Category Archives: Les Green

Finding Freedom in Postwar Europe

Less then a month before my father, Les Green, died in August 2000, he started talking about his childhood. It seems that his grandmother had a boarding house. He advised that there was a father and child there and that they only ate if they had something to put in the pot. He advised that he always had food and never went hungry. He said that when he was in Belgium, serving post-World War II, he was at a woman’s home who reminded him of the days with his grandmother and always ate well there.

After he died, of course we went through his materials. One of the things he held onto was an article from a September 16, 1946 issue of Newsweek, Racial: Maedchen and Negro, about black soldiers in post-WW II Germany. The Newsweek piece was initiated by a much longer piece in the October 1946 Ebony.

The thrust, particularly of the Ebony piece, was that the black soldier felt freer in Berlin, capital of the formerly Nazi nation, than he did in Birmingham or on Broadway.

A July 2009 article in Stars & Stripes confirms this: “In the words of retired Gen. Colin Powell, postwar Germany was ‘a breath of freedom’ for black soldiers, especially those out of the South: ‘[They could] go where they wanted, eat where they wanted, and date, whom they wanted, just like other people.'”

There is a great website, the Civil Rights Struggle, African-American GIs and Germany, which contains some original research on this topic. The NAACP presented its Julius E. Williams Distinguished Community Service Award for 2009 to Maria Höhn (Vassar College) and Martin Klimke (German Historical Institute, Washington, DC / Heidelberg Center for American Studies, University of Heidelberg) for the project.

But, of course, this doesn’t address why my father held onto that article for 54 years. Was he merely interested in the topic? Did he know someone who was pictured? Was HE one of the people in the pictures? There is a guy who remind my sisters and me of my dad. While my father said he was in Belgium, his records show that he was in the European theater from February to November 1946, so perhaps he was in Germany as well. Ms. Höhn, who I have e-mailed, confirms that there were black soldiers in both countries.

I may never know why Leslie H. “Bing” Green held onto that article for so many years.


The Walkers

My father’s first cousin Ruth was going through some old pictures at her mom Jessie’s house and I received this old picture from before I was born, even before my parents were married, circa 1948. She sent the pic to one of my sisters, and she forwarded it to me.

The men in the picture are Ruth’s father Earl Walker, my father’s eldest uncle; Morris Walker, uncle to both Ruth and my father; their aunt Jessie’s “friend”, Dick Wallace; and my father, Les Green.

Earl’s wife Jessie was called “Earl’s Jessie”, to distinguish her from Earl’s (and Morris’ and my grandmother Agatha’s) sister Jessie. I remember Earl quite well and Morris a fair amount, but Dick died before I was born.

From my sister Marcia’s collection:

My father (center) with his mother, Agatha (right). She was my first Sunday school teacher, and she taught me how to play canasta. She died when I was about 10. I have no idea who the others are, though the boy surely looks like a Walker.

This is the day before the date my father would have turned 83, and really, that’s all I’ve got.


That scene in Field of Dreams always makes me cry

Even before my father died on August 10, 2000, there was a scene in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams where the Kevin Costner character is playing catch with his dad – you know, this one – that always got to me. My father and I didn’t play catch that much, but he did take me to minor league games in Binghamton (the Triplets – farm team at various times of the Kansas City A’s, New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves) and explained the intricacies of the sport.

As I noted here, the evening before my father died, when he was in a comatose state, “I turned on a baseball game, and explained the action to my father. I think the sound was down, so I was doing a play-by-play for a couple innings. I told him about Jason Giambi, the long-haired player for the Oakland A’s who had ‘graced’ the cover of Sports Illustrated within the previous year.”

So baseball – and music, card playing and football – were shorthand ways for my father and me to deal with each other when other paths were not available.

Here’s a couple pictures that my sister came across only last month of my father as an MP at the end of, and after World War II, either in Texas or somewhere in western Europe, sometime in 1945 or 1946:


Pete Seeger is 90

I’ve seen Pete Seeger sing about 32 times. This is no exaggeration; it may be an undercount. He would appear at various antiwar and anti-nuke campaigns in the mid-Hudson Valley of New York State. One of the first times I saw him was at a George McGovern rally in New Paltz, my college town, in 1972. Once, I went on the Clearwater, where he performed.

When a number of people protested the Springboks, the South African rugby team, playing in Albany, Pete was there singing in the rain. The one time I actually saw Pete in concert was April 4, 1982 at Page Hall in the downtown SUNY Albany campus.

