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Holiday Greetings, 2019!

January 4, 2020

This year proved the importance of learning what we did not already know.  While most of you are aware that we live in an old Victorian on the banks of Lake Monona, on the isthmus of Madison, some of you may not be aware that this grand old home had been turned in to a condominium duplex in the early 1980s; the other owner, a nonagenarian German woman, decided a year ago December that she was ready to sell and had her realtor contact us with the news.  Being friendly guys (and continually caught off guard by this old Nazi—not a euphemism, she escaped Berlin in 1945 when the Russians invaded) we wrote back with Christmas greetings and acknowledged our interest in making the purchase.  Little did we know that in writing a few simple lines, it would be seen as relinquishing our right to have independent realtors working solely on our behalf.  Clearly that could not stand and we did indeed hire our own realtors, Wil and Robin, who guided us through an array of inspections and the ‘rules of the road’.  They were wonderful and we were glad to have such competent help on our side!

With that, we undertook a seven-month odyssey, which ultimately resulted in our purchasing the second and third floors of this old structure; the process also tested the limits of our patience and forbearance.  Under the condo by-laws, we had the right of first refusal but that did not mean that the seller would not attempt a number of truly illegal maneuvers to deny us that right.  That said, we also sought the help of a skilled attorney, Ethan.  An incisive writer, he helped set the process back on track. When the attorney asked how the opening salvo should sound, Gregory gave the Midwestern desire for “something pithy and with verve”.  James said he wanted to (in this very cleaned up version of events) “shuck it down to the cob”.  The lawyer smiled, said he could meld the ideas.  In a few weeks the seller saw the situation differently; we think the very serious threat of lawsuit seeking both punitive and compensatory damages helped her cataract-laden eyes to see more clearly.

She capitulated.  We signed the documents for ownership on July 31st. and handed over a check for more than the place was worth and have never been happier.  We thank here our friends Jennifer, Anne and Rolf who each in their own way helped make various aspects of this project come together.  They are our unsung heroes in all of this.  They helped us to ensure peace and tranquility in our future; it does seem that you can indeed put a price tag on happiness, as our closing statement proves.  Purchasing the unit meant we were no longer plagued with the old woman (they didn’t all go to Argentina!), nor would we have a lifetime of dealing with her drug addicted children and grandchildren (also not an exaggeration).

But what do either of us know of carpentry?  James has often told friends that he knows a lot of the theory about home repair, but that he lacks the practice.  These skills, as Providence would have it, are not in fact hereditary.  After two gallons of spackle and thirty gallons of paint, countless repairs to this and that, replacing all of the appliances and more, the upper two floors now resemble the ground floor where we have lived for the past twelve years.  Over a six-week period, John, Frank and Jeremiah of Isthmus Electric completely rewired the unit, bringing it from nob and tube (which in many cases was fished through the walls next to the gas lines for the lighting system in use prior to that) up to modern codes.  When Gregory asked the head electrician to explain the dangers that had been found, he rounded the answer by stating “You no longer have anything to worry about”.  James had already informed the man that Gregory’s fire-phobia runs deep, and that less information might be best when talking on that topic.

In reality, dangerous situations were bountiful since the former owner, a thief, had not only duct-taped Christmas light wiring into a nob and tube circuit to function as a kitchen light, but also removed all the operating dials and thermostat from her GAS stove so that there was no way to regulate it, and then to top it off, had eleven different circuits tapping into our electric lines so we could pay for them—she did though put the neutral lines in to her own box, generously.  For years she had been a constant source of harassment:  she had attempted to hire a lawyer so as to remove our American flag from flying atop a pole on the lawn; we found post it notes in her office with the numbers and complaints she had filed against us at THIRTY different government offices.  In short, our main goal starting on July 31 was to remove every trace of that nightmare; James went so far as to ask students familiar with Harry Potter how to hunt for horcruxes, just in case.  In other words, there is no way to express our joy about removing every fingerprint of that woman from our home.

The complete second floor, minus the balcony which we refurbished and painted a Porcelain Blue, will be rented with our target demographic being professors teaching a semester at UW-Madison, those on sabbatical, or businesspeople who wish for a rental part-time.  We are renting it furnished as we worked too long on making everything look nice to allow for anyone to cart furniture up and down our front U-shaped staircase and spoil the walls or woodwork there.

We call the third floor (attic) the Annex (the Anne Frank reference not to be missed) with James taking the unfinished 400 square feet of space and insulating them, staining the wood floor, and carpet tiling a section.  With the genuine carpentry skills of the fellow, Eliott, who redesigned our office a year ago, he will add some bookshelves and a day bed.  James is thinking that the addition of a grand leather chair by a window will make for a perfect reading nook.  We gain access to our private third floor hideaway via a winding wooden staircase in the back of the house.

In the other 600 square feet of the furnished third floor an uplifting yellow along with some period pieces, such as a round hewn oak table, and chiffonier from the 1890s make up, in part, the broadcasting studio which Gregory has wanted for a number of years.  With microphones, mixer, and a computer dedicated solely for Audicity he has started a pod cast, Doty Land, which comprises long-form interviews with people about ideas and interesting topics.  The first show is to go live as soon as the rest of the distributors, such as iHeartRadio, have linked to his RSS feed http://dotyland.buzzsprout.com/ .  James Doty, a land speculator, was the first European person to own our land in 1832.  The historical connection makes for smiles behind the microphone.

In professional news, James enjoys his retirement from teaching and continues to grow his guardianship business with new clients, and employees who give assistance to ensure the needs of those not able to make their own decisions are met.

We send our warmest wishes to you all this holiday season.  Stop by for a visit and share in our good fortune over a cup of joe, or a nice glass of red.  Merry Christmas!

A Half a Lifetime Ago

June 21, 2019

My mornings are sacrosanct.  I don’t get out of bed early unless absolutely necessary, but I am almost always up before Gregory.  I have to be—he is a chatter box; if I am not fully awake before he is, his life risks being seriously cut short.  I like to ease into my day.  I don’t like being peppered with questions or feel the need to make decisions beyond what breakfast (my least favorite meal of the day) should entail.  I like an hour of “me time” to read my emails, check out what crazy things my friends near and far on facebook are getting up to, research a bit of genealogy (a fantastic hobby), and more.  I have developed these habits of mine over the past few decades and I am sticking to them for as long as I can.  When asked in a conference about what I would miss the most were I be obligated to go and live in an assisted living, as most of my clients do, I responded quite openly, “Peace and quiet”.

