St. Paul’s Methodist Nursery School Director (1956), Mrs. Chitimba

25 Jun


Those of you who know me know that I grew up in the church, but you might not know that I attended nursery school here in 1956 and 1957. I am sixty-three going on sixty-four and that means that I was in at the beginning. Two of the other children were Susie Geer, Elaine’s sister, and one of the Rossiter boys, a brother-in-law of Christine Stockwell, who was in my carpool. The snacks were different back then, mostly grapefruit juice and Ritz crackers. There were more wooden and metal toys, but fewer plastic. We did a lot of finger painting on paper that looked like butcher block paper and we painted on easels in old white shirts of our fathers’. Play-Doh came out in 1956 and became one of the playthings in our nursery school. A record player was provided that played yellow vinyl records. One was the “The Farmer in the Dell.” We had a fire escape that we went down to get to the yard and then used to get back up again. I remember there were about twenty of us and we acted like any three-year-olds

The reason I wanted to speak to you is because I wanted to tell you about the director, Mrs. Chitimba. Academics usually leave a paper trail, but I’m not able to start one because I don’t know the exact spelling of her name. She was one of the best-looking women I have ever encountered. She was a tall woman from India with perfect facial features, and black hair to her shoulders, a somewhat liberal cut for an Indian woman at that time. Her saris gave her a touch of elegance. She had a bindi on her forehead, that red mark that signifies that the woman is Hindu, married, and of an upper caste. I remember how confident she was and that she laughed a lot. She probably had assistants, but her force field was so strong that I don’t remember them. She and her husband were only here for several years, which means that he was most likely a Cornell graduate student, and she probably already had a degree.

I have an image of her that has stuck with me–she is standing on the fire escape, looking down at us in the backyard., as the wind lifts her sari. She would be in her eighties now; possibly she is no longer living, but I wish I could find out more about her. Little girls always look up to women who have their act together and she belonged in that category.





Communion–How or How Not To Commune

16 Jun


Yesterday during Communion I was reprimanded  for not taking the piece of bread the lay person offered and taking a piece next to it instead. “Please don’t do that,” she said.  I responded with “I always do that,” which I admit was not diplomatic and off the top of my head and not well thought out.  Typically, six to eight people serve the congregation  in the front of the church and the ushers let us go up row-by-row to have a piece of unleavened bread handed to us, which we are then supposed to dip in a goblet of juice.  My primary reason was that I think this way of handling Communion–having congregants break off a piece of bread with their hands and passing it on to other church members–is unsanitary.

However, this type of service by the lay people is not my only beef with the practice.  I also think handling Communion in this fashion is very “high church,” a term used to connote a church service that has an elevation of pomp and circumstance,  and that I think not appropriate for a Methodist.  It is true that one of the things that Catholic churches and the Methodist churches have in common is that it is considered okay for the minister to place the bread on the tongue.  But this is a highly controversial practice, , and does not happen often.  Protestants do not believe it is necessary to have someone intercede between them and God, so in the symbolic sense this kind of Communion doesn’t coincide with actual church teachings.  I did go ahead and dip the bread into a common goblet, which is maybe worse in terms of sanitation.  A local minister told me that this practice is referred to as intinction.   She also said that using wine instead of juice would be more sanitary, but there is some concern with alcoholics being in a position where they have to drink alcohol.  Some argue, in addition, that merging the intake of the bread and the wine isn’t biblical because they are separate in the Lord Supper (Christianity Stack Exchange).

The United Methodist Church website states that “The term Holy Communion invites us to focus on the self-giving of the Holy God which makes the sacrament an occasion of grace, and on the holiness of our communion with God and one another,” This Holy Mystery continues.  This emphasis on being together with other people to participate in a sacrament is implicit in the word “communion,” but I think the symbolism works better when people are together in a circle, as opposed to trooping to the front of the sanctuary and being served by lay people.

