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My father died the afternoon of Monday, February 14. Natasha and I were in Albuquerque, NM about to look at a house; suddenly we had to turn around and fly to New Jersey for the funeral which would be Thursday. The next several days were absolutely crazy. On Tuesday evening, I managed to take a breath and find an hour to scribble down a few thoughts I had about my father's life. I wished I had more time to write something more profound, but given the circumstances, this was the best I could come up with. I read it at the funeral on Thursday, February 17. It was not the eulogy--that was delivered by an old family friend who was also the Cantor of the synagogue. After he finished, I got up, stood next to my father's coffin, and read this.
I just wanted to share some random facts about my father that not everyone knew, in no particular order. This is not intended to be an inclusive list. Just a few things I jotted down, off the top of my head.
• My father loved to cook. He considered a career as a chef but was discouraged from entering that profession by his father. Yet, as an amateur he learned much and eventually became quite the master of his own little kitchen. He invented and perfected many recipes and we could always count on him to put together a tasty and well-balanced meal. He was proud of that; and we were proud consumers of his culinary skills.
• My father loved his family deeply and was never afraid to show it. He wore his heart on his sleeve; it was his strength, not his weakness.
• My father had a deep passion for justice. So many times when he read or saw injustice in the news, he would get sincerely mad. That passion for the problems of the world is something that I like to think he passed on to me. Sometimes we agreed on politics and sometimes we disagreed, but we always respected each other’s opinions.
• My father was a child of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Growing up poor taught him that true value is not to be had in material objects.
• He received an Ivy League education at Dartmouth and Columbia.
• He fell in love with the Classics, ancient Greek and Latin, and passed that on to many students whom he inspired.
• In 1957, he traveled to Rome, which he considered one of the highlights of his life. The only thing he disliked about Rome was being away from the woman who would later become my mother. In fact, he missed her so much, he faced his fears and flew home by plane, rather than taking the slower ocean-steamer, to return to his love, sooner.
• My father served in the Korean War and was proud of that service. In Korea, he saw many terrible things, but he also saw some good and made a life-long friend.
• My father was a deeply patriotic man. For a very long period of his life, he proudly flew the American flag every day. There were a number of times when he intensely disagreed with the actions of his government, but he never stopped loving his country.
• My father loved trains. I remember as a child, he and my mother would frequently take us to Allaire State Park, in New Jersey, and show off their trains. He also loved traveling by rail and would always choose that over any other form of transportation when he had to travel.
• My father was an intensely religious man and had a deep faith in God. Some force seemed to come over him when he blessed his children or, when acting as a lay-leader, blessed a congregation. On more than one occasion, I was told that some looked on him as a “Holy man.”
• My father helped build and maintain many congregations. Particularly Beth Am and B’nai Israel in New Jersey, and Bet Chaim and Beth El in Florida.
• Despite his unwavering faith in God, he had an intense fear of death. He was not afraid to share that fear with those closest to him. I hope that now his questions are finally answered.
• He was puzzled by the Book of Job and struggled with it throughout his life. His favorite book of the Bible was the Psalms. He was listening to the Psalms when he took his final breath.
• My father was married three times. Yes, to the same woman. The first time, in 1958. In 1967, he and my mother had their Jewish wedding. And in the mid-70s, they renewed their vows at a Marriage Encounter ceremony. All-in-all, he was married for 52 years; he and my mom set an amazing example of a beautiful marriage.
• I’m so glad that my father got to know my fiancé, Natasha, and strongly approved of our upcoming marriage.
• Only those really close to him knew this, but he loved to make up silly rhyming songs. Sometimes they didn’t work so well, but other times they would have us doubled over in stitches.
• He loved working in the garden. He passed on his love for plants to my sister Judi, with whom he shared many happy hours planting, tending, and admiring many different varieties of flowers.
• My father enjoyed woodworking. When I and my sisters were young children, he made wooden toys for us. Boats that floated. Plaques that hung on the walls. And he assisted me, when I was a Cub Scout, in making my first-prize-winning Pinewood Derby racecar.