Peace and quiet may seem to many as a death sentence, but I tend to consider it a perk that only people who never had children get to enjoy.  In fact, most of the people with whom I was in high school have children who are old enough to either be looking at graduate programs or young enough this year to be considering colleges and universities to begin their formal post-secondary education.  My friend, Mary (Goulet) Beeman, and her daughter came to Madison to visit recently for just that—her daughter is an upcoming Senior in her Indiana high school and is contemplating her future path.  As a pretext, I invited them here to tour our university.  The daughter was simply awe-struck by the experience.  My real mission, though—to compel my childhood pal, Mary, to drive seven hours out of her way to come and visit me, even though some twenty-five or more years had passed since last we hugged and told each other in person how much we missed the other.  I was not disappointed, and Mary, to this day, still gives a great hug!

Mary came into my life when we were in middle school.  Her family lived in Bradford, one of the least populous of the five towns which sent students to the schools in our district.  My graduating class of kids from those five communities in rural Maine had but sixty-nine students, a number we liked to joke about at the time.  Mary was, at least for a while, in the band with me, she played the trombone and I the trumpet.  She was in a group called “peer helpers” with me, and took Spanish classes from Mrs. Deal, a teacher who was a true inspiration to me at the time.  She was a member of the Upward Bound program, a TRiO foundation program designed to help us be the ‘first generation’ of our families to go to college.  Amusingly, she dated, at least briefly, one of the boys who had been a roommate of mine in that program.  (He was a great guy, but no housekeeper.  I had threatened to burn his laundry in the middle of our dorm room if he didn’t wash it.  He laughed.  I hauled out a zippo lighter.  He borrowed several dollars’ worth of quarters, opting to remedy the situation post haste rather than tempt my good nature!  I was called a lot of names growing up, but no one ever doubted my sincerity, nor did they make the mistake twice of finding out that not only was I smart and creative, but at times, just a little mean.)

James with Mary Goulet Beeman

It was years after I had left high school, that Mary and I were speaking on the phone and she said to me, “You know, I was really quite heartbroken when you turned down my invitation to Prom.”  I had to admit to her that I had no recollection of the invitation.  I had told her that I was not going to be available because I was scheduled to participate in All-State where I had been selected to sing as a tenor in the choir.  That was true and I had a wonderful experience.  What I must not have told her at the time was why I was more interested in singing with a group of strangers rather than exploring a deeper friendship with her.  For that, I am sorry.

I have written before about growing up in a small community in rural Maine.  I was the smart kid, and I never fit in with my peers.  And to be honest, I didn’t always make a lot of effort to do so either.  That would have meant that I would have had to feign interest in some sport, which I still can’t do, or pretend that I cared about cars, which I still to this day have never owned, or any number of other activities that simply did not interest me.  My classmates, as Mary alluded to this past week when she visited, were exceptionally cruel in their treatment of me, and seemingly there was no way to put a stop to it as an observer from the outside—in part out of fear of having the same treatment metered out toward them, or because I was good at giving the illusion that everything was ok.  Nonetheless, the bullying was relentless and hurtful.  I spent years dreaming of becoming a millionaire, returning to my hometown to start a major industry of some sort and hire an HR firm to ensure that no one, nor anyone related to someone who had abused me ever got a job in my company… it was the related part that would teach that town of inbreds the biggest lesson, I thought.  (I don’t waste energy on these kinds of thoughts any longer, even though a few years ago, just after my mother had passed away, I was fired from all of the volunteer positions I had held in that town because the former school secretary’s bastard of a husband had learned that I am a gay man.  Apparently, gay men should not be allowed to fundraise on behalf of the school’s alumni association, nor should they be allowed to work in any serious way with the critically understaffed historical society in town.  That would just be too much, I guess.  Even as someone who lived outside of town for a pair of decades at that point, the black ball of politics in those small towns is real—what is worse is that the two women from the historical society who came to tell me that my services were no longer of use to their group couldn’t even look me straight in the eye, the treacherous wenches!)

Rather than slink away in some sort of depression, I was very busy as a high school student.  I went back this evening to my college application to see what I had felt important enough to list as ‘extracurriculars’ as I wrapped up my time in Maine.  I was very involved in twenty-eight clubs or organizations!  I am not talking about the kinds of activities where one could attach one’s name and claim it on a resume; I was genuinely involved, and more often in a leadership role in those things.  At one point, in my junior year, one of my teachers made note to me that it had been a long time since I had attended a full week of classes.  I asked, seemingly innocently, if he felt my grades were suffering as a result.  The discussion stopped there since I was still at the top of my class.

I recall being in meetings and attending conferences and doing everything that I could just to keep myself busy.  I still have some of my supercharged pocket calendars from the time—though mine were much more of a mature read than Justice Kavanaugh’s were at his Senate confirmation hearings!

The guidance counselors at my school were worse than useless and were often quite degrading.  Once, as I was fighting with one of them to get an advanced class that I wanted, I was told that perhaps I shouldn’t really set my sights beyond being a plumber or a carpenter.  I replied, angrily, “I am your f-ing class valedictorian!  If I couldn’t make in college, who of my idiot classmates could!?”  There were kids in my class who genuinely feared that the school would not sign a diploma on their behalf because of their poor performance.  One, after all of the ceremonies had ended, my valedictory address concluded, caught me examining my diploma closely as well.  “What gives?” the guy asked me.  Coldly, I stated, “I am not coming back to get them to fix the error if they didn’t sign it!”  It was the closest that kid and I had ever been in spirit.

I have thought a great deal over the years about what makes me most angry about the years I lived growing up in Maine.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still consider Maine to be my home and Wisconsin is where I live, in large measure because I feel that my parents were fantastic role models who gave me a solid moral compass.  But I do still harbor resentments in my heart for the abuse that I suffered at the hands of my peers and much of the faculty of the school I attended.  Once, when I was home on vacation to visit with my folks, I had apparently ignored one of my former classmates when greeted at the then new grocery store in town.  The classmate corned my mother later in the week and expressed the following, “Wow, James has become such a snob!”  Mom replied dryly, “Oh no, dear, he has always been a snob; he just isn’t faking it for you any longer!”  Mom was so right.  I lived a total of 19 years in Maine, some 8 years in places like Vermont, New Jersey and Virginia as well as in France in Spain, and finally the last 19 years here in Wisconsin.  I think what makes me most angry is that TIME was stolen from me.

