that part of Mom’s life is the model she was of independence and self respect.  She was my first feminist example, a woman who thought for herself, but respected Dad, a woman who had her own opinions, some of which may have surprised you, a woman who was aware of the world outside of her Mennonite community.  She wasn’t your typical 1950’s mom.  She was amazing.
And Mom believed a woman needed her own little stash of cash.  Many of you probably know that the folks sold milk for many years to customers who picked it up at the farm.  What you probably don’t know is that Dad bought the cows, Dad fed the cows, Dad milked the cows and Dad usually strained the milk into gallon jars.  Mom kept the cash.  And she ruled it with an iron fist, stored in a glass jar in the cupboard next to the kitchen sink.  That was her stash of cash, hers to spend on special projects such as new living room drapes or a dress for Byard’s med school graduation.  If you borrowed any of the stash, you knew to put a note in the jar detailing what you had borrowed, after Mom approved your loan application!   And you’d better pay it back!  Mom’s stash of cash!

Mom and Dad weren’t the mushy, gushy type, but they loved and trusted each other without reservation.  Many years ago, when I convinced Dad to see a lawyer about doing some estate planning, one of the questions he was asked concerned the amount of his estate that was attributable to Mom’s efforts and contributions.  “Fifty-fifty” declared Dad.  The attorney asked if Mom had worked or inherited money – how did he come to the fifty-fifty figure.  “Well,” Dad said, “she kept the house clean, she cooked meals, she ran errands for me, she raised four children, she took messages, she brought food to the field, she gave me good advice.  Fifty-fifty is how it has to be.”  The attorney stammered that the IRS probably wouldn’t agree with that assessment.  Fifty-fifty said Dad.
Several months later, Mom told me that she had gone to the lawyer’s office to sign some papers.  The lawyer gave her the estate documents, asked her to read them and told her he would answer any questions once she was finished.  “Oh, no,” said Mom.  “I don’t have to read them.  Daniel said to come and sign them, so just show me where to sign.”  Fifty-fifty.  Just show me where to sign.  Doesn’t get much better than that.

Now to Mom and the stories.  I know a mom that most of you probably don’t.  She was sassy, funny, quick with a  joke, a trick, a laugh, advice.  I am eternally grateful for her words, which still ring in my head when I’m walking out the door.  “Look in the mirror.  Is that what you want people to see?”  Those words served me well for many years.  And Mom lived them – always dressed neatly in a dress, with her hair combed in a roll.  Ask someone over 60 about that hairdo!  One of my earliest memories is watching her get dressed to go out one evening.  I was about five and she was pregnant with Evan.  She had a beautiful teal blue maternity dress; the top had pleats and sparkly buttons.  She had already combed her hair and the lines of her seamed stockings went straight up the back of her legs.  I remember looking at her and thinking, “I have the most beautiful mommy in the world.”  And indeed I did.  A few months ago, her cousin Barbara sent me some old pictures she had found.  Mom was breathtakingly, incredibly, achingly beautiful.
Birthdays were big deals in our house.  The birthday person got to pick the menu for the day and our wishes were Mom’s command.  At supper there was a big cake of the honoree’s choice – I remember a lot of angel food.  The year I was five – that year sticks in my mind for some reason – probably the impending arrival of Evan.  All my friends were having birthday parties and I asked Mom if I could have one.  I begged and pleaded and nagged and begged some more and finally she said, “Well, okay, we’ll have a party on Saturday.”  As those of you who know me will appreciate, just give me the nod and I’ll get the job done.  I immediately started making rounds of the neighborhood, inviting all my little friends to my birthday party.  Mom found out when Stevie Eicher’s mother stopped by to ask what time the party was going to be.  I had a great time on Saturday!

