Jo Janoski\’s Blog

Writings, Observations, Poetry, Stories

The 60’s November 30, 2006

Filed under: Essays — jojanoski @ 9:51 am

The 60’s

A workshop assignment — The 60’s, an essay or story about a news-breaking event that occurred in November of the past century, maybe one you experienced.

May I take the decade as a whole and try to explain in essay form how that turbulent time and my reaction to it:
When JFK took the oath as President, I was 10 years old, Irish Catholic. Do I need to tell you the fires of excitement in our house his success stirred up. A Catholic in the White House and Irish at that! I knew factually, but not emotionally, how not that long ago, Irish were shunned and kicked aside as “Papists.” Now I would never have to know that prejudice–heck, one of ours was president. Later, a time for smiles as we basked in Camelot, and a man named Vaughn Meader released a cute album of First Family skits, cleverly crafted to reflect all the Kennedy clan along with their foibles and quirks … Boston accents, Kennedy touch football, bed time stories for Caroline about that big, mean bear to the east. Good stuff for a storybook time!

Despite the euphoria of those days, the cold war cast a cloud of uncertainty over life. Doomsdayers ballyhooed the  concept of atomic radiation (compliments of Russian bombs) killing us all in much the same way terrorism or global warming is bandied about today. We lived daily with nuclear war reminders as charged rhetoric zoomed back and forth across the Atlantic. Premier Kruschev promised to bury us. The Russians were winning the space race–fearsome in that they could perhaps use their advanced space technology for something more sinister against us. It was a jittery time.

In 1964, it got worse. I remember being by that time a freshman in high school. At school, the principal broke into our classes with the news President Kennedy had been shot. I recall walking home that gray and windy Pittsburgh day wondering what it meant, not realizing in my naivete, that I couldn’t know. No one could. It had never happened before. I worried it might be a Russian conspiracy, a takeover. Who knew?

Later, that concept proved to be, at least overtly, not true. Then, I watched on TV as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in cold blood. What an experience! Murder live on TV! My jaw dropped, as I came two steps closer to growing up. My shiny childhood world had just developed a little rust.

Later that year, my mother died and I was oblivious to much until finally the escalation of the Viet Nam war blared in my ear. Soon it was everywhere, a cacophonous racket on the landscape of America. Everyone asked why, why, we were there. I watched the culture take a decided step to the left as teenagers, following the lead of rock stars, took a stand against the war. A loud, raucous step. Eventually others would follow.

Two year later, a new tragedy. Martin Luther King was assassinated and the country literally caught fire with riots. I remember going to my first college classes where the school, next to the inner city neighborhood, offered up a ghastly new panorama. My heart slammed to the pavement in dismay as I viewed  soldiers on every corner poised with their hands on guns. A military face had invaded the cities. Wasn’t this something from some other place? Not in America, right?  What had happened to my country? Eventually, the unrest subsided and Viet Nam stepped up to take center stage again. Campuses erupted in earnest, students bonded in protest, and the great era of the 60’s spun wild. For years to come, the drum beat of protest would sound, unrelenting.

Along the way, these trying times continued to astound. Heading into my second year of college, I was sitting at the TV one muggy summer night, tinkering with thread for a sewing project, sweating, pondering how everything is harder when it is suffocatingly hot–when on the news blasted out that Robert Kennedy had been shot. I was older now and too arrogantly teenage to act or feel afraid. Once again, though, I wondered what was happening. That was three assassinations–JFK, Martin Luther King, and now RFK.

In 1969, I finished 2 years of college and got my first job. On the very first day, I had a celebratory date in the evening. We went out but came home early. We wanted to see the “moonwalk,” having no idea what that meant, really. Was it comic book fodder? Mesmerized, we watched Neil Armstrong take his first step on the moon. How can I explain the jaw-dropping, eerie feeling of that night. Afterward, we went outside to stare at the stars. The universe had just come knocking to remind us we are not alone in this vast universe of spinning rocks. From here on, life was different; we actually touched the moon and it was real.