In short, I spent so much of my youth thinking about what else to be DOING rather than thinking about just BEING my best self.  I was raised well-fed and cared for but mired in dissatisfaction.  I came home from the first day of kindergarten, if my mother’s journal is to be believed, and said, “I am so bored!”  It never got better.  I tried reaching out to those who might listen and often had the impression that there was no one there.  I craved challenge—once, when an English teacher handed me back my paper with an A at the top but not a single comment, I marched it back to her and demanded she do a better job.  She did.  I even, with what limited foreign language skills I had at the time, went so far as to collect pen pals the world over with whom I regularly corresponded, just to be able to see beyond the outer limits of our town.  (International postage stamps were $.52 apiece then; I spent a lot of money on stamps).  With my epistolary friends though, I felt at risk of feeling conditioned to look toward ‘somewhere else’, to be eternally convinced that real lives happened in that ‘somewhere else’—I later resolved that by always attempting to make wherever I was home for me.  Some have said that I am good a creating a ‘nest’.  I realize too that some of this may seem to others to be a ‘first world problem’, especially since my thoughts of leaving home weren’t because I were fleeing war, nor the kind of poverty that crushed the human soul.  We weren’t rich, but we did ok, especially since my mother was so resourceful and knew her way around a farm and garden.  What was I hoping for?  I did, as a teenager, understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness that my hometown represented.  I was hungry, if not starved, for options, and certainty.

I visited Middlebury College when I was a junior in high school.  I knew that I wanted to study languages, and Middlebury even had a “Chateau” where students agreed to live in French.  I knew that was the place for me.  I applied early decision, contrary to the wishes of my imbecile of a guidance counselor, and was readily accepted.  I refused to let him mail the other applications to ‘safe schools’ that he felt the need to write on my behalf.  When I got to Middlebury, I was laser focused on my studies.  College was for me that ticket out of the hell that my hometown represented/represents.  I was not going to be forced by geography or any other circumstance to work in a field that did not mesh with my heart and soul.  I was going to go to the top of my field and be away.  That means, in the process, that I wasted time that I could have spent forming friendships and having relationships with people in college because I was working so hard to escape the people from home who had prevented me from forming friendships and having relationships.  The wretches at home had, in effect, not stolen just four years of my time, but the many that followed as well.

What I learned this past week, with Mary here and by my side, is that there were, in fact, people out there who did care.  She told me that she had at one point in those high school years yearned to be my girlfriend.  I would have welcomed that, had I been in an emotional space to be able to open myself up to that kind of vulnerability.  Instead, I was centered in my mind, creating an escape route, and seeking to build a protective wall around myself just to survive.  Just to survive.  Think about how that must have felt.  I have.

I am grateful to have reconnected with Mary, and to have met her daughter who is ever as much a loving and kind soul that her mom was all those years ago.  More than a half of a lifetime has passed, and my childhood friend has reminded me that no matter how bad it was then, I did still have love in my life.  I am done with those other kids stealing my TIME.  Thank you, Mary, for polishing up some of the bright spots from my past and not letting me relegate them to the bin of tarnished memories that I am still trying banish from my heart.

Holiday Greetings, 2018!

December 29, 2018

When in 1984, Marion, James’ Mom, designed their family home in Corinth, Maine, a small rural bedroom community of about 2800 people currently, Marion had no doubt as to where the living room would be placed.  Marion believed in the long-game; she was planning for their retirement still some 25 years off.  She wanted peace.  When her husband, Robert, completed with his own hands the building, the room was located on the backside away from the road.  Marion knew from observing her mother-in-law and from personal experience what happens when the everyday traffic in a small town becomes the topic of too many conversations!  It is yet uncertain as to whether Robert’s second wife, Dianne, has contemplated the ramifications of Marion’s design wizardry on her current living situation.

On this similar line of thinking, Gregory grew up in Hancock, Wisconsin, an even smaller rural town with roughly 400 residents today, in a home dating back to the pre-Civil War era—the kind of 1853 structure which had the living room situated to view the road traffic, or at least the fields and forest nearby.  As such, hearing his parents commenting with “looks like Jim got a new truck” or “Rod is heading up to the cemetery to mow” were common conversations, decade after decade.  On a congested day, a tractor may go by.

We live with an intersection in front of our Madison home; Spaight St. and Paterson St. cross at the edge of our little world.  Since, just the same, this is a side street on the isthmus of Madison (another larger lake is only a few blocks away at the other end of Paterson), our corner is rather sedate when it comes to vehicular traffic.  (Well, at least it is most of the time.  That summer of road construction brought us quite a few more ‘tourists’ in the area, and a significant amount of dust.)  There are, however, always an ample number of people who pass our way on foot or bike.  Foot traffic is encouraged by the 13-mile bike trail leading around Lake Monona, the lake which comprises our view from the front lawn.  Since we spend time each day in the warm months reading or working out in our Adirondack chairs, we talk with a fair share of the neighborhood.  Moreover, because our home too is situated as to better see this intersection, and James is powerless to keep the incessant traffic reports from coming his way, we thought that this year we might introduce you to some of the special people who hurry about our home, but who stop by just long enough to enrich our lives.

Henry is three years old and wears the sharpest pair of dark green glass frames.  They are strapped to his head so his youthful hi-jinks will not send them flying.  He most often holds his grandmother’s hand and is always pointing out the wonders of the day.  During the raking of our fall leaves Henry approached, with his dad who wears very bight blue-framed lenses.  Henry grinned sheepishly up at Gregory; Henry made particular notice of the large pile of leaves.  His shiny white teeth shone bare and made it very clear what he desired.  He left his dad behind and lunged for a soft landing on the lawn.  Kerplop!  After a fair amount of kicking about, he rejoined his dad and they continued their afternoon stroll.  A short distance down the block, Henry leaves his dad behind, comes running back, giggling, and clearly needing one more tumble.  Climbing out from beneath the yellows and browns of the maple leaves, nodding at us knowingly, he composes his contented self, straightens his little jacket, and heads back to where his dad awaited.  (When out shopping we often see things that seem too perfect not to buy, even though we ourselves will not use them.  That is how we came to have a kite kit in our home.  There will always be the kid in the neighborhood that seems suited for our spontaneous purchases.  Henry was the kid and the sunny fall day when he tip-toed across the top of our rock retaining wall, the perfect time.  His grandmother said she had not flown a kite in years but that she was looking forward to the experience.  We apologized for being unable to conjure the wind.  The lesson is that it is never too old to be young.)

We also appreciate generosity in others.  When some boys passed our way with fishing poles, we shared in the typical conversations about what was caught.  They were too young to tell tall tales about ‘the fish that got away’.  Just good kids.  A few days later, a woman rings our doorbell and says one of the boys, her son, wanted us to have some of the previous day’s haul.  She handed over a freezer bag with fish chunks.  She told us of how much her son had enjoyed swapping stories with us—that we had made him feel like he was truly important.  We sure did enjoy the blue gill filets!

