RSSCategory: Personal

Excepts from Bridget’s Graduation Speech

| June 25, 2012 | 0 Comments

At long last, I am posting an excerpted version of my daughter Bridget’s graduation speech, entitled “The Autobiography of the Class of 2012.”


Stotesbury Regatta

| May 18, 2012 | 1 Comment


I’m spending the day at the Stotebury Regatta in Philadelpha, reportedly the largest high school regatta in the U.S. It is quite a scene. An endless row of tents along the river. Barbeque grilles firing up. Groups of kids in sleeping bags, presumably after sleeping overnight outdoor the night before.

I’m watching the time trials now, boats are going by our little camp, one after another, some with 2 rowers, some with four, some with eight. Regular reports from the loudspeaker announcing schools that cross the line.

Our tent is clearly in the Washington regional section. A large number of local schools are represented, Gonzaga, Sidwell, McLean, etc., etc.

It’s a beautiful day, perfect for rowing….and watching.

My Father’s WW II Letters

| January 22, 2012 | 0 Comments

Bill and Helen Black, June 14, 1952

Thanks to my amazing cousin, Bob Black, the Official Black Family Genealogist, I have come into a priceless stash of letters from my father to his sister, Ann, during World War II.  The letters run from July, 1943 to July 1945 when he was 25 years old.  I spent yesterday working my way through them chronologically and was transported.  It seems his original posting was Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.  Then, he went to San Antonio and, from there, overseas to England.  He got the job he wanted as a machinist and was assigned to the Ninth Air Force Service Command Base Aircraft Assembly Depot in England.

I may blog more about these letters as I process them mentally and emotionally, but two excerpts really struck me.  The first one had to do with his arrival in France.  I have a memory of him telling me that he landed at Normandy some time after D Day, but I have never been able to document the fact.  Well, I now have documentation.

Here’s what he wrote on July 22nd, 1944, about six weeks after D Day.

They have eased up on the censorship enough so that I can say that we came to France the hard way – landed on the beach.  It was quite a thrill tho as we approached the beach head to think that we were landing in another foreign country.  I kept thinking of how Peter [his brother] had come to  France + comparing the circumstances.  As for the beach itself, at high tide, it might have been any part of the Cape [Cod]. Boy, how it reminded me of it.  Of course, at the Cape, you wouldn’t see a lot of destroyed barges laying about.  For the next four or five days, it was kind of rough.  I lived in the truck + ate K rations….

And then, his letter written May 9, 1945,  the day after V-E Day.

Even with VE day, there still isn’t much to write about from here.  It would be just our luck to [be] stuck out in the country when the end came.  It’s almost not fair to have to just carry on when you know that everybody that can is celebrating.  I’ll be they are still raising hell in Paris.

Here’s what my father was missing.

V-E Day, Paris, May 8, 1945


Ted Koppel at 70

| February 8, 2010 | 0 Comments

Today is Ted Koppel’s Birthday.  He turns 70 years old and I’m sure he’s going strong. 

I met Ted Koppel briefly some years ago.  We were both on a small plane going into Marco Island, I think.  I was attending the meeting of my client, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS).  Ted looked like he was heading for vacation.  As we walked across the tarmac to the terminal, I used the opportunity to test a proposition.  As PR consultant to STS, I had been telling them that a big problem they had was that nobody knew what they did.  In fact, nobody knew what the word “thoracic” meant.  As a result, despite their life-saving activities at the very top of the medical profession, they had little public support when they complained that payment for their services was actually declining, just when we would be needing them most.  For the record, “thoracic” means chest area.  They are heart and lung surgeons.

So, I thought, “I wonder if a very smart and influential guy like Ted Koppel knows what a thoracic surgeon does?”  So, this exchange took place:

“Mr. Koppel, hi, I’m Bill Black.  I’m a consultant for the thoracic surgeons.  Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“No, go ahead.”

“Can you tell me what a thoracic surgeon does?”

“Sure.  Operates on the throat.”

“Sorry, no.  They are heart surgeons and you’ve given me a great anecdote.”

“Fine,” Koppel says with a disgusted wave of his hand, “There’s your anecdote.”  And he marched off, clearly pissed.


| February 6, 2010 | 0 Comments

There are few things in life more transcendentally beautiful than the morning after a big snowstorm. And there is nothing in life that brings such beauty to your doorstep.

I experience this beauty this morning at about 7 am with vigorous trudge three blocks to Rock Creek Park. The sites and sounds were exquisite. While there was the muffling effect of snow and a low wind, there were also, surprisingly, bird calls. What hardy creatures to have made it through a night of blizzard conditions.