At Walker Methodist church in Minneapolis, I had a similar problem with Communion and sanitation.  I was involved with hospitality and one of the things I did was to bring the goblets to the stage for the service.  I also filled them with cranberry juice, but I did not drink from them.  Once we had finished the service, we would assemble on stage in a circle, share joys and concerns, celebrate Communion, and then finish by singing “Amazing Grace.” Communion consisted of the minister, Walter, raising the bread and the juice and then passing them around the circle.  For some reason I was not too bothered when the bread loaves were passed around.  I would simply try to tear off a hunk in a fresh place, but I usually avoided dipping my hunk in a goblet.  Despite this one problem, Communion at Walker was a community experience and preferable what I have experienced in some other churches in that it brought people together.  Passing the bread and juice had the advantage of in some way mimicking the way Jesus shared the fish and loaves in the Bible.  Although Communion is taken from the scripture about the Lord’s Supper, his sharing of food earlier in the New Testament prefigures the Lord’s Supper.

As a small girl growing up in my church, I was in awe of the whole Communion process.  Pieces of unleavened bread were passed on silver salvers by the ushers.  They tasted like saltines with no salt.  Each person took a piece from the plate and waited for the minister to say something holy.  Then we swallowed them simultaneously.  Next, tiny glasses of grape juice inserted in  large round holders made of silver plate were passed around.  My mother always became very nervous around the grape juice, but I was very excited to hold the tiny glass in my hand and drink along with everyone else.  After we finished drinking, we put the cups in small holes that were located on small shelves on the backs of the pews.  I realize that taking care of the silver and washing the little glasses was probably an arduous task.  Perhaps the contemporary ways of serving Communion stem from an attempt to make the sacrament less formal and less work, but both of the more recent examples that I have described are not as sanitary as possible.  In addition, the current situation at my church of having two lay people serve Communion, one who passes out a piece of bread and another who holds the goblet that the bread is to be dipped in, doesn’t contribute to my sense of community.  I’m taking the bread separately and, if I’m daring, dipping the bread into the goblet by myself, not in the company of other people.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of my favorite intellectuals, began his career as a Harvard Divinity School student and was ordained early on.  But he left the Unitarian Church because he didn’t think it should be the province of the minister to intercede between God and man.  I agree with him in principle, but think the fact of the pastor administering Communion doesn’t make him or her holy. However, it was an argument against a minister performing the sacrament on which Emerson chose to take his departure.

Emerson was very influenced by the Romantic poets and their sense of self, so it is not surprising that he chose to focus his belief system on an approach to spirituality that centered on the individual and his relationship to God.  In Uncollected Prose, he refers to the confusion caused by the many interpretations of the Lord Supper, “In the history of the Church no subject has been more fruitful of controversy than the Lord’s Supper. There never has been any unanimity in the understanding of its nature, nor any uniformity in the mode of celebrating it.”  For this reason and others, celebrating Communion does not always create a sense of togetherness with other Christians.

Experiencing awe over a sacrament is also harder when you’re an adult and have been through Communion so many times, but it is usually a religious experience for me and in the past a joyful one.  Having to choose how I partake of this sacrament certainly takes away from its mystery and glory.

The Mill District in Minneapolis

14 May


What we have here is a view of Third Street Bridge and part of the Minneapolis city center.  Scott and I used to sit below the cottonwoods.

Mill District, MinneapolisMills%20District%207.jpg

Now I’m looking the other way to the Covered Stone Arch Bridge.  The bridge is in the distance, partly obscured by trees.

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CorT Thinking

24 Mar

CoRT Thinking–

One cold Saturday in March, I partook of a workshop led by Claire Perez, a member of my Lansing Writers’ Group, at Lansing Community Library.  When we made it to the audience participation part, she had us go through three writing exercises.   The CoRT Thinking exercise is the one I’m sharing with you below.  Claire ran into this exercise at an education conference.