Mom waited 11 years to get her revenge.  The year I turned 16, we lived in Iowa and since I was the oldest and it was summer, I was out in the field with Dad, all day, every day.  The day of my birthday, I remember growling when Mom asked what I wanted to eat, what kind of cake to bake.  Supper time came and my favorite foods were on the table.  I was bone tired, so after supper, I took a shower and put on my pajamas. “Oh, no,” said Mom.  “You’ve got to get dressed.  You can’t be sitting around here in your pajamas.”  I refused to get dressed.  Mom kept fussing, “Get dressed,” and I soon found out why.  A car drove in the lane and inside were my five best girlfriends from IMS, a true surprise because we lived too far apart to see each other during the summer.  I couldn’t believe it!  What fun!  Ardith and Joyce and Ruthie and Linda and Diane.  I got dressed.
About 30 minutes later, another car drove in the lane and out jumped the six boys that my friends and I thought were “special.”  Ardith’s mouth dropped open and I remember Mom starting to snicker.  Ardith said, “Why are they here?  How did they know about the party?  Who told them?” Mom’s snicker turned into a roar as she laughed, “Well you thought you’d surprise Debra, so I decided to surprise you!”  Mom, who had the uncanny ability to know about these things knew which boys we liked, called one of them, explained the surprise party plans and asked him to bring the other five boys.  I was dumbfounded; I was incredibly happy and excited; I had more fun than a barrel of monkeys that night.  I remember playing games and opening presents and a nice long game of Walk a Mile down dark country roads, topped off with birthday cake and ice cream!  And when I think about the two birthdays, I wonder if Mom thought, “I’ll surprise her like she surprised me!”  My 16th birthday still remains my all time favorite.  It was amazing.

So, my sassy, wonderful, loving, all-knowing Mom.  We love you, we miss you, but we know you’ve gone home, to a place that made even Steve Jobs gasp with wonder, a place where you’re happy and healthy again, a place where you’ll always be the most beautiful mommy in the world!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Oh, Yeah, She Got It

Stopped at the local "cut it quick" hair salon a couple weeks ago. It was The Day When My Hair Drove Me Crazy, we were getting ready for a long trip to Milwaukee for Cliff's annual check-up and I needed a haircut . . . Only one hair cutter in the place, but she assured me she'd cut my hair as soon as she "self-medicated." I almost tipped over into fight or flee mode, but I was already there. I decided to take my chances. She was skinny and blond and looked to have many hard years on her. Self-medicated, with scissors in hand, she started to work.

As she cut, she asked what I thought about the presidential race. Now, knowing that I'm one of only about six registered Democrats in Lee County, I usually keep my mouth shut in public (hard to believe for those of you who know me, I'm sure). I said, "I try not to discuss politics," or some other inane thing. Well, that didn't stop her. She said, "Do you know what they're trying to do to women? Do you know they're trying to stop us from getting abortions and birth control and pap smears and mammograms and affordable help from Planned Parenthood? Did you know that?" I almost fell out of the chair, but we started talking. Here was a woman who I assumed hated the president, a woman who would never vote for him, a woman who probably attended white-hooded rallies and cheered our horribly racist sheriff. But, excuse me, here she was, explaining in detail what would happen if Richie Rich were to be elected. "You know," she said. "I think they think women have gotten out of control, that's what I think." She asked me how old I was and if I remembered when abortion was illegal. Oh, yes, indeedy, said I. I told her about my friend whose aunt died from an illegal abortion; and the time I accompanied another friend when she had a legal abortion.

I have many friends who have made that decision, for many reasons. It was never easy; it was never forgotten; it was always agonizing. I am solidly pro-choice but I don't know whether I could ever have made that decision.  But it's a legal medical procedure and I don't think I have the right to say another woman can't make that decision. Sometimes it's the only option. Well, my new friend, the self-medicated haircutter, asked if I ever thought we'd be discussing this in 2012; I said I found it appalling after what my generation went through in the 1960's, over 50 years ago. I'll never forget the first time I asked for contraception and was totally and completely humiliated by the "doctor".

