Gun Control and Governance: Right Now We Have Neither

In the late 80s my husband was stationed at FMFLANT; and as a result, we shared hosting for a Norwegian family who came to our area on a NATO military officer exchange. My husband visited their home prior to their coming to the US, and the officer’s wife asked, “What kind of gun should I get for our stay in your country?” Too much American TV? Perhaps. Nevertheless, she was serious.

I have shared that story more times than I can count. This was our first inkling of the developing crisis of guns and violence in the United States.

Seriously, who needs this?

Am I the only one who believes that with the exception of members of the military and law enforcement, no one should have access to semi-automatic and automatic weapons? I don’t think so.

I also believe that our government will never do anything about gun control in spite of their knowing that most Americans favor more stringent gun control laws. If the Sandy Hook shootings did not move our elected representatives, nothing will, and today our government is paralyzed in hopeless partisan gridlock. Governance is simply not happening.

To make matters worse, horrific events such as the killing in Las Vegas, always create a spike in gun sales because citizens fear the enactment of legislation that might interfere with their ability to purchase them.

All we can do is what we can do: Call, write, or email our Congress persons; Use Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to let others know how we feel. Our opinions do matter to others. If you believe we need to do something, and we need to do it now, speak to your neighbors, co-workers, and friends.

In the meantime, I pray the prayer I saw on a red, white, and blue T Shirt just this morning: “Lord have mercy on US.”

copyright  Susan Motley 2017

Rosh Hashanah in the Hospital

The call came from Brooklyn on a Friday night. Our daughter Elisabeth, alarmed and confused, could not figure out how to set her clock so that she could rise in time to catch the train for work. She told us she had been struggling with similar issues for a few days, and, no, she could not go to the doctor because the Pilates studio owner had just mandated that there be no more late cancellations by instructors. She suspected the flu. “It has been going around,” she said.

We were worried, and my husband called his brother to see if he could help Elisabeth see a doctor Saturday afternoon. Within the hour, Elisabeth called back uncharacteristically enraged that we had meddled in her affairs.

Still worried, we planned to go to work on Monday, clear our desks, make necessary arrangements, then drive to New York. But on Sunday morning, her panicked boyfriend called. He agreed to take her to an emergency room, and we started driving. My husband’s brother met them at Lennox Hill Hospital where he remained until we arrived.

Our sterile hospital room was unexpectedly warmed on one Rosh Hashanah.

The days passed and Lisy’s condition deteriorated. We measured time in an endless stream of labs, the exchange of IV bags, revolving roommates, specialists, gaggles of young inquisitive doctors asking “Who is the President? What day of the week is it? If you had $4.00 and spent 75 cents on a Coke, how much money would you have left?

My husband took the day shift, and I spent the nights.

One morning my husband exploded into the room asking: “Is Dr. Devi Jewish?”

“I think she’s Indian. Why?”

“Because Rosh Hashanah begins tonight, and Jewish doctors will not be
here for two days.”

That evening, according to my routine, I settled into one of two chairs at the foot of Lisy’s bed.

On all the previous evenings, except for passing visitors and hospital staff, there had been little activity, but on this first night of Rosh Hashanah, a new patient, a Rabbi was seated in the room across the hall. He was wearing a hospital gown, but also his hat over his skull cap, the tasseled undergarment that Jewish men wear, and he was wrapped in a prayer shawl. He was a portly man with a gray beard and a gentle demeanor. His followers had been streaming in all evening, each bearing a huge container of holiday food. The Rabbi expressed gratitude, tasted each dish directly from its container, and nodded his approval. This seemed important.

I have to confess I was enjoying the diversion from our lonely plight, and I began to wonder about the attire. The hats and hair nets, the long black coats, the shapeless clothing and sensible shoes the women wore compared to the jaunty hats, curls, tailored coats, pants, and boots the young men wore. The Rabbi’s room was overflowing with New Years well wishers, and women gathered in the hall to talk. Through fragments of conversations, I determined that an important young woman of great interest to everyone would be visiting. She was French, and immediately I began to wonder if somehow she would find a way to improve on the unfortunate fashion strictures these Jewish women endured.

She arrived bearing food, but a bit more black stocking and still-sensible shoes showed below her skirt. Her clothing was fitted where it could be, and she wore a more stylish head covering than the others. Murmurs of greeting welcomed her as she disappeared into the Rabbi’s room. I did not see her leave, and by ten o’clock, everyone had gone.

