Alameda WhipSnake

community activism * environmental concern * the creative life

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sharing our stories:
a remaindered book, a scrappy little dog, a lion of a senator, and those of us who must continue the good fight


On Monday, August 24, 2009, I stumbled across a table of remaindered books at the supermarket. One large hardcover children’s book jumped out at me: "My Senator and Me, a Dog's-Eye View of Washington, D.C." written by Senator Edward M. Kennedy and illustrated by David Small (illustrator of "Imogene's Antlers"). Published by Scholastic in 2006, this remaindered book with full-color illustrations by a Caldecott Medal-winning artist was a real bargain – even for a woman singing the recession blues – at $6. Since it was written by the senator from Massachusetts, it seemed like a perfect gift to give a researcher friend of mine who is looking at educational systems/programs in Massachusetts and was flying to Boston on Sunday. In the book, the Senator’s dog Splash attends a work session in the Senator's office, a press conference, and a conference committee meeting on an important education bill. In the conference committee meeting, the debate goes like this:  

"With all due respect, Senator, we cannot afford this bill."
"I appreciate your concern, Congressman, be we cannot afford not to have this bill."
"Senator, our children are our greatest resource. Therefore, we need our version of the bill."
"Senator, our children are our greatest resource. Therefore, we need our version of the bill."

Splash listens to the debate, "On and on it goes, with one person saying one thing and another saying the opposite. They seem to be getting more and more upset, and their voices are getting louder and louder and louder.  It's time to do something. 'WOOF! WOOF!' "

Of course, this causes stunned silence, then laughter, and a shift in the conversation that allows them to work out a bill both can agree upon. Once again, Lassie saves the day.

On Tuesday night, I did what grandmothers do: emergency childcare for a beloved grandchild. I read my grandson Giovanni, who is not quite three years old, an abbreviated version of the book who enjoyed the playful illustrations and the toothsome smiles of all the glad-handing politicians, even if he was a bit too young to understand the process for writing a bill. On Wednesday morning, while the house was quiet, I turned on the radio and heard Amy Goodman on Democracy Now break the news of Senator Edward Kennedy's death. She mentioned how Senator Robert C Byrd openly wept on the floor of the Senate in May 2008 when hearing of the diagnosis of Kennedy's lethal brain tumor.  I heard clips of Kennedy's inspiring and mobilizing speech on behalf of President Obama, a mention of his dissenting vote on the war in Iraq, and pieces of legislation that he was instrumental in crafting, such as Meals-On-Wheels, which fed my mother and millions like her.

That evening, I visited the Essaney Café in Niles/Fremont to see friends. It was open mic night. I had no desire to read any original work, but I did want to be in community and acknowledge the passing of this great public servant.  I shared a passage from his children’s book and then read a Mary Oliver poem, White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field, in his honor, which begins:

            “Coming down
             out of the freezing sky
             with its depth of light,
              like an angel,
              or a buddha with wings,
              it was beautiful and accurate,
              striking the force that left the imprint
              of the tip of its wings--

 Later, Bruce Cates, one of the proprietors of Essanay, lit a candle in his honor and sang a beautiful ballad written that evening, in Senator Kennedy’s memory. Over the years, Senator Edward Kennedy has been referred to as a lion. He was a lion, but like the great owl in Mary Oliver’s poem, he struck with a depth of light and a force that has left an unforgettable imprint. Let us pray and work to see that his light continues to shine.


p.s. The book mentioned an old saying "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." In addition to his dog Splash, Teddy Kennedy had many friends, and the people had a devoted friend in Teddy Kennedy.  






Senator Edward M. Kennedy


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