In the website, “CorT Thinking Online, 60 Lessons in Thinking,”an Irish-based registered multimedia company called Devine media, explains the steps in Edward de Bono’s process.

de Bono designed this system as a means of practical thinking that leads to practical solutions, not so much as a way to demonstrate intelligence.  He thinks emotions are positive but that they should never take the place of “good thinking.”  He feels that the showing off of intelligence often does not lead to practical solutions to problems.  I’m not sure that I fit into his system exactly because I immediately shifted to philosophy when I moved to the “Interesting” part of the evaluation.  Looking for plus and minus points though is a way to make sure that  the options available to you are broad enough. They worked well for me and I felt that I was within the program.

Claire started out by saying, “Take a decision you’re ambitious to take.  Then look at the pluses, minuses, and the interesting possiblities that can be available to a person making that choice.”

I chose “losing weight.”

Plus, Minus, Interesting


1) I would take up less space.
2) I would feel better.
3) I would have to buy new clothes.
4) I would be happier.


1) I might have to give up desserts.
2)   I would lose my breast size.  I used to be as flat as a board.
3)  I might be hungry all day.
4)  I would be giving in to all the advertising to stay thin.


1)   I could see what I’d look like at a thinner 63.
2)  I could think about other things besides my weight.
3)  When I become thinner, will I become a different person?

My third question led me to thinking about  Alice from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and her changes in size: “I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ (What Do I Know About Me Quotes) Ah, that’s the great puzzle! The value to me in losing weight is not that I will demonstrate my will power, which was part of my goal when I had anoerexia years ago, but the promise of becoming a healthier, honed version of myself, both physically and mentally.

A question for later analysis: Going even further, when are you you and when are you not you?

Practical Reasoning Behind Use of CoRT thinking:

I found a practical application of de Bono’s approach to thinking in Graeme Allan’s blog “It’s Time for New Thinking.” Allan says that [sic] “there are two key reasons why the exploration of interesting possibilities, or alternatives, is such an integral part of the PMI tool. If we like the new idea to begin with, by looking for interesting possibilities, we can broaden our view of the idea, find more reasons to like it.  According to Allan,  “Dr de Bono insists this is only possible if we give deliberate attention to looking for interesting possibilities in an idea we already like.”  He also states the reason that de Bono uses an acronym is because “[sic]his reasoning is simple and clear: It is much easier to say: Let’s do a PMI on that idea, rather than: Let’s do a Plus, Minus, Interesting on that idea.”  Allan has been working with de Bono’s PMI tools since 1975.


Carpenter Ants

3 Mar


New York Carpenter Ant Queen (This picture is magnified.  The actual length is about two thirds this long, the body one third this size.)

The comments of my writers’ group members appear in italics.

Ants.  When I was a little girl one of my reccurring dreams concerned huge black ants that jumped from one lily pad to another.  I was terrified that I would be killed by them.

Forward forty-some years to my newly-bought  Mock Tudor house in Minneapolis.  During the final walk through my mother discovered that the left inside of my bedroom closet was wet.  In Minnesota unlike in New York, lawyers are not usually present at closings.  We had discovered the leak after having signed the contract, so my mother’s discovery came late in the game and there was no lawyer to press the issue.  After some haggling, everyone present agreed on $200.00.  Not surprisingly, the cost to fix the closet turned out to be more than $2,000.

However, we did not find that out right away because we thought it was a small leak and didn’t immediately hire someone to work on it.  I moved in during July of 1990 and we were enjoying typical Minnesota weather with many 90 degree days, so hot that it often made inside work difficult. The focus of my friends and I was the upstairs bedroom where my pregnant roommate, Roberta, was to live.  Initially she lived in my living room and used the sofa bed, so preparing the bedroom walls in the upstairs bedroom and having new carpeting installed became my priorities. Scott, my best friend in Minneapolis, Earl, and Roberta, who were both co-workers like Scott,  began to work on steaming off the old wallpaper, and preparing the walls with primer. It took a long time and come late fall I was still measuring wallpaper and Scott was still hanging it.  My bedroom closet was far from my mind.

