Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Immortal Love

Read Charlotte Canelli's column in the March 30 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website. From the Library - Immortal Love by Charlotte Canelli

Reading reviews and choosing both fiction and non-fiction books for our library, I often place a book on hold months before it is published. And sometimes I am puzzled when the book arrives on my desk not quite remembering just why it had piqued my interest.

This past winter I placed a hold on the book “Immortal Bird” written by Doron Weber, a program director at the non-profit Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York City. Skimming the back cover, I realized why I had reserved Weber’s book which chronicles his “struggle to save his remarkable son”, Damon, who was born with a congenital heart defect.

This is a story that I knew personally and similar to one that I, too, had experienced. I knew I must read it, if only for cathartic reasons. “Immortal Bird” sat on my bedside table for nearly a week before I dared open its cover. I was avoiding it because I knew that I would revisit tender and painful memories.

My daughter, Coleen, was born in 1980 with a congenital heart defect. Her father and I were told several weeks before she was born that she might not survive her birth. She was four months old when on my twenty-eighth birthday we were told that this child, our firstborn, would not survive her first year.

Through what some might ascribe to effective intervention and medical care, or what still others might attribute to powerful prayer, precious Coleen miraculously blossomed. She passed her first birthday and her vivid blue eyes twinkled and her impish smile captured the hearts of everyone she met. I traveled to introduce her to relatives who we never thought she’d meet. We convened with doctors in Los Angeles, south of San Francisco where we lived, who were pioneers in pediatric cardiology. All were simply stunned by her progress with no answers as to why.

Yet, during her second year, it was apparent that she could not defy the odds against her. Her deficient heart could not keep up with a body that needed to thrive. Children grow at amazing rates. A normal one-year old triples his or her birth weight and by a second birthday that birth weight has quadrupled. A healthy heart is key to this remarkable growth.

We lost Coleen a few short months before her second birthday. She was, to us, a perfect child with a personality as big as the moon and a smile unforgettable as the stars. In those twenty and more months however, as parents of a terminally ill child, we were frustrated with interminable delays, the arrogance of specialists, a disorganized medical records system and the cover-ups of mistakes. Days after she was initially released from a renowned teaching hospital at the University of California at San Francisco, it was discovered that the head physician in charge of neonatology was a fraud who had never even graduated from medical school.

We were simply stunned and yet we continued to endure a flawed medical system fraught with inaccuracies and conceit. Doron Weber, the author of “Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir” and the father of Damon Weber has chronicled his similar experience in this unforgettable book.

Doron and Sheleagh’s firstborn son, Damon, was born in 1988 with a congenital heart defect that was mended with surgery when he was very young. However, in late 2001, when Damon was thirteen years old, he became increasingly weaker and ill from complications related to his initial heart condition.

While some of the story records the medical intervention and Damon’s disheartening decline, most of the book focuses on Damon’s incredible strength, his amazing spirit and his unwavering will to beat the odds. He rarely complained but managed to enter a very competitive high school in Brooklyn where he acted in and directed stage plays. He even managed a very small part in one episode of the HBO series, Deadwood. In the fall of 2004, just months before he died, he was the recipient of a transplanted heart. The unthinkable happened soon after when he contracted an infection from that new heart – the one that had promised him a longer life.

In the last year of Damon’s life, Doron Weber fought a maddening battle, advocating for his son in medical institutions that lacked a central record and with doctors who rarely listened to the people who knew Damon best, his parents. As things spiraled out of control, I couldn’t help but react to the unbelievable mistakes and ineptitude of the medical professionals assigned to Damon’s case. In the end, a grave misdiagnosis hastened Damon’s death and a family lost their eldest son.

In the epilogue of “Immortal Bird”, Doron Weber writes that “Damon died three days before my birthday. That’s a misleading statement since no one you love dies once. They die for you repeatedly, over and over.”