Lisy was sleeping, and our room was darkened. I had reclaimed my chair. The Rabbi sat across the hall from me and to my wonderment, he was once again eating, this time from a large plastic container. I wanted to believe that at last alone he could enjoy his favorite dish. Perhaps the one his wife had prepared.

He was backlit by his room’s ceiling light and illuminated in a shaft of light from the hallway. I didn’t want to stare, but I did. And I was caught. He looked up; our eyes met. He smiled silently speaking a gentle expression of sympathy, the acknowledgement of our shared unfortunate circumstances. “It is Rosh Hashanah, and here we are spending it in a hospital.”

I smiled back. Message received. “Shanah tova. Shalom.”

Our sterile hospital room was unexpectedly warmed on one Rosh Hashanah.

Can We Talk?

When I needed an image to support a Facebook post about conversation, I typed that very word into the search text box of a popular website that provides free images requiring no attribution.

Of the 261 images grouped under that theme, the first was of two plastic Minions posed as if they were talking. This was followed by three photos of conversation hearts, five photos of girls talking on their cell phones, two photos of texting, one photo of a group of meerkats, another of two parrots, one photo of a full beer mug, and two posters featuring the word feedback. In fact, of the many images featured under the category and presented in order of popularity, few were of actual people engaged in actual conversation.

While I had anticipated the Valentine candy, I had not expected that conversation would be defined primarily through images of cell phone use or through images of employees interacting in work-related clusters.

The Tenth Edition of Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines conversation as “oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions or ideas,” and the verb converse is defined as “to exchange thoughts and opinions in speech.” According to these definitions, the cell phone photos could be suitable, but the text photos are not and neither are the Minions, the meerkats, or the parrots.

All of this has me wondering: Is the art of face-to-face conversation in danger of vanishing? When we are together, are we really together or are we using our cell phones to engage with someone else who is somewhere else? What are we missing in meetings and classes where we text and email and shop with our phones in our laps? Can we articulate a response to a question without the advantage of the revision or research that text or email allows? For that matter, can we ask the question?

MIT Professor Sherry Turkle has the same concerns, and in her TED Talk “Connected but Alone?” she speaks of an eighteen-year-old boy who uses text for everything but assured her that someday he would like to learn how to have a conversation.

Not so many years ago before cell phones, texting and email were ubiquitous, we made dates to meet after work or school, at a home or a pub. We solved problems, strengthened relationships, laughed together, cried together, and planned together. We told jokes and stories that were more than 140 characters long. Rather than sharing a trite post, we spoke from our hearts about our genuine concerns. We were real people interacting in real time.

One of my most favorite SNL characters is Linda Richman, Mike Myers’s fictional host of the sketch “Coffee Talk.” Her cohost was usually a friend who shared her adoration of Barbara Streisand. When she inevitably became verklempt, she waved her well-manicured nails and instructed her audience to “Talk amongst [themselves]” while she recovered her composure. She even provided the discussion topic. For our purposes, the topic might be something like: How is a cell phone like a prison cell? Discuss.

Seriously. Discuss. Amongst yourselves. Face to face.


Copyright Susan A. Motley 2017

This Experience Is Uneclipsable


My sister had already taken the day off for the total solar eclipse when I first heard about it during our nine day journey through Northern California and Oregon in May. I had noticed the eclipse tchotchkes in airport gift shops, and in Yachats, Oregon, citizens were already bracing for the influx of eclipse tourists. But in Norfolk, Virginia, with a mere eighty-six percent of the sun destined to be chomped away by the moon, this eclipse business wasn’t yet a big deal.

Inspired by my sister’s excitement, I began to think about the possibility of traveling to see this “once in a lifetime” total eclipse especially when I saw that my hometown of Maryville, Tennessee, was in the path of totality. I was incredulous. Other than being the home of the Sam Houston School House and being the birthplace of Lamar Alexander, Maryville, in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, doesn’t enjoy much notoriety.

My husband Bob thought an 86% eclipse was completely sufficient, but he unenthusiastically agreed to go along. I didn’t mention to Bob that as much as I wanted to see totality, I most wanted to see it with my two older granddaughters. Just in case this trip actually came together, I ordered eclipse viewing glasses that fortuitously came packaged in a group of five, and checked in with my sister-in-law in Louisville, Tennessee, to make sure we would have a place to stay if needed.