Those are the steps I took growing up during the 60’s–from naive, expecting childlike fairy tales to spring to life from my girlhood story books, instead to being bombarded with blow after blow from stark reality, expanding its dense ugly cloud with each strike, until finally it led to exhaustion and then disillusionment. Until the moonwalk spiraled me back to believing in fairy tales again.

In retrospect is the fortification of an old adage, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” We had looming doomsday then; we have looming doomsday now. You know what? It will loom tomorrow too, only wearing yet another new face. And there will be another “moon walk,” too. Because dreams are as real as we can make them, and we never stop trying to make them real.

Copyright 2006 JO Janoski


Resident Wrens May 10, 2006

Filed under: Essays,My Photos — jojanoski @ 2:47 pm

We have two tiny wrens who take up housekeeping every May in two birdhouses on our front porch, built just for them, I might add.

We first noticed the wrens years ago when my husband found birds nesting in a hanging basket on the porch. He set about to the task of building the birdhouses from scratch, work which he enjoys. But I'm certain he also wanted the birds out of his greenery.

They are bold little creatures. Each time one of us, including the dog, steps out on the porch, he is greeted with a tsunami of squawks and squeals big enough to knock a person off his feet. You can see the tiny scoundrels, beaks wide open, in the rhododendron next to the porch, so we know who is doing all the yelling. ;) The wrens have no fear of us big old lumbering humans.

What I am still trying to figure out is, how can such a tiny bird have such a BIG chirp! Posted by Picasa


The times sure have changed… May 3, 2006

Filed under: Essays — jojanoski @ 4:58 pm

The times sure have changed…I was at the hospital today. I should begin by mentioning I worked in a hospital 30 years ago. In those days, I remember only a couple "codes" for the intercom–Code red for a fire, code blue for a cardiac arrest. Nowadays, they have a code gray for a disaster (not specified what type of disaster, leading one to wonder); code pink for child abduction; code yellow for a bomb; code red for a cardiac arrest and code blue for something ambiguously dangerous…I forget now what word they used–let's just call it a really bad event like a terrorist attack or something. All indicating the world's become a dangerous place.


Observation Journal 4/30/06 April 30, 2006

Filed under: Essays — jojanoski @ 7:42 pm

Birds this morning–I never heard such a racket, so much chirping and squawking. The pileated woodpecker is the most amazing. It calls out loud and clear, mimicking Woody the Woodpecker–Not really, this bird is much more fascinating, but it does have loud shrill call. The cartoon character was based on this bird. I love living in a rural area.

* * *

A family member has been taken to the hospital tonight. I'm always amazed how these things catch me off guard. I guess I'm the eternal optimist, never thinking anything can go wrong…


Dog Lamps and Other Pet Tricks April 11, 2006

Filed under: Essays,My Photos — jojanoski @ 11:10 am

I am the proud parent of the coolest dog in the world, Well, okay, most dog owners think their pooch is the coolest, smartest, most attractive animal on the planet–much like human parents feel the same way about their babies. But Peepers really is cool.

We brought her home from a goat farm ten years ago, a wild little dog who had (literally) been raised up to that point in a barn. When I placed her down in our house, she bolted for an end table and jumped on it. I have to say, this dog looked mighty strange standing next to my favorite lamp. No manners whatsoever!

When we finally domesticated her, she became a loyal companion. For that I love my pooch, but I cherish her even more for a fun-loving nature. I don't know if it is the breed, smooth fox terrier, or just her personality, but Peepers loves to play. Chasing a ball, yes, but much more. She devises her own games, catching it in her long skinny snout, then proceeding to bury the toy in leaves or under a blanket, next digging it back up again with lots of pouncing and rustling. If it is Peeper's play time and you are remiss, she will arrive with the ball in her mouth to sit and stare at you until you relent.

She plays like a terrier–lots of jumping and endless vigor. But in the next moment, she can be a lap dog. Humbly crawling on you and curling up with a sigh. Peepers is expressive, and I know what is on her mind most of the time…a rare degree of communication you don't see often with pets. Oops, speaking of being expressive…there's my girl–staring at me with her blue ball in her mouth. I gotta go!