I left the salon the other week, assured that my hunch is right. If this woman got it, if she understood it well enough to be horrified by what may happen, then my hunch is right. Women may tell pollsters they're for Richie Rich, but when they get in that voting booth, all by themselves, and think what may happen to women if he's elected, it will be an easy decision. They'll vote to re-elect President Barack Obama.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

A Real Easter Bunny

The Husband and I have long foregone religious celebrations and high holy days and what have you. We answer aghast questioners with this clever little line: "Given our success with Cliff's medical experiences, every day is Christmas and every Friday's good!" It's worked to calm the condemnation of many a religious zealot, shall we say.

Now that we're retired, we frequent a local restaurant where one of the waitresses, a big, funny, wonderful woman has taken a liking to us. She comes and talks, whether we're in her section or not. She always makes us laugh and is a real day brightener, in her own unique way.

About a week ago, she shuffled her way into the booth next to me and said, "Hey, I know you guys don't have any family down here. How about you come and have barbecue with us on Easter?" She wrote her address on a little card, with her phone number and said, "I really hope you'll come" and walked away.

The Husband is not a social being - for a lot of reasons, and I try to respect that. But, I looked at him and he said, "I know you want to go," giving me the look. I said, "Sometimes you have to be a gracious receiver and, really, how kind and wonderful is it that Andrea thought of us." So, we're going. And I'm grateful for small kindnesses. And I'm so proud of The Husband!

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Assassination of Fred Hampton

On December 4, 1969, just a few months after I moved to Chicago, Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were shot to death by Chicago police who kicked in their apartment door at 4:00 a.m. and fired over 90 shots to one possibly accidental shot from the Panthers. I worked in the Financial Aid Office at the U of I, and I didn't really understand why everyone was so upset. I was lucky enough to have a co-worker, Rakia Muhammed-Bey, who kindly sat me down and explained why this was so horrific and so important. I've never forgotten her or her kindness to a clueless little white girl.

A few weeks ago, I noticed an ad for a book, "The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the Chicago Police and the FBI Murdered a Black Panther," written by Jeffrey Haas, one of the attorneys who labored for years representing the survivors and their families in what ended up a federal case. It is an amazing story that traces the order to kill Hampton to Richard Nixon, John Mitchell and COINPROTEL. The question that continues to confound me: Why was a 21-year-old black man such a threat to the President of the United States? Could it possibly be true that it wasn't the hated Ed Hanrahan and the CPD who cooked up the plot to kill Hampton and Clark?

And then, at page 298, I got the shock of my life. Haas talks about calling his last witness, "George Jones, one of the two black officers on the CPD team, a soft-spoken, well-dressed man." My husband worked several years with George in the lobby of police headquarters at 11th and State. If you thought I was shocked, you should have seen his face - he absolutely could not believe it. He said George never mentioned his involvement, never mentioned the murders, never mentioned the court case. Nothing. Ever. George died several years ago.

So, I call my friend, Evelyn, who's knowledgeable about all things Chicago and I'm ranting on about George and the book and can you believe this shit? She said, in her calm Evelyn style, "Well, Debra, guess who I know. I know "Gloves" Davis, the other black officer on the team!"

"Did you know him in Chicago? Did you know he was involved? Do you know why they call him 'Gloves?' Do you know who ordered the assassinations?" I babbled.

"No, I met him when he moved in across the street from me here in Arizona. Never knew him before; met him when we moved from Chicago to retirement paradise. He was a bitter, sad old man who could only talk about his work as a police officer and he told me the whole Hampton story. He said he had everything written down, in his house, and he was going to write a book. No one could come in his house; I put a chair in my garage for him, where we'd sit and talk. He died about a year ago."

How weird is that? I know George and Evelyn knows "Gloves." How weird is that?

So, read the book. It's a page-turner and even though it's a "legal" book, it's written in layman's terms and is easy, eye-popping reading.