From fishing on the shores of Lake Monona, to climbing trees, our neighbors can do it all.  Eleven years ago this summer, we dug a truly impressive hole in the front yard to allow for the root ball on a tree.  A sugar maple, roughly 5 feet in height at the time, had been offered to us as a welcome gift by a neighbor, Gary, who lives on the next block—we could have the rather tall sapling as long as we could transport it home ourselves.  Up the street we carted the large container in a wheelbarrow of questionable strength.  That maple is today about 35 feet tall.  Late last fall, we returned from grocery shopping to find a note on our front door—a fan letter for the tree.

A young man–who is a forester and who is named Forrest–had strolled countless times by our home gazing up the tree and, while admiring it, also noted it needed to be structurally pruned and allowed to grow in a more healthy fashion.  In his letter to us, he offered to come and do the job as an expression of gratitude for sharing our gardens and trees with the neighborhood.  So, on a Sunday afternoon this spring before the vernal freshet opened up the Yahara River and Lake Monona, Forrest showed up with his equipment and set to scaling the tree.  He climbed effortlessly that tree to the top.  He wanted nothing for his time other than to shape the tree and be able to see it continue to grow in the years to come.  We were happy to oblige, and repaid his kindness with a good book—a tree in a different form.

Speaking of hard wood and trees, we were responsible this year for the transformation of a certain quantity of oak.  Elliott, who used to reside across the street from us, is a cabinet-maker of unquestionable skill.  A year ago, he helped us to create floor-to-ceiling bookshelves for the office.  We love the additional space that they allowed us, and don’t mind climbing a three-set ladder to get to those top shelves.  This fall, Elliott returned to construct for us bookcases and desks, filling the other side of the 8 X 10 office space that we have.  The work surface is considerably larger, the cabinets under the desk quite a bit broader, and the shelves allowed James to bring all of his ‘old friends’ out of basement storage (some 1500 novels that James had brought back from France in a football duffle bag).  The office is tiny, but so efficiently designed and built that we are both quite comfortable working in there.  Gregory has the window to his right, and James has for storage and files what passed for a closet in this old Victorian to the left.  The two work zones are separated by cabinetry that gives the impression of a reception desk.  We’re trying to decide now, though, which of us most closely resembles Carol Burnett’s Mrs. Wiggins, and who is Tim Conway’s Mr. Tudball.

The interesting and engaging people who crossed our way at times this year were not all ‘locals’.  James family made our summer brighter too.  In June, James’ father, Robert, and Robert’s second wife, Dianne, came to town in their motorhome, intent on driving all the way from Maine to Yellowstone National Park and back.  They spent a pair of days with us, taking in the sights of the city from the roof deck of the State Capitol, enjoying the farmer’s market, and setting sail aboard the Betty Lou Cruise, which proffers a view of our home from the water rather than by land.  It was a wonderful time.  Robert had not been to Madison to visit since he was here last in 2007 with Marion, James’ Mom.  We had only just moved in at that point, so we were glad he could see the improvements we had made to the house since then.

James’ twin sister, Melissa, her husband, Kermit, and a cousin of Kermit’s, Sue, came later in their motorhome, tracing the same journey west as Robert and Dianne.  They were here for the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks with us from the banks of the lake.  We visited a local museum dedicated to trains and attempted to see a living circus museum.  On the hottest day of summer, we all went to the local zoo to see the polar bears in their new enclosure.  The peace of watching the graceful beasts paddle around their refrigerated pool was only interrupted by the sounds of an overly amorous pair of tortoises.  We did discover something interesting about their truck’s onboard navigation system.  When we got the banks of the Wisconsin River in Merrimack, WI, and were ready to board a ferry to cross, the navigation system got a bit anxious and encouraged us to turn around and find an alternate route so that we wouldn’t end up in the drink!  We assured the system that we were going to be ok, got out of the truck and purchased some ice cream cones at the little shop at the ferry terminal, and continued merrily on our way.

Before closing this letter, we did think we should mention at least some of our furry friends from the neighborhood.  Our property, and flower gardens located on the terrace (that area between the street and the sidewalk) are marked by the local dogs.  It is as though they all need to hit ‘reply all’ to the ‘pee mail’ that is left for them by every other critter who wanders by here.  How anything grows in that area is a mystery.  One dog, a large Newfoundland named Olive, will come and sit at the edge of our property and gaze out at the lake.  From the size of her, her owner is compelled to give her time and to wait patiently.  Olive does not budge if she doesn’t want to move!  Another of our friends, Callie, is a good old dog who lives with our neighbor, Linda, across the street.  Callie likes to come over and thoroughly wet our knees with affectionate kisses in summer.  She rather thinks that we are a ‘part of her pack’ and is not a fan of those days when Linda tries to rush her past our corner to get home more quickly.  Callie hasn’t been feeling so well as of late, so if you have some healing energy that you’d like to send out in to the universe for her, we sure would appreciate that too.

We hope in the coming year that if you should find your way to the Midwest that you will consider stopping by our home and visiting for a spell.  As Gregory forever tells people, the tea kettle is always on!  (Come when James isn’t trying to get paperwork done in our office, and he will offer you a glass of wine, like civilized people!)  Bring a suggestion for a good book along with you… we’re always on the lookout for a new title!

Merry Christmas to one and all!

The Sig Heil salute is Not a Joke

November 13, 2018

The world today watched twitter as photos of Baraboo High School seniors, in Baraboo, WI, raised their hands in a Sig Heil, the Nazi gesture that meant the destruction of so many lives in World War II Europe. There are unconfirmed reports that the photographer and some of the students apparently felt the photo was a joke, that it was somehow in good fun. One student is also seen with his fingers curled in a white nationalist symbol by his waist. One student did not participate, nor could he, in that salute, and I am writing this letter to him and to all the others like him across our country who will not stand for intolerance. I am writing to say that the Sig Heil absolutely is not a joke.

Baraboo High School
1201 Draper St.
Baraboo, WI 53913

November 12, 2018

Dear Mr. B.,
We are simply shocked and dismayed while watching the evening news tonight. There is hope though. My husband, Gregory, joins me in saluting you this evening for your bravery in not following the herd mentality that led your classmates to raise their hands in a Sig Heil and your courage today for speaking out against the behavior. We recognize how difficult it is not to do what everyone else is doing at times but we feel much gratitude for those, like you, who will not stand for intolerance. We appreciate those, like you, who will speak up for the rest of us. We value your decency. We send our munificent thanks.