Catholic School April 2, 2006

Filed under: Essays — jojanoski @ 2:25 pm

Catholic School…

And how it made me what I am today

I dedicated my first book, Tea and Chocolates, to my old school teachers, the Sisters of St. Rosalia School. You might find it odd, but I couldn't help myself. They taught me everything I needed to get through the adversities in life, and for that, my gratitude is endless.

Discipline: In Catholic school, there are no excuses. I cannot remember a single time where an excuse was accepted for being late, homework not done, or a failing grade. The Sisters would have none of it. To be honest, the last thing I wanted would be to make someone with a name like "Sister Servula" angry. If that nomenclature sounds scary–well, she was. Don't worry–the nuns did not use corporal punishment, but they did make good use of their voices, coupled with the power to extract red-faced shame from recalcitrant students. In retrospect, there was nothing they did as severe as the real knocks and bumps of adult life, but the determination to do the right thing or else learned in those knee-knocking days still works well in the real world.

Secondly, they taught us devotion…devotion to something larger than ourselves. A Force, if you will, to guide one's conscience and to soothe one's soul. Personally, I think the worst thing we can do today is remove God from public schools. To whom are we teaching the children to lean on, and to whom are they answerable for their deeds? I think the accountability to a Higher Power has everything to do with preparing one's self for the future. Do the public schools propose to separate from that learning and to teach only what is in their textbooks? Is that possible?

Nihilism is an ugly monster. To see only as far as the tip of your own nose is the most vulgar, self-limiting thing I can imagine. Spiritual knowledge is actually self-knowledge in disguise, and I think that is where the Sisters succeeded. Most of all, they taught me to know myself–to know I could accomplish what needed to be done and to see a shining star in the sky every night offering inspiration beyond life's limits. What better education is there?

Copyright 2006 JO Janoski


Where Pop is Pop March 20, 2006

Filed under: Essays — jojanoski @ 5:10 pm

Where Pop is Pop and not a Soda…

This is the third part of my series of articles, the first and second, detailing what it's like for a city person to move to the country. In this article I list reasons why I love Pittsburgh:

Pittsburgh can try a good man's soul, what with its provincial attitudes and outrageous traffic patterns. I mean, how can it possibly take longer to drive to the airport than the time needed for your flight? All the same, I wouldn't leave this city for the world. Lots of good reasons come to mind, some big–some small. Here is a sampling:

1. I cringe every time someone calls "pop" a "soda." (It is just so wrong! It makes me nuts. How can I live where they would do that!)

2. I haven't yet figured out what "Protestants" are. (I've always assumed Catholics and Jews were all there is.)

3. I like being part of a local cult with its own (yinzer) language and nurturing entities…like Giant Eagle. I mean, who doesn't consider the Iggle a part of the family?

4. I love watching the city grow. When I was coming up, this was a shot and beer town. From grubby steelworkers with lunch pails…to executives, software researchers, health care personnel–I can't believe in my lifetime I've watched Pittsburgh evolve a whole new persona.

5. I love the city for what it used to be, too. This weekend, I was traveling with hubby through the neighborhoods. All afternoon cruising up and down the streets, I studied century old buildings and houses. I gazed at churches and schools along the way and old store fronts, many now closed or abandoned. The ghosts of earlier days still linger in those old brick and frame buildings surrounded by narrow cobblestone streets and alleys. Those worn rough textures reach out to remind us that hard-working people lived here once whose sweat built a strong city and whose steel mills built an even stronger country. In those weathered homes with pretty shutters and ornate details, families were whole, engrossed in each other, and God-fearing. The schools meant business and the churches were everyone's haven in times of both need and joy. The Church was everything in that time of brutal living.

How our predecessors would scoff at us today–we've forsaken their values of family, education, community, and church, abandoning them to neglect. I'm sure those people would ask, "Well, then what do you value?" How would we answer…from this disposable society that rushes to keep up with itself, getting nowhere fast? No time for neighbors, no time for the kids! I love the fact Pittsburgh was built by immigrants who came here, work ethic intact, and built their dreams. And I'm grateful their homes and buildings, in all their elaborate, patiently constructed beauty remain, to remind us to build a similar permanence and meaning into our own lives, physically and spiritually.

Copyright 2006 JO Janoski