The following summer I awoke to a buzz in the walls.  In my first blurry moments I thought one of my neighbors was using a hand saw, but that didn’t account for the fact that the sawing sound was so close to me. I walked to the closet, suspicious now, and opened the  door, confirming that the sound was indeed coming from the left interior wall.  I also saw some ants in the vicinity.  I immediately called some exterminators who came and sprayed.  They pulled apart a small section of the wall.  It was wet and full of tunnels.  There were few ants left.

They  explained that I had carpenter ants.  Typically, carpenter ants are attracted to wet wood for their nests.  There is no way to save the wet wood.  It had to be removed.  After discovering carpenter ants, the goal is to keep them from tunneling into dry wood, which they would also channel through.  At this point, Doug Baird from my Lansing Writers’ Group, reminds me that the ants do not actually eat the wood; they merely make channels through it.  The guys spent time spraying the baseboards and the surrounding area, in hopes that the ants would take the poison back to that nest and any other nests in the area.  They warned me that there were three sizes of ants in a typical nest, but the one to watch for was the queen.  She was quite large and hard to miss. If I saw the queen, I should make sure to kill her because the sight of a queen away from her current home, meant that she was looking for a new place to nest.  But my first goal should be to replace the damaged wood.

I started taking chunks  out of the wall with my hands when I came home at night.  Although wet, it was like handling driftwood because it was hollowed out.  Before I knew it the giant nest was mostly gone but so was most of the closet.  I realized that all I had for insulation was  1930s newspapers (my house was built in 1933).  I made arrangements for a plasterer to come in with his crew to rebuild the closet, with modern insulation,  and to re-plaster part of the wall in the next bedroom.  The initial cause turned out to be a leak in the juncture between a gable and the connecting part of the roof. Because of this problem, I had to have work done on the gutter outside and the piece of roof underneath it.

Alas, that was not to be the end of the story.  A few years later, I discovered a queen carpenter ant flying uncertainly in one of my living room windows.  I grabbed a paper towel and folded her into it.  Sometimes I save spiders and Daddy-long-legs, but the queen was flushed right down the toilet.  She looked just like the above picture, but she was entirely black.  I’d thrown her out, but I knew that meant there was a nest close by.  However, I didn’t immediately find one.

The second nest I discovered was in my first floor bathroom ceiling.  Again, the first sign there was a problem was the sighting of a queen.  I had yet another exterminator come.  This guy was new to the job and made me nervous because he said he hadn’t had much experience handling poison.  For a couple years afterward there was some kind of yellow gook hanging from a corner of the ceiling.  It might actually have been from the ants.  My understanding was that he used dioxin, but Gary Van Houten, also from my Lansing Writers’ Group, who has had a lot of experience with chemicals, told me that dioxin would never have been used–it is much too dangerous. Before I sold the house, I had to have that part of the ceiling reconstructed.  I can definitely testify to the damage carpenter ants do.

One thing that I can testify to is that if you tell a like story to the guys in your writers’ group, they will try to impress you with tales of their derring-do in insect devastation.  In my case, Doug told of his and his brother’s heroism in defeating yellow jackets in their parents’ basement with insect spray.  Gary started off with a rollicking tale of bees and honey in his walls, but ended up  admitting that some critter ate both the bees and the honey.

Partner Yoga

17 Feb
This blog post was inspired by a partner yoga class on February 14, Valentine’s Day, at the Lansing Community Center in Lansing, New York.  Brenda D’Angelo is the teacher of this Kripalu Yoga Class.
Partner Yoga
Put your mats side by side; sit back to back.
Interlock your arms, feel the other’s breath.
Now stretch, now lean–first backwards, then forwards.
Come together, come together.
Ask your partner, “Can we move now?”
“Am I hurting you?” “How does it feel?
Always move in sync, always speak your mind.
Come together, come together.
Try a partner twist, then stand up, form two trees.
Now a buddy boat pose, foot to foot,
Do a partner forward-fold, clasp the arms, feet in a V.
Come together, come together.