But his impact on my life long preceded seeing him perform. My father owned his “We Shall Overcome” album; it was as pivotal in my appreciation of music as any Beatles or other pop album; my review of the expanded CD release is here My father was a singer of folk songs, performing regionally in the Binghamton, NY area, and he often sang songs that Pete, or friends of his such as Woody Guthrie, had popularized. And I saw him perform “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” on the Smothers Brothers show in 1968, which helped crystallize my opposition to the Vietnam war.

I think Pete’s taken some unfair criticism. About Dylan going electric, Pete is quoted as saying, “There are reports of me being anti-him going electric at the ’65 Newport Folk festival, but that’s wrong. I was the MC that night. He was singing ‘Maggie’s Farm’ and you couldn’t understand a word because the mic was distorting his voice. I ran to the mixing desk and said, ‘Fix the sound, it’s terrible!’ The guy said ‘No, that’s how they want it.’ And I did say that if I had an axe I’d cut the cable! But I wanted to hear the words. I didn’t mind him going electric.”

And the late Phil Ochs castigated him, unfairly, in this couplet from Love Me, I’m a Liberal:
“I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs.”

I’m happy that Bruce Springsteen has spread the gospel of Seeger in a couple of his recent albums. In fact, the first time I heard Springsteen do Seeger was on the Where Have All The Flowers Gone compilation which came out in 1998 and I bouught 3 or 4 years later; recommended.

Some have suggested that Pete Seeger deserves the Nobel Peace Prize and I wouldn’t argue with them. I was thrilled to watch him at the pre-inaugural bash in DC.

A couple recent Pete Seeger collections I’ve seen, but have not yet purchased: American Favorite Ballads Volumes 1-5 [Box] [4/21/09] and Rainbow Race/ Now/ Young Vs. Old [4/21/09].

Happy birthday, Pete.


2009: A life odyssey

I’ve never been that big on resolutions. Sure I’ll work on losing weight, but I think (know) I need more…fun challenges.

Thus and therefore, I resolve:
*to play more backgammon. I’ve been playing online quite a bit in 2008. But I have an actual board with actual pieces in my cubicle, and I haven’t touched it, except to dust it off, in the nearly three years we’ve been in cuby land. This MUST change. I have one opponent lined up, and a date for next Tuesdayand a novice ready to learn.
* to play more cards, specifically hearts. I may have played once in 2008. Not acceptable.
* to see more movies. The wife and I may have to go to the virtual date plan, where one of us sees the 1 pm movie while the other watches the child, then the other sees the 4 pm movie while the first watches the child, then discuss later. It’s not optimal, but neither is seeing five movies/year.
* to play more racquetball. Actually, more correctly, to continue to play racquetball. This year, the daughter goes to kindergarten. There appears to be no preschool at her school. Since the wife can’t take her to school because of timing, it would default to me. But that would mean that I’d almost NEVER play racquetball, which might, quite literally, kill me, since it is both my primary form of exercise – especially in the winter, when I don’t ride the bike – and something with which the competition provides a joie de vivre that riding on a stationary bike or running around a track simply doesn’t generate for me. To that end, we’re investigating hiring someone to get Lydia up, dressed, fed and taken to school, perhaps a student from a nearby college. We’re paying for daycare now, so that’d be the source of the payments.
Oh, jeez, I almost forgot: come spring, I need to BUY a bike to replace the one that was stolen.
*read more books. I’ve started literally dozens that I simply never finish.
*listen to more music at home. This will be facilitated by the fact that the daughter got a boom box for Christmas. This means that the other boom box, which technically belongs to the wife – my matching one got stolen from my office a few years ago – can reside in the living room. My stereo, specifically the CD player, has ceased to work, despite taking it into the shop. So until I buy a new one, the boombox will be the primary form of entertainment in the living quarters.

I think that’s enough.

Do YOU have any resolutions that you’d like to share?

Oh, and I had one of those reminders why I do the blog this past week. My mother, sister and niece made an impromptu visit to the Salisbury National Cemetery where my father was buried, but they couldn’t find the grave site. They knew they were close, but lots of folks have been buried there in the past eight years. So my sister calls me on her cellphone; did I have a record of where he was buried? I went to my trusty blog and found the citation, section 8, grave 358. Yet another notation that while I like to provide the best of the psychodrama in my head for your entertainment, I have to do the blog for ME.