• My father talked to me nearly every day of my life.
• I think of him now as he often was, as a proud host, sitting at the head of the diningroom table, regaling guests with interesting stories of his life, as we all enjoyed the food he just cooked.
RIP Francis S. Chisdes
December 21, 1929 - February 14, 2011
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I know I haven't been on LJ much, lately. My on-line life has mostly migrated to FaceBook. I invite my LJ friends who have not yet befriended me on FB to do so.
And make sure to check out this latest Chizfilm review. It's an important one.
This entry is mainly intended for love_1776 and lover_of_1776, but anyone can read it if they want.
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Tonight I got to see my number one favorite movie, “1776,” on the big screen in a beautiful theatre. I have seen this movie probably 50 times, but never in a theatre, so this was a real treat for me. And the fact that my girlfriend Natasha was able to accompany me made it extra special. We were also joined by two of her friends, John and Angelica, who work with Natasha at the Virginia Film Festival.
It’s pretty unusual for a film that is 38 years old to play in a theatre, but this was part of the Virginia Film Society Monday Evenings Series. (Every Monday evening, the film society presents an old movie at the Paramount Theatre, this beautiful, restored theatre in downtown Charlottesville.)
But wait, you say. This is Tuesday, not Monday. Yea, interesting story. “1776” was supposed to play on Monday evening, June 28, the Monday prior to the Fourth of July. And I was out of town and rather upset that I was going to miss it. (Natasha and I were in New Mexico—I’ll be writing something interesting about that soon.) But that afternoon, only a few hours before the movie was supposed to show, a terrible storm rolled through Charlottesville—some thought it was a tornado—and caused tons of damage throughout most of the city. Some neighborhoods didn’t get power back for nearly 48 hours. So the film society canceled “1776” and postponed it until tonight. They showed a different movie yesterday, and today, a Tuesday, they showed “1776.” So if anything good came out of that storm, it’s that I was able to see “1776.”
So I must say, seeing it in a theatre, with a crowd of about 100 people, was a real treat. Nice big screen; crisp, sharp print. They showed the director’s cut version, which had restored the “Cool Considerate Men” scene.
The movie was introduced by a woman from the film society who spoke for about 10 minutes. She didn’t say anything I didn’t already know, but I was glad she shared stuff to help the audience appreciate the film better. Among other things, she talked about several of the actors, some historical inaccuracies that were added for dramatic effect, and told the story of how President Richard Nixon was able to get producer Jack Warner to cut the “Cool Considerate Men” scene from the theatrical version.
In attendance, there was a group from Monticello, which, of course, is just outside Charlottesville city limits. So it was a really great experience watching this movie with people who work at Jefferson’s house; people who graduated from UVA, the university Jefferson founded, including Natasha; and people who live in the town Jefferson called home, including myself. The audience cheered at a few points, to give the film a local flavor. When Jefferson said the purpose of the declaration was “To place before mankind the common sense of the subject in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent,” people applauded. They also cheered when Virginia voted “yea” to debate independence. And also when Jefferson signed the declaration in the final scene.
There was also thunderous applause when Franklin said, “Those who would give up their liberty in order to obtain temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” That jolted me out of the 18th Century and right into the early 21st recalling the recent suspending of rights under Bush’s Patriot Act.
Another real plus, seeing this with a crowd, reminded me just how funny this movie is. You know, after you’ve heard a joke 30 or 40 times, it’s not funny any more. I’d forgotten just how humorous some of the lines were, until I heard the audience doubling-over with laughter. I could see this movie through fresh eyes again.
It was also nice when the audience applauded after musical numbers like “The Lees of Old Virginia” and “He Plays the Violin.” And loud applause at the end.
As always, it’s moving. After 50 times, I’m still blown away by the power of scenes like “Molasses to Rum to Slaves” and “Is Anybody There?” But sitting in a hushed crowd of others who are just as moved made it extra special.