28 Jan

Harlan and Sukey Brumsted at Bob’s Lake


From lower left, then clockwise, Jimmy, John, Dave, Sukey, Harlan, and Alan Brumsted


I came to know my mother’s best friend, Sukey, when my parents attended Grandma Lela’s November funeral in Monticello.  The edict had come down from my pediatrician that it might not be a good idea for such young children–I was six and my brother was a toddler–to go to a funeral.  As a result, we both ended up in Sukey and Harlan’s house on Cornell Street in Ithaca.   Sukey had been in my life since my beginning, but this stay was my first solid memory of her.  I was full of wonder, not used to a household so dominated by four children of the male species. The house smelled of boys–that mixture of dirt, washed and unwashed clothes, and creatures, living and dead.  Sukey was in perpetual motion in the house; it seemed like she never sat down and was always doing laundry.  I didn’t always know what to do with myself during the visit, so I often found myself climbing upstairs and going into the room of the oldest boy, David.  She was one of the people who taught me to float–at Flat Rock, no less and she did try to teach me how to sew, a session which ended in tears on my part, because I didn’t understand what she wanted me to do.
Harlan was in Natural Resources and his son became a collector of butterflies and moths, carefully pinning and mounting them in what I remember to be display cases.  The other boys were less formed at that point, especially Jimmy, who was my brother’s age.    One of my most embarrassing moments during my stay came when I was playing with the boys outside.  I didn’t know how to play with boys, so when Alan and some of the boys from the neighborhood pantomimed peeing on their bicycles, I pretended I had a penis, too, and copied them.  Alan thought this was hysterical.  “Did you see what she just did?” he laughed and I was mortified.
Mom and Sukey’s relationship dated back to their days as Cornell students and sorority sisters.  One day Mom was sitting on the wall next to the campus store and a friendly girl walked over to her and said “hello.”  That was Sukey Call.  Mom became the little sister to Sukey’s big sister in Delta Gamma. Sukey took Mom to Batavia, New York to meet her family and see the family farm, which was originally a dairy farm and now grows veg crops.  Mom has categorized the Calls as friendly, confident, and highly intelligent.  When Sukey showed Mom around the farm, she lamented the days when she grew turkeys, but she was close to her family, and that impressed my mother.  After they graduated from Cornell, they both came back to Ithaca with their spouses.  A letter from Sukey to Mom at the time is signed, “Love, Sukey,” and talks about Harlan attending Cornell to achieve his PhD in Natural Resources.
Sukey was always considered to be a wonderful hostess and there was no difference with me, even though I was six.  I’d been shocked when I heard that my Grandmother Lela was dead, and, all of the sudden, here I was in this vivacious woman’s house having a completely different experience from a funeral.  Her most unique physical characteristic was the way her conversation was punctuated with laughter.  She would throw out her hands to greet you and laugh, and then say hello, and then laugh again. One day she took me for a ride in the car and I said, “Mrs. Brumsted,” and then I asked her a question.  She said, “Just call us Sukey and Harlan,” and I always did after that.  That marked an important moment in my life.  Even though her relationship with my mother would always come first, I realized that this was the family that wasn’t biological, but still was family and I would always be a part of that.
In many ways theirs was a relationship based on similarities.  They moved through their lives in tandem. Both of them had majored in different subjects in what was then called Home Economics at Cornell.  They were both allowed by their parents to go to school where they wanted to and had parents who expected them to do well.  When you walked into a room and they were there, they were among the best-looking people and you were able to hear their voices above the din.  It has always surprised me that such dominant personalities meshed, but it was always a working friendship.  Sukey was Mom’s “big sister,” so not surprisingly she started having children first, but two of her children were the same age as me and my brother.  My mother and Sukey were literally so close in timing with one of their pregnancies that Sukey took over my mother’s bed in the hospital, where Mom had given birth to Barth, to give birth to Jimmy.  Significantly, the two boys were to become friends.