The snow was above my knees, which made trudging laborious. In some spots it reached my upper thigh. One neighbor was out shoveling to “get ahead of the storm.” He explained that he had shoveled the night before and all his work was blown away. Of course, there’s supposed to be another blast this afternoon, which will likely blown his morning’s work away, as well.

I’m such a snow junky that my expectations are rarely satisfied by the actual storm. This one did it. And it ain’t over yet.


This is why I love Andrew Sullivan

| February 4, 2010 | 0 Comments

Twilight Zone Marathon

| January 2, 2010 | 0 Comments

The ScyFy channel runs an annual Twilight Zone Marathon every year during New Year’s and I love it. They run back to back episodes around the clock. It allows me to check back in on some of my favorites and discover new episodes. And it reminds me what a genius Rod Serling was. I am also struck by the provocative themes he explores in the show. A recurring theme is Nazis and the Holocaust. I just watched a very vivid episode , entitled Death’s Head Revisited, that follows a former Nazi’s camp guard who revisits Dachau and encounters the ghost of one of the inmates he tortured and killed. While the images in the show are subdued and depict the actual camp and the posts where prisoners were hung, the script is brutal, with some pretty explicit descriptions of what went on in the camp. In the end, the former guard is forced to endure, in his mind, the full range of suffering he inflicted on others. It was powerful.

But there was another episode, entitled He’s Alive, that was amazing in the degree to which it remains relevant today. It starred a very young Dennis Hopper playing a pathetic neo-Nazi whose rantings are ignored until he receives advice from a mysterious, shadowy figure. The show was an hour long, which suggests it was a special episode when it first aired in 1963. The Hopper character gives fiery speeches that, in large part, would not be out of place in one of today’s Tea Party rallies. It’s all about “patriotism” and the degree to which “others” are threatening our freedoms. Very, very timely.

What is clear is that Serling had an acute sense of the fact that all human beings have in them the capacity for evil. And we all need to be very aware of that fact and not pretend that “we” are good, but “they” are evil. We clearly need his voice today. It’s sad that he died so young of lung cancer. Of course, he’s got that ever present smoking cigarette during his intro to each episode, which is a kind of unintentional horror story all its own.

Christmas 2009

| December 25, 2009 | 0 Comments

There’s an interesting Christmas tradeoff as you move through life. When Santa rules the day (i.e. the kids are young), the stress is high leading up to the big day. Are there enough gifts? Have we visited enough Santa’s? Have all the rituals, I mean traditions, been served? By the time Christmas arrives, you’re exhausted….and then you have to get up at 5 am to start opening presents. But the delight the kinds exhibit is precious and almost makes it all worthwhile.

When your kids are 19 and 15, the stress is much lower. There’s no “magic” to be preserved, although there are traditions. It remains a special time of year, but in a more authentic way.

And you get to sleep in.

Our day has been relaxed and very pleasant. We attended midnight Mass at St. Anselm’s Abbey, stayed briefly for cookies and to wish the monks a Merry Christmas. We didn’t get to bed until 2 am and I was up at 7. The kids got up at 11. We opened gifts and everyone came away happy. Now, we’re just gliding through the day.

Notwithstanding all the pleasantness, it is a very different Christmas, the first without my mother and without Rita’s Aunt Gen. We won’t feel the full brunt of their absence until with get up to Boston tomorrow. My mother and Gen were true lovers of Christmas and there will be a big empty place in this holiday season.

Also, this is the first Christmas in which we won’t be staying in the attic room in Rita’s mother’s house in Brookline. Year after year, I would chafe at the confined quarters and wish we could stay in a hotel. Admittedly less so in recent years as Rita and I have learned to accommodate each other’s needs during this annual pilgrimage. But I have to say, I will miss the old house and will chafe at new inconveniences at the Dedham Hilton.

So, all in all, a nice, but somewhat bittersweet, holiday.

Ted’s Funeral

| August 27, 2009 | 0 Comments
I am shocked and gratified that Ted Kennedy’s funeral will be at Mission Church in Boston. My mother and her seven siblings grew up on Mission Hill and that was their church. It is the church in which my mother was baptized and married. I’ve spent a lot of time at Mission Church over the past year.

When my mother, who died four months ago, was sick last year and being treated at the Brigham and Womens Hospital only blocks away, I went to Mass every day at Mission Church before going up to the hospital to stay with her. On her darkest day, I and my siblings went to Mission Church to light a candle. We prayed that she be given more time – that we be given more time. Not that she be cured. We were simply not ready to say goodbye. That day she turned around and we had another year. And it was a very special year. My sister calls it “the miracle of Mission Church.” I so wish she was around to see this.