As I expected when I broached the idea of taking the grandchildren, my husband, a retired Marine Corps officer, ever an advocate for preparation for the most degraded conditions possible, delivered a two hour litany of absolutely everything that could go wrong finally declaring he had thought all along that it was a bad idea for just the two of us to go. In his opinion, subjecting the little girls to the likely discomforts of this trip, elevated the threat level status to irrational. His main concern: traffic. He balked at my suggestion that that our daughter Emily, the girls, and I could make it a girl trip. Bob leads only from the front, never from the rear. He was going.

With Emily’s mother-in-law generously agreeing to stay with Baby Andrew, the eclipse chase was officially on.

Once in a Lifetime Experience #1

We hit the road early Sunday morning taking Highway 64 to Interstate 81 for the drive to Abingdon, Virginia where we planned to spend the night. The drive that normally takes six hours took eight—better than we had hoped for. And we arrived with enough time for the girls to swim in the hotel pool. We ate a fantastic supper at El Bigotes Mexican Grill, went to the grocery store for a few more food supplies, and bedded down for the night. We were on the road early Monday and cruised into Knoxville with so little traffic we wondered where everybody was.

The bridge from the library to the Green Belt

We still had not decided where we would watch the eclipse. We had the offer of the back deck of a lake house with a perfect view, but everything I had read, suggested that it is best to watch with a large group of people. So in spite of the sweltering heat, we settled on the Blount County Library’s Viewing Party which extended beyond the library grounds to the Maryville Green Belt, a fitness and pleasure area with a paved path that meanders along a lazy stream through miles of town. We staked out our plot under a shade tree and the waiting began. Largely thanks to four year old Dori, we met people from Oklahoma, New Jersey, New York, and local people too. We heard languages we could not identify.


We checked periodically as the moon moved into the

Shadows dance on a lawn chair outside Nashville, TN

alignment that would result in totality. We marveled at the changing light. At the increasing volume of cicadas’ song as darkness fell, the colors of the corona. At Venus or was it Regulus? On the Green Belt we gasped, screamed, laughed out loud and cheered. Tears welled up in eyes. And then the gleam appeared on the edge of the big black ball and suddenly light returned, the cicadas quietened, the street lamps extinguished. Filtered through the leaves of trees, little crescent shaped shadows scampered on the ground.

With last looks to the sky and spirits elevated to a celestial sublime, we packed up with a new objective: To drive as far north as possible. We hoped that would be Hickory, North Carolina, where we would spend the night and be home by noon on Tuesday to reunite Andrew with his mother and sisters and relieve Parkie of her child care duties.

Once in a Lifetime Experience #2

And everything was looking great until traffic came to a stop on I 40 East at exit 64. We had seen a sign indicating an accident at exit 66. Four long hours later we snaked past the accident that had involved a tractor trailer at the worst section of highway possible: lanes were already closed for construction and traffic both entered and exited the highway at this juncture. It was a once in a lifetime traffic nightmare. Thanks to Bob’s Marine Corps mentality, we had topped off the gas tank, we had food in the car, and we had all been to the bathroom. His only comment: “This is what I was afraid of.”

Thanks to the iExit App, which you should download on your phone immediately if you don’t already have it, we were able to locate a hotel in Morganton, North Carolina, and make reservations from the car. We pulled into our hotel at 11:30, far from our hoped for destination of Hickory and exhausted from the four-hour stop and go. We were checked into the last two available rooms. Still far from home, we didn’t make it to Norfolk until almost 5 PM on Tuesday.

Not quite total.

And I would do it again even knowing what the trip home was like. Totality is that amazing, and even Bob agrees.

After countless car classroom lessons on the twirling and whirling of our planet and its moon around the sun, eight year old Harper can explain it pretty well. Dori can tell you what she saw and that it is called a solar eclipse.

I picture a day at school in the future when Dori will look up from a science lesson and exclaim, “So that’s what we were seeing the day the moon ate the sun!”

copyright Susan A. Motley 2017

With Family History, Spelling Counts

My aunt, Bonnie Heiskell Peters, is the family genealogist. In fact, she has published three books celebrating the history and people of Union County, Tennessee. When I first became interested in exploring family history, she warned me that misspellings could be roadblocks to research.

Here’s one story:

Ura Otis Turner’s photo is taken from “Our Union County Families” by Winnie Palmer McDonald and Bonnie Heiskell Peters.