Gregory and I both grew up gay in small towns, he in Wisconsin and I in rural Maine. We know first hand what it means to be mercilessly bullied and picked on for being different. We survived those high school years by believing that it would one day get better, that one day we could chart our own course. We were right, and we hope that you understand that as well. While bullying is terrible all in itself, what we hoped never to see happen was that a group of people such as your classmates would be so cavalier about the dangers of hatred that they would participate in the display we all witnessed on the evening news. The “it’s just a joke” rationale is not at all to be accepted. The behavior is dangerous and frightening.

My doctoral studies were in French and Spanish and I have worked my entire career to teach and educate young people just like you to think about themselves as a part of the global community. I have sought to help young people think about the world around them from other points of view. I have spoken in my courses about the Holocaust survivors whom I have met and been friends with over the years. I lived in France and knew many Jewish survivors; I have seen the numeric tattoos on their arms: I have heard their stores of hiding in attics and basements before being caught and sent to Auschwitz, lucky to have survived only because the Americans arrived only hours before the gas chambers were to be filled to capacity, just like every other day of their existence. I have spent time with Jehovah Witnesses who were tortured and beaten and sent to labor camps; they continue today to suffer physically as a result. I have met families whose homosexual sons were used by the Nazis in medical experiments from castration to frontal lobotomy to worse. Most, their families told me, would have preferred the gas. And, my time in Spain showed me the horrors of their Civil War and Fascism there. The doorman at my apartment building in Spain had no arms—his were amputated in the war as punishment for not having saluted with a Sig Heil like everyone else had when he dictator passed his troop. The Nazis sought to rid their world of not only the Jewish, but the homosexual, the Jehovah Witness, the Catholic, the Roma (gypsies), the mentally disabled… anyone who was different. These stories aren’t just made up to fill your history textbooks. I have met the survivors and I have wept openly with them.

In other words, thank you for not participating in that grotesque display we saw in photos, even if it was meant to be in jest. It simply is not something that can be explained away as a joke. It simply cannot.

Thank you for your strength and courage.

Sincerely,
James R. Wilson

Elegy for First Lady Barbara Bush

April 18, 2018

1990 Barbara Bush and Millie

Barbara Bush, First Lady; James R. Wilson, soon-to-be student of Middlebury College.  She, resident of Kennebunkport, Maine; me, from a small town north of Bangor.  What could we possibly have had in common?

As a high school student, my sister and I were participants in the Upward Bound program, part of the Federal TRIO programs which encourage low-income, first generation students to not only complete high school but to obtain post-secondary degrees from universities across the country.  (Upward Bound proved to be life changing for me—no so much in helping me to advance my academic goals because I had always known I wanted to be a doctor.  Initially, of course, I thought I would be a doctor of medicine, but then Fluffy had her kittens under the headboard of my parent’s bed and cured me of that thought!  As luck would have it, a doctorate can be obtained in many disciplines.)  In my second, and final year, in the UB program, Alan Parks, the program’s director and my friend today, took all of the necessary steps for me to be trained and work for Literacy Volunteers which had offices in the basement of the Bangor Public Library.  I was seventeen at the time, certainly an unorthodox volunteer age for an organization which was generally run by retirees who had spare time on their hands.

Alan, a great teacher in his own right, first obtained their training manual for me, which I read assiduously and intently, and then arranged for transportation for me from the University of Maine campus in Orono to the Bangor office where I learned more about the methods that the Literacy Volunteers used to teach people how to read.  I was preoccupied at that stage in my life with the idea that better communication would lead to life being better for everyone—my Valedictory Address to my graduating class in 1991 was even on the topic.  I was also saddened to think that I could read in three languages by then and there were those who still couldn’t read in one.  I knew I could make a difference.  (I mention that I was just awarded the distinction of Faculty Emeritus recently after retiring from twenty-one years in the classroom.)  I was seventeen years old, ready to be helpful to someone, and I liked the ideas contained in the Literacy Volunteer’s handbook but did not agree with all of them.  I kept the good and banished the bad.

I met my first student, Tim, that summer.  Tim was about my age then.  He had some special learning challenges which had made it more than difficult to learn to read in the traditional high school classroom setting where he was a student.  His Mother, Anne, was looking for any additional support that she could get for him, hoping to break the log-jam in his progress.  He and I met a few times in the library and began to work on sight-reading basic words that Tim needed and, more importantly, wanted to know how to read.  My idea at the time, contrary to what my training had indicated, was not to force him to read silly text such as Dick and Jane, but to encourage him to read what interested him.  There had to be something which inspired him to want to read more.  As it turned out, he was as interested in cooking as I was, so we began with ingredient lists and words he might need in the kitchen.  He learned to read words that represented dangerous kitchen items, those under-the-sink products he needed to avoid, and those words which represented components of something delicious.  We swapped recipe ideas—I gave him some of mine to read, and he had me help him write one that he really wanted to know how to make better from his own Mom’s collection.

After my summer with Upward Bound concluded, I had suspected that I wouldn’t see him again, but his Mother felt that he was really connecting with me and that he was finally making some progress.  Anne would drive him twenty-five miles through the back roads of Maine to my house where we had lessons upstairs at my desk that Dad had built for me in the dormer of my bedroom.  Anne stayed downstairs and became fast friends with my Mom.  I love Anne.  I have never missed taking the opportunity to visit with her at her Hampden home whenever I am home in Vacationland.  We’ve been friends now almost thirty years.

At the same time, I was so bored with high school and had free time in my day, having taken most ever elective that I could get in to my schedule to replace study halls the other three years I was at Central, that I took a walk from the high school to my former elementary school to teach basic French to a group of fourth graders there.  When I graduated, one of my pupils gave me a copy of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a wonderful little text with a Messianic overtone.  In the cover of the book, she had taped a quarter.  She inscribed the book, letting me know that it was one of her favorites and that she hoped I would enjoy it too.  The quarter?  She said, “Take this.  I know you will need it to help pay for college next year.”  I never spent it.  The quarter is in my jewelry case next to all my cuff links and tie tacks.  (I got a letter from her years later as she was graduating and planning on becoming a teacher.  She says that her choice was all because of the work that I did to inspire her to see beauty in words.  I was honored to get her note.)

In looking for colleges, I was seeking academic and intellectual challenge.  I knew I wanted to study languages and be able to communicate with the French Canadians who landed on Old Orchard Beach, Maine in the summers.  I wanted to be able to converse and understand people from places I could never have dreamed of visiting.  I wanted to be among other ‘smart kids’ for once.  Most notably, I needed to be outside of my hometown.  I found that in Middlebury College and applied ‘early decision’.  It was the only school to which I had applied, and was accepted before Christmas that year, making any other applications unnecessary.  I wouldn’t decide to be a teacher for another number of years yet.