All parents who have lost a child know that while you can never change what happened, you do have the choice to move on from it, keeping lost ones in your heart and reconciling the painful memories when you feel the strongest. “Immortal Bird” is frustrating, poignant, and powerful. I anguished, and sometimes I relived, many of the moments that were told in this tender and vivid story by a father who loved his child more than he could have ever imagined. Yet, it is books like Weber’s that many of us turn to in times we when need to heal from memories while we rediscover the strength within us.

If you would like to reserve any books in the Minuteman Library System please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-799-0200 or reserve them in the Minuteman Library catalog.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hey, Hey, Find the Monkees at the Library

Read Charlotte Canelli's column in the March 23 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website. From the Library - Hey, Hey Find the Monkees at the Library by Charlotte Canelli

I didn’t watch much television as a child. At least not in comparison to most of my friends, then and now. I can sing parts of the Gilligan’s Island theme song but I usually only belt out with confidence only these four words: “a three-hour tour.”

Don’t get me started on the episodes of Bewitched, Get Smart, Lost in Space and the Andy Griffith Show that I missed. Oh and Gomer Pyle, Hogan’s Heroes and The Fugitive I caught up with mainly at my best friend’s house which was conveniently next door. Her modern family had the television tuned in most of the time and they also watched old movies and rerun after rerun of Lassie and Bonanza. I loved hanging out there and found a way to sleep over as often as I could.

What my family never actually missed on television in the mid-60s was The Ed Sullivan Show, the Lawrence Welk Show, the Carol Burnett Show and Walt Disney’s World of Color. Ed had been on the tube since 1949 and Lawrence Welk nationally debuted in 1955. Both of those shows passed my parents’ test of suitable family entertainment. Singing, dancing and that little mouse, Topo Gigio, were all deemed fine family fare.

Until, of course, the fall of 1966 of my freshman year of high school when my parents divorced. At the same time I suppose I was growing up and naturally left to my devices and censorship. Whatever the reason for the huge shift, it coincided with the debut of the Monkees. I remember racing home from school clubs and babysitting gigs to catch the very start of the show each week. We were all a bit nuts about the Monkees. They were quirky, silly but cute. We all had our favorites (mine was Peter Tork.) Davy was just too cute, Mickey Dolenz a bit odd and Michael Nesmith way too moody.

When Davy Jones died on March 1 this month, there were many of us who wondered how he got to be so old so quickly. And of course, he wasn’t. He was barely 20 years old when he joined on to the phenomenon which was the Monkees. He was only 66 when he died.

The Internet went a bit crazy when Davy died. Sales of the songs increased and word of his death spread like wildfire. After all, MTV had begun to air old episodes of the Monkees to an entirely new generation in 1986 and that generation is now having children. Nostalgia multiples across the ages and the Monkees will be forever young. Think Daydream Believer. Check it out in your local elevator or on iTunes. Or Sugar, Sugar. You’ll see.

Nostalgia about the Monkees is here to stay and that’s why we are making sure that we have plenty of Monkees recordings in our library collection. Most of us growing up in high school in the 60s ended our love affair with the group after the first season on television. (They did record and broadcast a second season in 1967-1968.)

1966 brought us the album (now the CD) The Monkees with the singable songs Last Train to Clarksville, Take a Giant Step and I Wanna Be Free. Their second album, More of the Monkees, including Stepping Stone, Pleasant Valley Sunday, A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You and the album was actually the band’s top seller, racking up 70 weeks on Billboard’s album chart. It didn’t hurt that Neil Diamond and Carol King, among others, wrote some of their bestselling songs.

Other CDs of Monkees include the Best of Album and Essentials. Headquarters was their first album recorded after they left the studio and decided to strike it out on their own. Some people say that album is the best that the Monkees did with Forget that Girl and Shades of Gray.

The DVDs of the two seasons of the Monkees television show (1966-1967 and 1967-1968) feature 32 and 26 episodes, respectively. Those were the days. A season ran through at least half, and sometimes more than half a year.