Post for Gordon

Gordon offered to answer questions on his podcast but only if the questions were NOT e-mailed to him. One of the acceptable methods was to post something on one’s blog. So here it is:

Seeing how it’s the Great American SmokeOut as I post this, does your long-standing (and righteous) antipathy against smoking cigarettes come from your public policy background that shows the economic devastation of families having to deal with the results of lung cancer and the like? Or is it a function of fairness, that people ought not to deal with second-hand smoke? Or do you have personal experiences (friends, family, even yourself) that has informed your crusade against the “coffin nails”? And don’t you think it’s rather interesting that, long before the Surgeon General’s warning in the 12960s, the term “coffin nails” was in regular use?

Hmm. I remember, as a kid, going to O’Leary’s corner store and buying packs of cigarettes (Winstons) for my father. Later, it was cartons. I used to steal his cigarettes, not to smoke myself, but in hopes that the cost (35 to 50 cents a pack!) would serve as a deterrent; it did not. Eventually, he developed emphysema and did quit, but when his symptoms abated, his smoking returned. I was…unsubtle in my frustration with him over that. But then a few years later, he stopped smoking for good. He said he never said he quit; he just didn’t have another one, and he was smoke-free for the last 25 years of his life.
Fewer U.S. adults smoke, but cigarette smoking continues to impose substantial health and financial costs on society, according to new data from CDC.


Barren Tree

This is one of the rare posts on this blog not written by me. This is by my wife Carol Green as a journal entry for her Supervision class at the MCLA Leadership Academy this past summer. Tomorrow would have been my father’s 82nd birthday, so its inclusion here is prompted by that fact.

Visitors to MassMoCA’s Badlands exhibit might notice that many works appear to be set off by themselves. Yet one piece stands out in its aloneness. Jennifer Steinkamp’s 12-foot video tree, Mike Kelley, is projected on one entire wall at the end of a long room, its trunk, limbs, and finger-like twigs rhythmically twisting to an inaudible beat. The image of the tree appears as a giant black-white line drawing set against a russet-brown background. A slight hesitation in the tree’s movement informs us this is not a real tree, but a digital one. If you are patient enough to watch the projected exhibit’s entire five-minute cycle, you will see the tree changes to represent each season: it bursts with beautiful blossoms of pink, orange, and coral for spring; it sprouts green leaves for summer; it displays orange and rust-colored leaves for fall; and it bares its branches for winter, except for a few scattered red-brown leaves.
I first encountered the tree at the same time a docent was introducing a tour group to it. The group was discussing “scary” trees, such as the trees in Hansel and Gretel, The Wizard of Oz, and the Harry Potter series. Far from scary, I found the tree breathtaking in its vivid spring colors and just as striking in its winter nakedness.
Later, when I returned to the tree, sitting on the bench in front of it and studying its cycle and rhythm, another visitor sat down next to me. The tree had captured our imaginations. She commented on the tree’s “lyrical quality.” I told her I could feel a cool, refreshing breeze from the swaying branches. She told me about her life: she was on an Elderhostel week of visiting Berkshire art galleries and theatres; she lives in New York City and loves to take guided tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; she longs to take her grandsons to the Met this summer but is disappointed that their sports seem to take precedence; and finally, in her next life, she wants to be a curator at a contemporary art museum. There we were, two strangers, communing with nature and each other. After a while, she said she would leave me alone and “let me meditate.”
What did I see besides the digitalized, projected tree? The twisting and undulating branches are a crowd of people, seemingly random in movement, yet with a predictable cycle, not unlike visitors to the art gallery. Look again—now a ballet troupe in a precisely choreographed work. Look again—now a representation of the fluctuations of so many cycles in our lives—the changes of season, the peaks and valleys of our economy, the ebb and flow of our relationships, the alpha and omega of life and death.
Whom did I see in the tree? Les Green, my father-in-law, was present in that space. He was a fellow lover of trees, and we bonded over his painting of barren trees the first time I met him, shortly before I married his son, Roger, nine years ago. My own work of a barren tree, a pencil drawing from my teenage years, still hangs on our dining room wall. Les and I somehow understood each other’s attraction to barren trees—and how something that others considered dormant or even frightening would engage us enough to give it another life in a work of art. A talented, outgoing, and dynamic pillar of his community and church, Les nevertheless felt singular, alone, and sometimes lonely, Roger later explained to me. Les died a year later, and I often think of how I learned about the importance of relationships from him.
Steinkamp’s Mike Kelley, the video tree, represents the paradox we often encounter in our lives: movement in things that are not alive, constant change in a repeated cycle, social connection and loneliness in the same person, and vivid memories of someone no longer on earth that still enliven our days.