But how does any of this relate to the former First Lady Barbara Bush?

I wasn’t quite eighteen years old yet.  I was busy applying for scholarships and grants to fund my college experience.  Anne must have said something particularly glowing about me to the Literacy Volunteers people, or perhaps to Alan.  One day, in the mail when I got home from school was an unexpected surprise.   I was invited to have lunch at the Blaine House, the Governor’s mansion in Maine, at the behest of Governor John “Jock” McKernan, Jr. to celebrate the work I was doing as the State’s youngest literacy educator.  It was an odd invitation, though.  The Governor and his wife, Senator Olympia Snowe, stated that they were going to be unable to attend.  The Governor was mourning the loss of his son.  Peter had died only a few months earlier of a previously undetected heart problem. He had collapsed during baseball practice at Dartmouth College. He was 20 years old.  No, the luncheon invitation wasn’t for the Governor or his wife, the Senator.  He hoped that I wouldn’t mind having lunch with a friend of his.

I was forever participating in some activity which kept me out of school.  Perfect attendance was not an award I coveted in the slightest.  Mom agreed that no matter who would be at the luncheon, that we would enjoy a day in the State Capitol and nearby museum.  I dressed in the new blue J. C. Penney suit my grandmother had purchased for me to wear at graduation later that spring.  I put on an attractive blue striped tie which I bought special for the occasion, fastened to my lapel the Mickey Mouse pin that my Sunday School teacher, Lorraine Elliott, had given me for Christmas one year and my nicest shoes.  (The lapel pin is next to the quarter in my jewelry case.)  Mom and I drove and hour and a half to the Capital city in the big blue truck my Dad had.

The Blaine house is an elegant old mansion.  We were excited to be able to visit it, and dreamt of meeting the former Governor Brennan there and play a round of billiards with him.  I was a fairly good shot, though held no illusion that I would ever win against the famed billiard shark that the former Governor was.  We were instead, greeted by the Blaine House staff, given a tour of the Governor’s mansion and shown to a small private dining room.  We still had no idea as to whom we were to lunch with that day.

I had the distinct honor of sharing lunch with one of Maine’s most famous residents.  A gentleman in a nice tuxedo, white gloves, came in to the dining room and asked if I would mind rising to meet the First Lady of the United States, Barbara Bush.  Blue Dress.  Large pearl earrings and stunning string of pearls around her neck.  White gloves.  She embraced my Mother and me fondly and said that she was so pleased be able to meet me at long last, that she had heard much about me from the Governor and his wife.

We enjoyed a light lunch and delightful conversation.  She was genuinely very interested in my ideas for literacy, and was curious as to why someone my age, someone 48 years her junior, was so preoccupied about language education.  She listened intently as I shared my educational goals and plans for the future.  Barbara Bush, for a few short hours, genuinely made me feel very valued and cared for, that my goals were laudable and achievable.  She sincerely dedicated the few hours we spent together, Mom, Barbara and me, to making me feel like the most valued resident of the State of Maine.  She was warm, caring and very much a lovely conversationalist.  We parted ways when she said jokingly that she needed to get back to Kennebunkport to let Millie, her dog, out for a run!  (She was expected at a fundraising event later that day.)

Later that month, a letter arrived at the house, in a brown manila envelope with the simple marking “The White House” in the return address.  Mrs. Bush had sent me the following letter, which I framed and have kept with me all these years.

While I had differences with her husband politically and would prefer never to mention her son’s name again for as long as I live, First Lady Bush was nothing but grace, charm and warmth.  She left me feeling after our luncheon together that I was truly someone who was making a difference in the lives of others, and that she suspected that my life would be dedicated to such a pursuit.  She left me with the impression that she truly was my friend.  I thank her for that kindness and care.  I for one will mourn her loss, and hope that others will have had the opportunity to be made to feel as special by someone in their lives as Barbara Bush made my eighteen-year-old self appreciate.

Barbara Bush Letter 1991 closer

 

The Power of Friendship

March 10, 2018

“What first aid treatment is administered by the ear?”

“Words of comfort!”

–Abraham Verghese

Friendships are hard to form at any age.  Children’s authors have struggled with portraying positive and beneficial relationships, with how to model behavior that we want to see in our society.  School teachers work with kids every day to help them understand that one can’t pull Susie’s hair, or kick Jimmy out of frustration.  If you’ve been to university and lived in a dormitory, you know what all those late nights at the library were really training for establishing a lifelong relationship with people of influence.  As adults we often join clubs or organizations with which we share an interest or some value.  We choose life partners because of how they light up our world.  Imagine, though, for a moment how much harder it would be to form any of these relationships after the onset of dementia, after one has already begun to lose to the flow of time the sense of oneself, even.

I have for the last number of years been working as a legal guardian for elderly people, most notably those suffering with the effects of dementia.  My clients are referred to me by lawyers, social workers, judges and others who have contact with vulnerable populations.  My job generally entails making medical decisions and managing the person’s finances.  That is at least what the task looks like in the brochure that the Court hands you when you are given the job.  I spent more than twenty years as a classroom teacher, though, and have spent considerable time thinking about a student-centered approach to learning.  I have attempted at least to bring that level of concern to my work for my aging clients.  I see no reason why efforts should not be made to help the person with dementia maintain as many of the “little things” that they enjoyed in their more active years.  I have arranged for the County library service to bring the bookmobile to a nursing home to feed the need of a nearly blind avid reader who can’t remember a word of what she has just seen but who is obsessed with books.  I have hosted “tailgating parties” for the die-hard football fans, even though their team didn’t actually make it to the Superbowl.  I have bought gardening supplies so that the green-thumbed elderly can putter around in a raised garden plot the size of a kitchen stool, utterly destroying it each and every time she approached it, mangling it with such glee and joy.  I have even purchased extra large knitting needles with blunt ends and chunky yarn so that arthritic hands can produce the most horrific of scarves to be given as gifts over the holidays.

About four years ago, two very unique ladies came in to my care.  One had almost no contact with family, her children having abandoned her years earlier, only showing interest in her care when her estate was seemingly up for grabs.  The other had family waiting in the wings but had long been isolated from all of them at the hands of an abusive caregiver.  When I needed to place them, each in their own time, in an appropriate living situation, I chose to have them in the same facility.  I knew that these two, cranky old Republican ladies would have a lot in common, if only someone could facilitate their friendship.