Who knows when, if ever, I’ll have another chance to see this movie in the theatre? I’m so glad I made it tonight. This was extraordinary.
What movie have you seen the most times in your life? How many times have you seen it? Will you ever grow tired of it?
Well this is sure an appropriate question for July 2! My favorite film, that I have seen probably 50 or more times (I've lost count), is "1776," the climax of which--the vote for American independence--takes place on July 2.
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Today, June 6, 1944, Natasha and I met the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
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“What!!??” you say. “Did you guys time travel?” Well, practically. We attended an extremely interesting event in Louisa, Virginia where an actor named John Hamant impersonated Roosevelt. We pretended that it was D-Day, June 6, 1944, the day the Allied forces invaded Normandy, France, during World War II, and FDR was campaigning to be re-elected for his fourth term as President. And he stopped by Louisa (about a 40 minute drive from Charlottesville) to campaign. The show cost $5 to get in and I must say it was probably the best $5 I ever spent in my life. It was just really fascinating and greatly enjoyable.
When the show began, a woman introduced, “The 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” He was wheeled on in his wheelchair by two local VFW men. They helped him out of the wheelchair and walked him over to the podium in the center of the stage.
He began his speech by talking about the local area of Louisa and then launched into what was probably an abbreviated version of the standard stump speech he used in the 44 campaign, edited for dramatic purposes. He spoke of economic recovery, rights for all Americans, building infrastructure, and winning the war in Europe and the Pacific.
Then he stopped and said he was pleased to announce that this morning, the US just launched the largest amphibious assault in all history as we stormed the beaches of northern France. He said despite heavy casualties, we were successful.
Then he gave the speech which he said he was about to give later this evening. It was mostly a prayer on behalf of the US troops. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t crazy about it. It reminded me a bit of the prayer in Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer.” I also felt a President leading a prayer violated the separation of church and state, but whatever. I guess the people back in those days expected their leaders to be religious and invoke God, unlike today when it’s more controversial and divisive.
Then he opened it up to questions. He asked the VFW men to help him to a chair closer up to the audience. It took him about a minute-and-a-half to two minutes to walk the five feet from the podium to the chair. There he put a cigarette in a long cigarette-holder. He looked just like the photos and newsreels of the real FDR. And he really got his speech patterns down well (I’ve heard tapes of the real FDR speaking). I was quite impressed.
The audience—at least some members—really got into it and asked him some great, probing questions. Now, we had to ask questions as if it really were 1944, so we couldn’t ask things like, “What do you think of Obama?” We were actually given a few suggestions in the program, but we could basically ask anything we wanted, as long as it wasn’t anachronistic. Some of the audience members must have been real scholars of the period.
One man asked about problems Roosevelt had with the Supreme Court which ruled many of his New Deal programs to be unconstitutional. Roosevelt said he was deeply disappointed. Another good question was about economic recovery and the problems of the Depression. Roosevelt blamed the bankers and Wall Street for being greedy. He said one of the few things that he agreed with Hoover about was Hoover’s statement: “The problem with Capitalism is capitalists.” Actually, much it was reminiscent of things Obama was saying about a year ago.
Someone asked him about Truman and he said he had absolute faith in him and that if he should be unable to complete his fourth term, Truman would make a great President. He also talked a little bit about his dog, Fala, and said he was jealous since Fala gets more mail than he does. That got a big laugh.
Someone asked him about Churchill and he told some funny anecdotes. He also said they got along very well except that he strongly disagreed with Churchill on the issue of Britain’s colonial possessions like India and South Africa. Another audience member asked him about Stalin and he said he had trouble figuring him out—he didn’t really trust Stalin but that he had no choice other than to work with him. He also added that he didn’t want to see us fighting the Soviets after we finished fighting the Nazis.