Every Christmas Eve our families met after church at the Brumsted home, which was now a palatial stone house in Cayuga Heights.  Everyone was dressed up because we had just come home from church and back then people wore their very best on such occasions.  Of particular note was the clothing Harlan and my dad wore.  They always paid attention to their appearance: Harlan was the only son of a haberdasher (an older term that Harlan used meaning a seller of men’s clothing) in Batavia and my father was so tall that my grandparents had his clothes made for him by a tailor.  The suits they wore fit perfectly and their ties were silk and exquisite, maybe not what you would expect from two small-town boys.
The Christmas Eve exchange has as much to do with food and drink as it did with good conversation.  Harlan served an array of drinks including spiked eggnog, whiskey sours, bloody marys, gin and tonics, and vodka tonics.  He took great enjoyment in listing all his offerings.  His whisky sours were the best I’ve ever had.  Our food included Christmas cookies from both families, crackers with herring sauce or cheddar cheese atop, and shrimp.  Our family exchanged grapefruit from Florida, all sectioned by my father in preparation for Christmas morning, for a breakfast ring from Sukey.  This Christmas I was very aware of Sukey’s passing when breakfast came around.
When both couples were in their fifties, they accompanied each other on a plane for Munich that left out of New York City.  It was the occasion of my parents’ thirty-fifth wedding anniversary and Sukey’s sister, Liz, was designing a professional kitchen in Munich.  When they got on the plane, the stewardess informed them that the seating arrangements had been based on the passengers from a previous flight, and that even though they had tickets, they needed to sit down immediately to make sure they stayed on the plane.  Thinking quickly, Harlan said, “Well, that’s good to know, because my wife is pregnant.”  She still looked good enough to pass for a much younger woman, but she was furious with him, right on the spot.
Once they arrived at the hotel, they took time to recuperate and then all three couples joined together for dinner at the hotel.  A German man named Herman, who had rented my parents’ apartment, arrived in a tux with a bunch of Gerber daisies and a menu that he had designed himself.  Of course, he did this to celebrate the anniversary.  The Brumsteds helped us mark a number of important dates.  They were present at my brother’s wedding in Ohio, the location of which made the number of guests from New York rather skimpy.  Sukey participated in my father’s funeral in a way that was uniquely hers.  When I was getting ready to iron the pants that my father would wear when he was laid out, Sukey grabbed them, saying, “I have a lot of experience ironing men’s pants.”  She said this with verve and a laugh.  At the graveyard, when no one knew what to say when the minister asked for comments, she piped up, “He was a great dancer!” , which was a perfect summation of my father.
As in every relationship, there were some disagreements.  One went back to an incident that occurred at Shackleton Point.  From what I remember it was my birthday, but my chief memory of the day is that Alan bit me.  I might have been six or seven.  When we were visiting Sukey at the hospital during the early part of her illness, somehow that topic came up and apparently it was still a matter of contention.  “Alan did not bite Kathy,” Sukey said with high irritation. At the funeral, I mentioned the incident and Alan said, “I probably did bite you.”  He was with his daughter and she said that she was known as a biter when she was a toddler, and to emphasize her point she opened and shut her mouth, showing her perfectly  straight white teeth several times.  That day in the hospital, when the topic came up, David and I just rolled our eyes at each other, as in “Here we go again.”
In the last months of Sukey’s life, Mom went to visit her and I sometimes came along. It was a strong relationship that had lasted throughout their lives.  Initially she brought flowers, but at the very end she just brought herself.  One of the last things that Sukey said to Mom will always stay with me: “Friendship doesn’t end at death.”