Assisted living facilities such as the one where my two wards, as they are officially designated by the Court, reside are supposed to provide activities to the residents and encourage them to join in the fun.  Most don’t, or only provide the bare minimum, and it is a real tragedy.  All available research points to the benefits of maintaining normal and productive interactions with others.  The activities, while useful to keeping the juices flowing, as it were, are really meant to be a pretext for forming friendships, for relearning how to be a part of a community.  New to a living environment, not understanding the world around them because of the dementia, both of my ladies struggled to make new friends, and I would have hoped that the poor, overworked staff of the facility would have been given the training necessary and the time in their work day for them to be friend-makers.  One of my ladies has terrible cataracts and can’t see the facial expressions that the rest of us rely on in our interactions with others.  This is frightening to her and she gets a little paranoid.  The other is hard of hearing and often has the impression that people are mocking her, laughing at her, or trying to exclude her from the conversation.  They have some real challenges to making friends, but they did… with each other.

In my role as guardian, I try to find caring and competent “companions” for my clients.  I have three gems in my employ:  Carmen is a professional pet sitter by her chosen profession; Sarah is a graphic artist with a caring heart and bit of spare time on her hands; and Nicole, well she is a jack of all administrative trades.  Each week for the past few years, they have visited with and accompanied my ladies on a number of adventures.  One of the ladies fancies her self a very threatening dog at times and enjoys barking at the passersby.  Nicole has joined her.  The two, and their barks, genuinely seem quite formidable, if you can get past the peals of laughter that follow.  The other enjoys working on her Ukranian egg painting skills, or other crafts, as well as keeping up with her exercises because “must we must, we must exercise our bust”!  She has relentlessly flirted with the Santa Claus I hired to visit the home at the holidays, and was upset when she learned that her dishy young doctor had a wife and children and that his warm hands were not exclusively for her.  Sarah joins her in laughter and fun with the staff, giggling at the noises of the whoopie cushion that her son brought her one holiday.  Carmen, who has been with me the longest, keeps the conversation flowing and reports back on the state of things so that I can keep track of more than just what the staff are telling me.  All three are invaluable to the care of my ladies.

Recently, though, one of the ladies had begun to show every bit of her ninety-four years.  She had two major medical incidents and that has left her quite impaired.  I have worried for her, and her family, quite a lot since.  But I have also been terribly concerned for how my other ward was feeling about the situation.  The other lost her husband a bit more than a decade ago, just as spring was starting to return.  Unable to express grief as you or I might, her behavior changes and she becomes a bit aggressive every year at this time of year.  How would losing her new friend affect her?

When they first moved in to the facility together, Carmen and the two ladies sat down for tea one afternoon.  The one who had been abandoned by her children said to Carmen, “I am the luckiest person in the world.  I don’t know who this James person is, but he is just wonderful and he makes magic happen here.”  (She later asked Nicole to get a photo of me so that she would know who was working on her behalf.)  The other lady, listening intently, had only recently been removed from a dreadfully abusive situation and didn’t understand fully what had truly gone on and why the change would ultimately be to her benefit.  She rather thought me an ogre for taking her away from her home.  She said to Carmen, “Really?  I have a guy named James too, and he is just god awful.  He has taken away my home, my independence and brought me here.  I sure wish I had someone like this James fellow the other lady describes.”  Carmen, who had been a student of mine, could hardly keep from laughing at the many different Jameses she was experiencing.

Time has passed, and to be honest, I have never seen the two ladies happier that they were this winter.  While neither is capable of asking for their companions by name, and wouldn’t recognize me if I walked in and started talking with them, they do know which people at the residence are friends, and who are (often imaginary) foes.  My two ladies did indeed become friends, and they looked out for each other.  The elder of the two, who was more functionally capable than the younger, prided herself on her self-reliance and would say of the other, “The poor dear, she needs help.”  The younger often sensed loneliness in the elder, and once instructed staff to give me a call so that she could say, “The other one.  The other lady who shares my name.  She is lonely.  Can’t you send her some flowers from me?”  And so I did.

As the elder’s time drew near, and it was apparent to everyone given the intense level of hospice care staff visits and family vigil, I asked Carmen, Nicole and Sarah to give a bit of extra care to the one who was likely to be left behind.  Nicole took the opportunity to share some time with my ward and asked her how she was feeling about her friend.  “She’s pretty sick, I guess.”  So Nicole asked if she thought they should go and visit her in her room.  Nicole took her to the other’s doorway and they peered inside.  Hospital bed.  Oxygen tanks. Commode.  My ward’s once peaceful oasis decorated with antique furniture and quilts that a favorite aunt had made had been transformed in to a veritable hospital room.  “Pretty scary stuff, isn’t it?” Nicole said.  “Do you want to go in and visit anyway?”  They did.

Despite all of the limitations that dementia has placed on the ladies, they were friends.  My moribund ward raised her head, smiled and was appreciative of the visit; the other was silent, taciturn even, but reflective.  The pair sat for a number of minutes in each other’s company.  The one held the other’s hand gently.  And they said nothing.  They just held each other’s hand and were friends.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

February 18, 2018

David Hogg

Alex Wind

Emma Gonzalez

Cameron Kasky

Jacqueline Coren

c/o Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

5901 NW Pine Island Road

Parkland, FL 33076

 

February 18, 2018

 

Dear David, Alex, Emma, Cameron and Jacqueline,

Under normal circumstances, I would never have had the occasion to learn your names.  I am delighted though to have watched your participation on Nancy Cordes’ Face the Nation this morning, and am joined by my partner, Gregory, in saluting you.  Thank you for working so hard to make this world a better place for all of us.  Your advocacy and straight talk to those in positions of power to affect change is laudable.  Our sincere gratitude is with you.

I recently retired from teaching.  I had been in front of a classroom for the last twenty-one years.  I have worked with scores of young people, just like yourselves, and have had countless conversations just like the one you had with Nancy Cordes this morning.  How can these shootings continue to happen unabated?  How can we continue to allow the senseless slaughter to occur?

Regrettably, our politicians have indeed let us down.  Bipartisan support exists for any number of life-saving measures, and yet the only thing we can muster in time of crisis is the apparent need for absolute silence on the issue and “thoughts and prayers”.  We, frankly, are done meditating on the problem.  We join David especially in being sickened by what we see coming out of the mouths of our political leaders, in desiring quite literally ANY piece of legislation to help stem the tide of violence!  We join you all in your anger, and more importantly, we applaud your temerity and chutzpah in speaking truth to power, in calling for action over inaction, and for pleading for our right to live in a civilized world.  We wish your group every success in its effort to organize a march on our Nation’s Capital.  We will be marching here locally in solidarity with you.