The Monkees starred in the movie Head which hit the screens in 1968, just three years after the Beatles’ Help. Annette Funicello joined the cut-up guys and the movie was a quirky effort at social commentary (think 1968, after all) and their attempt to reach the adult audience that had outgrown the television show. They tried to leave their silly good-boy image behind in the movie and tackled some serious stuff like anti-war sentiment. Cameos included Frank Zappa, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper and Terry Garr.

The story of the Monkees and their manufactured music and band can be watched online on the Smithsonian Channel. The 46-minute documentary is fascinating and includes footage of all the Monkees, including reclusive and moody Michael Nesmith.

I have such fond memories of the Monkees that just playing snippets of the songs through any search on Amazon or the web brings a smile to my face. Who hasn’t felt the sentiment of their songs at least once in their lives?

“Though you've played at love and lost and sorrow's turned your heart to frost, I will melt your heart again. Remember the feeling as a child when you woke up and morning smiled? It's time you felt like you did then.” Lyrics from Take a Giant Step.

If you would like to reserve any of these titles in DVD or CD version please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-799-0200 or reserve them in the Minuteman Library catalog.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Life with Teddy

Read Bonnie Wyler's column in the March 17, 2012 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website. Bonnie Wyler is the Outreach/Literacy Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood.
From the Library - My Life With Teddy by Bonnie Wyler
Teddy came into my life as a 5 ½ pound bundle of fur in August 2008. My previous dog Wink had been gone for almost two years and I was ready for a new canine companion. Because I was approaching senior citizen status and had a full-time job, I told the Keeshond breeder that I wanted the most laid-back puppy in the litter. She assured me that with her 35 years of experience matching puppies with new owners, she would choose the right puppy for me. I knew I loved this breed. Keeshonds are sweet, playful, affectionate and intelligent. The “smiling Dutchman” as he is called, originated in Holland as a barge dog, bred as companion and watchdog for the captains of boats traveling the waterways in the countryside. I knew from previous experience with my Keeshond Wink that another puppy of this breed was what I wanted. Hoping to be well-prepared for the new arrival, I began reading about human-canine communication in a wonderful book by Patricia McConnell called The Other End of the Leash.

Driving home that day in August, I held Teddy on my lap while my friend Susan drove. He sat quietly for the two hour trip, looking up at me with his big brown eyes. We were off to a good start. For the first few days in his new home, he explored his surroundings, running in the yard, sniffing all the new smells, struggling to climb the two steps to my deck and tumbling down again. He was lively and curious, just what I expected from a new puppy. My sister Carol had told me how much I would love rocking him to sleep in the evenings when he was tired out. I looked forward to those peaceful moments.

My first clue that I was dealing with more than the usual puppy exuberance came that first week when my neighbor Sandy stopped by to see Teddy and show me the listing for a house she was looking at. As we sat on the grass studying the printout sheet, Teddy exploded out of nowhere like a bolt of lightning, grabbed the paper and made a mad dash around the yard. By the time we corralled him, the paper was in shreds. We laughed as Teddy jumped in and out of Sandy’s arms, impossible to contain. There was no question he was adorable, but laid-back? His activity level seemed to escalate by the day as he became more familiar and comfortable in his new home. And holding him in the evenings as he fell asleep in my arms? This was not to be. I began to realize I didn’t have the puppy I had bargained for.

That fall, as I struggled to provide the exercise and socialization all puppies need (and Teddy needed even more), my friend came to the rescue. She picked up Teddy one morning a week and brought him to her fenced-in backyard to play with her Jack Russell terrier, Jilly. For hours, the two dogs would run at breakneck speed from one end of the yard to the other. At some point, Jilly would grab Teddy’s collar in her teeth and pin him to the ground, his feet waving in the air. Teddy loved those playtimes. To this day, whenever I say “Jilly,” his ears go up and he races to the backdoor to look for his friend.