Grave Reference

One of the things I realized just this year, perhaps from a post from Rose which I’m too lazy to find, is that, in the main, it was quite fortunate how my father died in 2000. He went to the hospital on July 29, had a stroke August 4, went essentially into a coma on August 8 and died on August 10. If we had had to deal with end of life issues as a family…let’s put it this way, planning the funeral took over five hours; having to decide to “pull the plug” likely would have been unresolvable.

As a librarian, I’m always looking for new sources of information, preferably free. At some point I read about, where you can find the location of the final resting place of folks who are famous, and not so much. So I tried my grandparents without success, and my friends Nancy, Raoul, and Donna were likewise not found. In fact, the only “non-famous” deceased person I could find was my father:

Birth: Sep. 26, 1926
Death: Aug. 10, 2000
Inscription: US Army WW II
Burial: Salisbury National Cemetery Annex
Salisbury, Rowan County
North Carolina, USA
Plot: VA Section 8, grave 358

Record added: Oct 11 2001
By: Havis McDonald

So, thanks to Havis McDonald, whoever you are.


Another Father's Day

My maternal grandfather, Clarence Williams, played in the Negro Leagues in 1930s. I’ve never been able to track down any statistics or even exactly what team he played for, though my grandmother thought he played for some team called the Giants. There were several “Giants” teams in the day.

The person I knew as my paternal grandfather, McKinley Green, I’ve mentioned before in these pages. He was a janitor, auto racing connoisseur, and loved the horses. I’ve never found the person who was my real paternal grandfather. I’ve long had a very complicated relationship with my father, who died in 2000, and I’m still looking for information about him.

When I became a father in 2004, I had a great deal of optimism about the world. I still love being a father, but the world? I’m not so sure about it. I guess I wanted the world to be freer now than when she was conceived, and I’m not at all feeling that’s the case. I want it to be safer, and given tornadoes in unusual places, more violent hurricanes and the like, not so certain about that one.

There are are some men who just always wanted to be a dad, but I wasn’t one of them. I like being Lydia’s dad – I LOVE being Lydia’s dad – but we’re getting a lot of those “Are you going to have another?” questions. That’s nobody’s business, of course, but I suspect if we were to have another child, he or she would be adopted. In fact, in the period we were “trying to get pregnant”, we got a lot of literature on the topic. We’re not actively pursuing the issue now, but if we do, you’ll be the 100th to know.

I got a handmade card and a two peas in a pod thingy for Father’s Day. I do enjoy this part.

I’m watching the Tonys tonight, my annual opportunity to say, “So THAT’S what (name of actor better known for TV or movies) has been doing lately. I thought maybe he was retired. Or dead.” I expect this person will watch; since Whoopi Goldberg is hosting, I’d bet money that this guy won’t be tuning in.
Evanier has on his page this Fiddler on the Roof/Avenue Q mashup. I LOVE Fiddler and plan to see Avenue Q this fall.


Sputnik and Little Rock

I just discovered that two things that happened when I was 4 1/2, external to my immediate surroundings, but with long-lasting effect on me, both took place within a two-week span.

September 25, 1957: Nine black students safely entered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, after President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to deal with a mob that interfered with a federal court order for the school to integrate. At the beginning of the school year, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus had ordered the state’s National Guard to stop any black students from entering the school, a decision that was countermanded by the federal judge in the case. The story is well told in a son made popular by Pete Seeger, and performed for a time by my father, State of Arkansas; the third verse I especially remembered without assistance:
“Three hundred National Guard were there
Dressed up to fight a war.”

Even at that age, I knew that race mattered. I was also vaguely aware that the federal government was doing an extraordinary thing that was not universally popular. This led me to believe in the innate goodness of the federal government, a notion that has been dashed time and time again in the intervening years.

October 4, 1957: Sputnik was launched, beginning the space race, which was seen, in part, as an extension of the arms race.

As writer John Noble Wilford put it: “Sputnik changed everything – history, geopolitics, the scientific world.” Certainly, the headway made by the “Commie Ruskies” colored my entire time in school. It fueled competitiveness to learn, but also exacerbated a Cold War paranoia that we’d all die by some entity, unseen until it was too late. I used to do these “Duck and Cover” exercises:

My wife was listening to the “duck and cover” drill that I played, and it was scary to her.
I’ve complained that current politicians like to deal in fear mongering, but on reflection, I grew up learning to be afraid of the Commies. It may be that the “counter culture” of the late 1960s was as much a reaction to that paranoia of the 1950s and early 1960s as it was to the promotion of civil rights and opposition to the Viet Nam war.

These two events, one of civil rights and the other a specter of war, taking place before I was in kindergarten, had a huge, and continuing effect on me that I hadn’t fully appreciated until now.