One audience member quoted an article in the Los Angeles Times which reported the US was undertaking some sort of secret program to build a massive weapon because there was a letter from Albert Einstein urging him to do that, plus there was a lot of activity around Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington. (Wow, really? I thought to myself. Not only was I surprised that there was an investigative report in the newspapers about this, because I had thought no one in the public knew about the Manhattan Project until the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, but even more surprised that this man in the audience was aware of this newspaper article.) “So, can you tell us anything about this?” he asked.
In one word, Roosevelt replied, “No.” But then he paused and went on. “If we were, which we are not, I couldn’t tell you anything, but let us hypothesize, for fun, that we were…” He then went on to suggest that the dropping of such a hypothetical weapon would be justified because it could end the war and save more lives than it destroyed. I wondered if the real FDR had actually thought this through and thought that way. Of course, he never had to make the decision since the atom bomb wasn’t completed and tested until after his death. But suppose he had lived, would he have done the exact same thing as Truman and justified it the same way Truman did? I wonder.
In the middle of the program, I got to ask a question. Framing it from the perspective of 1944, I asked, “What’s your opinion of the Jim Crow laws in the Southern States, as well as the segregation in the military?” Roosevelt said he was deeply disappointed in the racial segregation of the South and that it was high time America started living up to its promise and he hoped that the Jim Crow laws would soon be done away with. And he pledged that the segregation in the military would end as soon as the war was over.
I had only intended to ask one question, but as the program went on, I noticed several people who had asked a question were asking others, so I figured it was okay, then, if I asked a second question. So toward the end, I had the chance to ask a second question. Again, framing my question in terms of 1944, I asked, “There are some stories and reports of very bad things happening to the Jews in Europe. What do you know about this, if anything, and what can the US do about it?”
He said, yes, there are stories, reports, rumors, of horrible things, but they are unconfirmed. He said he heard vague reports of terrible atrocities committed by the Nazis, supposedly murdering thousands of innocent people. But he stressed these are unconfirmed and we won’t know anything, for sure, for a while. He said we need to take in Jewish refugees into this country. He then spoke about the 1939 St. Louis incident where the US could not take in the Jews of the ship St. Louis because, even though he wanted to, it would violate quotas which dated back to the Harding administration. If he had, he would have broken the law and been impeached. He urged us to write to our congressmen to vote to repeal these quotas.
Shortly after that, the event ended and we gave him a standing ovation. It had lasted a total of an hour and twenty minutes—nearly an hour of that was question-and-answer. I must say, if it hasn’t been clear by now, I was extremely impressed. I’ve been to a number of one-man shows where the actor imitated a famous person, but stuck to a prepared script; this was different since the actor opened it up and allowed anyone to ask anything. He’d have to be extremely versed on the subject. And I think it’s fair to say that this actor was. I was so enraptured by the whole thing—I wish it could have lasted longer.
Roosevelt was not a perfect man, but he was a giant of his time, and what a trying time it was. For a brief moment, today, I felt like I too was in that time.
I was just watching “The History of US” on the History Channel and learned a few interesting facts about the Statue of Liberty. Some of my friends may enjoy this trivia, and learning something new, so I’ll ask four questions and post the answers below the LJ-cut. I’m curious if anyone knows these answers without looking.
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1. The Statue of Liberty has gigantic feet. If her sandal was real, what size would it be?
2. Whose face does the statue have?
3. Who designed the iron framework inside the statue?
4. The Statue of Liberty has come to represent countless things, from immigration to the vibrancy of New York City to American imperialism. But what was the very first thing it symbolized?
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Are there any movies that you absolutely loved when you were younger that you've watched again and found awful or ridiculous?
I have absolutely no idea why, but in 1978, when I was 10, I loved the movie “Grease.” I saw it in the theater at least three times, I bought the soundtrack and listened to it over and over, I bought the book of the movie, and, in my crazy kid way, I had this fantasy about making an all-child version of the movie with my father’s super-8 movie camera. I honestly cannot tell you what I was thinking and why I loved that movie so much.