By then, I was reading in earnest, looking for any answers I could find to help me cope with my super active puppy. It was a two-pronged approach: knowledge for me and training for Teddy. I enrolled him in a puppy kindergarten class one evening a week. Of the five puppies in attendance, Teddy stood out as having the shortest attention span and greatest difficulty focusing. It was no wonder. He was on serious overload with four other dogs to smell, chase and jump on. After a beginning play period, the trainer worked on basic commands each week, with the canines and their humans practicing under her supervision. By the final session, while everyone watched, each pair attempted to walk in a figure eight, puppy healing on the left side. When it was our turn, the trainer came up to me and said quietly, “Why don’t you and Teddy just try a straight line?” Clearly we were at the bottom of the class.

As fall turned into winter and snow covered the ground, Teddy was ecstatic to be outside with me. As a northern breed, he was well-equipped for the cold weather and loved playing in the snow. He would race around the yard, tethered by a 30-foot lead attached to the deck. Each time he changed direction and hurled past me, I would jump to avoid being tripped by the lead. Unfortunately, my reaction time was no match for his speed. I found myself on the ground, stunned but unhurt, grateful for the soft landing in powdery snow.

I spent many of those winter evenings in the kitchen with Teddy. He was too crazy to keep me company in the living room, and too unhappy if I left him alone in the kitchen. We practiced his ball skills, bouncing and catching, over and over. And I read. A friend had told me about the books of Nicholas Dodman, an animal behaviorist and director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. I read Dogs Behaving Badly: an A to Z Guide to Understanding and Curing Behavioral Problems in Dogs, looking for sections that might help with leash biting, jumping, and extreme excitability. Of course, I realized that I was still dealing with the exuberance of puppyhood, but I wanted to be well-informed at the least. I found helpful suggestions in another book as well: The Well-Adjusted Dog: Dr. Dodman’s seven steps to lifelong health and happiness for your best friend. Who knew that dogs on average need at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, and walking doesn’t count? I was intrigued by the drawing of a dog treadmill, suggested as especially helpful in the winter months.

Fast forward two and a half years to last summer. Teddy was still a challenge for me, but there’s no question we had bonded. There were moments when I was completely exasperated by his excessive energy and excitability, but I loved him and couldn’t imagine my life without him. One beautiful day in August we traveled to Chatham to visit friends, and by chance, went on a boat ride in the bay. As we motored out and then sped through the waves, Teddy sat motionless, staring out at the horizon. I had never seen him so peaceful and content. And then the lightbulb went on. He was a boat dog by nature, his breed serving those many centuries ago as barge dogs in Holland. He was in his element. Back on land, I couldn’t stop thinking about the power of instinct and genetics on behavior, and how I had just seen a totally different side of my dog.

I have found reading about dog behavior and the human-canine relationship fascinating. There are many excellent books on dogs and dog training at the Morrill Memorial Library and in the Minuteman Library Network, including several others by Patricia McConnell and Nicholas Dodman. If you wonder how dogs experience the world, pick up Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz. You’ll find ideas for children in 101 Fun Things to do with Your Dog by Alison Smith. For those who knit for their dogs, try looking at Men Who Knit and the Dogs Who Love Them by Annie Modesitt. If you would like to see a photograph of Teddy, you will find him in a READ poster in the Cushing Reading Room.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, Charlotte's Web

Read Charlotte Canelli's column in the March 10, 2012 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website. Charlotte Canelli is the Library Director at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. From the Library - Happy Birthday Charlotte's Web! by Charlotte Canelli
I share my sixtieth birthday this year with another Charlotte. Charlotte A. Cavatica, that is. You know her, of course, as the grey spider in what is undoubtedly one of the most famous children’s books written, Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.

The Latin or scientific name for the barn spider is Araneus Cavaticus and while White never fully explains Charlotte’s second initial we can imagine what her full name must be.

Author E. B. White was 53 years old when Charlotte’s Web was published. He spent his childhood in Mount Vernon, New York and was always a shy and reserved boy and man. It is understandable that he spent hours reflecting and musing and observing the world around him at his family’s homes in New York and Maine.