Before I end my letter today, please find enclosed a small gift.  It isn’t a lot, but being a political activist, and planning to march for one’s rights is hard work, and people get hungry.  As you and your friends work to plan your March 24th rally in Washington, DC, you might need a bit of extra cash to buy some pizza and keep your strength up.  We are always fans of extra cheese.

Thank you for what you are doing, and our wishes for your every success now and in to the future are with you.

 

Very sincerely,

James and Gregory

 

In the wake of last week’s deadly shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 people dead, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have taken to the airwaves and social media to demand tighter gun laws. Their advocacy and anger serve as a stark new facet in the all-too-familiar routine following mass shootings in the U.S.

The students say they will organize and march to hold lawmakers who take money from the National Rifle Association accountable. David Hogg, Alex Wind, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky and Jacqueline Coren joined us to discuss the shooting, their plans for a march on Washington and what kind of legislation they want to see passed in the wake of the shooting.

The following is a transcript of the interview with the students that aired Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018, on “Face the Nation.”


NANCY CORDES: Joining me now are five students from Parkland, Florida who attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They are David Hogg, Alex Wind and Emma Gonzalez, plus Cameron Kasky and Jacqueline Coren. Thanks so much to all of you for joining me and Cameron, I’ll start with you. You say the adults have let you down.

CAMERON KASKY: Well, the adults in office have let us down. Absolutely. And fortunately we have a lot of support from the older generations here, but what we’re trying to do here March for Our Lives is say, the adult politicians have been playing around while my generation has been losing our lives. If you see how they treat each other in the office, if you see the nasty, dirty things going on with them, it’s- it’s sad to think that that’s what they’re doing while seventeen people are being slaughtered, gunned down only yards away from where we’re sitting right now. And March for Our Lives has support from everybody. And at the end of the day this isn’t a red and blue thing. This isn’t Democrats or Republicans. This is about everybody and how we are begging for our lives and we are getting support. But we need to make real change here and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

NANCY CORDES: So, Emma, what is the plan? You say you want to spark a national movement. It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another thing to actually make it happen. What are you going to do.

EMMA GONZALEZ: Well what we have set up right now we have a website, March for Our Lives. We’re going to be doing a march in March on Washington where we get students all over the country are going to be joining us. These kids are going to make this difference because the adults let us down. And at this point I don’t even know if the adults in power who are funded by the NRA I don’t even think we need them anymore because they’re going to be gone by midterm election. There’s– there’s barely any time for them to save their skins. And if they don’t turn around right now and state their open support for this movement they’re going to be left behind. Because you are either with us or against us at this point.

CAMERON KASKY: We are giving a lot of the politicians that we feel neglected by a clean slate because that’s the past and we understand that. But from here on, we are creating a badge of shame for any politicians who are accepting money from the NRA. It is a special interest group that has most certainly not our best interests in mind. And this cannot be the normal. This can be changed and it will be changed. And anybody who tells you that it can’t, is buying into the facade of this being created by the people who have our blood on their hands.

NANCY CORDES: David, a lot of people saw the reporting that you did from inside the school while the shooting was taking place and I’m truly sorry that that all of you had to live through that. But I want to read to you what President Trump said last night. He said that it’s actually the Democrats that have let you down because they didn’t pass legislation when they controlled Congress. Does he have a point?

DAVID HOGG: President Trump you control the House of Representatives. You control the Senate and you control the executive. You haven’t taken a single bill for mental health care or gun control and passed it. And that’s pathetic. We’ve seen a government shutdown. We’ve seen tax reform but nothing to save our children’s lives. Are you kidding me. You think now is the time to focus on the past and not the future to prevent the death of thousands of other children. You sicken me.

NANCY CORDES: So what kinds of laws do all of you think should be on the books that aren’t right now?

DAVID HOGG: Well what I think needs to be on the books right now that isn’t is literally any law that’s from either side of the political spectrum. If you’re a Republican that supports mental health care we want you out there making your voice heard because that’s just as important as gun control or gun safety laws at this point because Democrats also want gun safety rules and we can’t get into any more debates. We need discussion. We’ve had the debates and people have died as a result children have died and will continue to if we don’t stop now and look at both sides of this because we can’t wait around any longer. Children are dying as a result. And we need to take action. And I call on President Trump and the Republican controlled House and Senate and Executive Branch to work together, get some bills passed and stop taking money from the NRA because children are dying and so is the future of America as a result.

CAMERON KASKY: And I just want to say something I’ve heard a lot is the word gun rights and that has the connotation that we are trying to strip people of their rights. Well first of all, we have the right to live. And second of all here at March for Our Lives at least for me. We don’t want to take the guns away from Americans. My father is a police officer. He has guns and I understand that having concealed weapons is good for protecting yourself. But an AR 15 is not needed to protect your house from robbers. It’s not needed to hunt bears, an AR 15 is a weapon of war and a 19 year old who is mentally challenged and has problems was able to buy an AR 15 easily. We don’t want to disarm America. We want to make America have to work for their weapons. And we have to make sure that everybody who has this kind of power in their hands has been cleared to have it. Because if Nikolas Cruz had gone through five minutes with any medical professional they would have said this person does not need an AR 15. This person needs a counselor and 17 people would not have needed graves.

NANCY CORDES: Alex, your own Senator Marco Rubio says that more gun laws won’t do anything. That anyone who wants to commit violence is going to find a way to get a gun.

ALEX WIND: If you think that, Senator Rubio, then change the way it’s easier to get a gun. OK? If you think it’s too easy to get a gun to do something about it make it not easier to get a gun. March 24th on the March for our Lives is only the beginning. This is the first march. But I can guarantee it will not be the last. We will be marching for the 17 we lost at our school. We will be marching for everyone we lost at the Newtown Sandy Hook shooting, at Columbine, at Virginia Tech in San Bernardino, Orlando at the Pulse shooting and at Las Vegas. This is only the beginning and March 24th things are going to change.

CAMERON KASKY: It’s not our job to tell you, Senator Rubio, how to protect us. The fact that we even have to do this is appalling. Our job is to go to school, learn and not take a bullet. You need to figure this out. That’s why you were unfortunately elected. Your job is to protect us and our blood is on your hands.

NANCY CORDES: Well, I know that millions of people are watching to see where you take this movement. You’ve already got tens of thousands of followers online. And we’ll be watching to see if you’re able to change a pretty entrenched political dynamic here in Washington. Thank you so much, to the five of you, for joining us today.

DAVID HOGG: Thanks for having us.

CAMERON KASKY: Thank you.

NANCY CORDES: And we’ll be right back.