Approximately a dozen years ago, when I was about 30, give-or-take, I rented and watched the movie again. I couldn’t believe how vain and superficial it was. With the exception of the catchy music by Sha-na-na in that one dance sequence, I found nothing in the movie to be redeemable. The only likable character was Sandy. It was a strain to accept high school teenagers played by actors in their late 20s or early 30s. I guess the overall theme about peer-pressure was one that teenagers could relate to: Danny likes Sandy but he can’t admit that to his friends because she’s “uncool.” But the resolution at the end was such a negative message for teenagers: Sandy changes her dress and hair-style, so now she’s “cool” and Danny can admit he likes her. What ever happened to “be yourself” and “who cares what other people think”?
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Since several of my LJ friends are really into history, I thought I should write an LJ entry about what I did today.
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Many of you may know that Virginia’s governor, Bob McDonnell, recently declared April to be Confederate History Month. It was quite controversial and I got into several heated discussions over the matter, debating just which parts of Confederate history were worth remembering and which should not be romanticized. Well, today, the final day of Virginia’s Confederate History Month, I put aside the bad feelings and attended an event to memorialize the African-American slaves whose existence were the social and economic heart of the Confederacy.
The program was a day-long reading of slave narratives, held a bookstore in downtown Charlottesville, right next to the Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea statue. It started at 11 and ended at 7. People could drop by when they could and leave when they had to.
I got there at four and left at five. During that time, there were less than two dozen people there. I enjoyed it; I was glad I went. It was outdoors, in their parking lot—not sure why it wasn’t indoors because they had a stage and lots of chairs set up inside. Oh well. Being outdoors, right on the street, wasn’t good for my tinnitus, which got worse as the hour wore on. Also, the sun was not good for my skin, so I didn’t stay as long as I might have if it had been indoors.
These were the slave narratives that were collected by WPA workers in the mid-1930s as part of the New Deal. Government workers found and interviewed people who had been slaves—most were in their 80s at the time. Very interesting archive. And they were in dialect. Some of the people who read were really good imitating the dialect; some struggled with it. Within that hour, I probably heard eight to ten narratives.
The stories varied immensely. Some spoke of really horrible conditions while others said it wasn’t so bad and they were treated well by a “good master.” One told sad tales of being whipped and sold and barbarous cruelty. They had to work picking cotton from before the sun was up until it set. Another said they were treated well, allowed to read, given Sunday off, and every slave got $2.50 on Christmas.
A number of common threads ran through the stories; I’m guessing the interviewers all had a similar series of questions to ask. Most of the narratives included details like what kind of shoes they wore and beds they slept on. They spoke of their overseers and they spoke about Yankee and Rebel soldiers during the war. They spoke of how they were expected to obey all White people. Also, several of them expressed their opinion of Roosevelt and thought he was a good man.
One told an incredible story about a very mean overseer who treated the slaves horribly. He joined the Confederate Army and, in the midst of the war, found himself involved in a skirmish right on that very plantation. He was shot and killed in a very painful manner, fell into the river, and had to be pulled out by his fellow soldiers and laid by the riverbank as he died an agonizing death. For 25 years after, people passing that spot would claim to see soldiers carrying a screaming man out of the river. And one day, 25 years after the war, this former slave passed that spot and saw the soldiers and recognized the dying man as her former overseer.
I’m not saying I believe the story literally, but I like it because of its moral and I think it is very telling that such a story comes in the mouth of a former slave, some 70 years after the fact. Because it tells of her having found some sort of redemption and justice in her life. I think it’s a positive note to end on.
Do you often feel that random people ask you a lot of questions? Has anyone ever tried to ask you a lot of questions all at once? When people ask you a lot of questions all at once, do you ignore some of the questions? In those cases where someone asks you a load of questions, do you consider all the questions as one question, or maybe think of them as individual questions? After a lot of questions, if someone asks you to explain your answer, does that count as another question? Explain your answer.
Best Writer's Block question(s)!
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