Both Charlotte's Web and I were, of course, conceived before our birth year of 1952. Sometime in 1949, three years before the book was published, E. B. White spent hours watching a small spider spin a web and, eventually, an egg sac. The spider disappeared in the chilly fall air and White cut down the sac and placed it into a small box in which he had cut small air holes. It was weeks later when baby spiders escaped through the holes in the box to make dozens of webs of their own.

And the rest is history. Literary and otherwise.

After finishing the first draft in 1951, White actually put the book down for a year. He felt that it needed to rest, or incubate. He handed the book to his editor Ursula Nordstrom one day, “out of the blue” in 1952. Obviously impressed, Nordstrom recommended that the book be published and it was in print on October 15, 1952.

Charlotte’s Web was not only White’s most famous book but it has been translated into over 27 languages and has sold over 45 million copies. It is, hands down, a favorite among children, parents, teachers and librarians around the world. Before the Harry Potter books, Charlotte’s Web would have been considered the number one favorite children’s book. For some of us, it still is.

Charlotte was White’s most famous character but two of his other books were also lauded as enduring children’s books, Stuart Little (1945) and The Trumpet and the Swan (1973). Interestingly, one of the most influential critics of children’s literature, the retired but significant children’s librarian, Anne Carroll Moore, of the New York Public Library, had a less-than-enthusiastic response to both Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. (Fern’s character was “underdeveloped.”) Moore was never afraid to use her stamp which stated “Not Recommended for Purchase by Expert” and was one of the most powerful book reviewers of children’s literature in the first half of the 20th century. White’s books were bestsellers anyway.

What I never knew before researching for this column is that E. B. White, or Elwyn Brooks White (or Andy, as he was called most of his adult life) was the editor of the revised edition of the “Elements of Style”, published by William Strunk in 1959. (The book is also known as "Strunk and White.") Any one of us growing up in the 60s and 70s and learning to write effectively remember this handbook of grammar and style of English writing with about as little fondness as we remember cafeteria lunches. But remember it, we do. And learn from it, we have.

The entire story of E. B. White and his books was just published last year in 2011 by Michael Sims. In “The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B.White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic,” Sims spends more than half the book describing White’s life on the property of his childhood town in New York, in New York City working for The New Yorker Magazine and on the farms in Maine where he spent many years of his life, particularly the last thirty of them. (White died of Alzheimer’s in 1985 at the age of 86 in Brooklin, Maine.) Sims explains White’s courtship, partnership and marriage to Katherine Angell, writer and fiction editor of the New Yorker magazine, from 1925-1960. The New Yorker was a publication he richly influenced with his friend and fellow author and humorist, James Thurber.

It stands to reason, then, that one of my favorite children’s movies is Charlotte’s Web, released in 1973 several years after I had graduated from high school. I was busy becoming an adult at that time and didn’t discover the film for years until the mid 80s when my own children were young. Interestingly too, the film had an amazing resurgence of popularity 21 years after its release. In 1994 it was one of the best-selling titles of the year. It seems that White’s devoted following of adults were rediscovering the story along with their children.

White and his wife unfortunately did not appreciate the Hanna-Barbera version of Charlotte’s Web and would have preferred something more refined with the music of Mozart as the soundtrack. I, on the other hand, loved cuddling with my children on the couch as we sang along with Debbie Reynolds (Charlotte), Henry Gibson (Wilbur), Paul Lynde (Templeton), and Agnes Moorehead (the Goose.) “A Veritable Smorgasbord”, “I Can Talk” and “Zuckerman’s Famous Pig” will always be part of my repertoire.

“Fine swine, wish he was mine. What if he’s not so big! He’s some terrific, radiant, humble, thingamajig of a fine phenomenon … Zuckerman’s famous pig!”

If you would like to reserve any of the titles mentioned in this column, please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-799-0200 or reserve them in the Minuteman Library catalog.