When he was only twenty-two years old, my grandfather, Ura Otis Turner, was killed in a coal mine in Kentucky. It was 1916. My mother was eighteen months old. My grandmother, Elsie Louzinia Seymour, would eventually remarry Dempsey Valpo Heiskell, also a widower. With that marriage, my mother and her sister Dot became the youngest children in the Heiskell family—at least for a while. Neither of them had memory of the handsome young man who was their biological father.

Time made Ura Turner easy to forget, but I remember a years-ago afternoon on my grandmother’s front porch with a visitor, a man, who shook his head lamenting to my grandmother, “I got him that job.”

“Where was this coal mine?” I wondered. What had happened? Who were his parents? His siblings? I have always had the idea that this coal mining job was temporary—just an opportunity to earn enough money to get the young couple on their feet. How long had he worked there? What had he done before that? Did others from Union County go to the Kentucky mines?

Seeking answers, down the Ancestry rabbit hole I went. When I climbed out five hours later, I had a a bit more information and a deeper understanding of one of the primary challenges of ancestry research: spelling.

With Ancestry, I found “Eura” Turner’s death certificate. He was killed in the Clear Fork mine in Bell County, Kentucky. The cause of death is listed as “skull fracture from falling slate.” He must have looked awful when they opened his casket, and they most assuredly did, because in the family telling, he was “crushed.” His father George R. Turner and his mother Typhenia were listed on the death certificate. My grandmother is not listed as a survivor.

A few years later, my mother’s name is misspelled on the census that was taken when she was four years old, and her stepfather Dempsey was listed as “Depapsy.” On various documents, Seymour is spelled: Seemore, Seamore, Seymore…you get the idea.

This makes me wonder if there’s a relationship between my father’s insistence that my middle name be spelled Anne and my mother’s fretting, “Nobody is going to remember to include that e.”

TrumpCare: Detached and Distracted

President Trump has repeatedly declared that simply allowing the Affordable Care Act to

Marie Antoinette: detached and distracted.

fail is a potential solution to the health care stand off. Every time I hear or read this, I can’t help thinking of Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France, who when hearing that the people had no bread to eat, declared they should eat cake instead. While it’s not likely that she ever actually said this, the statement stands as an example of her detachment from the plight of her starving people.

Similarly, when President Trump proposes allowing the ACA to fail, he reveals his detachment from the millions of Americans who, with no other option, are relying on the ACA.

The French royalty were too mired in their own excesses and too distracted by the complexities of life at court to think about the people they ruled. Similarly, President Trump retreats to his lavish resorts and has from the beginning of his presidency been distracted by White House intrigues. He is surrounded by family and business leaders rather than experts. As a result, he has yet to provide the governance our country deserves and requires.

Candidate Donald Trump promised Americans a great health care system. This will not be easy and it won’t be fast. We know that now. But it is imperative. According to a 2014 report published by the Commonwealth Fund, the US ranks last among eleven industrialized nations including Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in patient access to health care and in the delivery of care to patients. This is true in spite of our spending significantly more on health care than any country in the world. Much more.

I can’t think of a more outstanding legacy for any Presidency than motivating government and health care leaders to come together to solve this problem. The President’s complaining, blaming and threatening has not worked, and many Americans are anxiously waiting for reassurance that someone in Washington understands.


Copyright Susan Motley 2017

Living on the Minimum

“Mrs.Motley, what do you think of old people working at MacDonalds?” the student asked. I hadn’t thought very much about it all I confessed. But he was pretty worked up, and so were several other students who were finding their hopes for employment dashed by “old people” clinging to young people’s work. It’s these same old people with their pesky old people needs who are driving the current minimum wage debate. MacDonalds and Visa really did partner to create a budget to assure their employees that it’s not just a minimum wage, it’s a you-can-live-on-it wage.

Copyright Susan Motley 2017

Cece Bell’s Graphic Memoir

If just for a moment last night you felt a hiccup in the earth’s rotation, I have an explanation: My eight-year-old granddaughter recommended a book for me to read. Even better: due to an error in the placement of the Amazon order, she actually had a spare copy to lend me. My heart skips a beat every time I think of it.

She and her mother had plans to begin reading the book that night, and she explained to me that she had already done a picture walk, so she had an idea of what the book would be about, and she could tell it was going to be a good one.

“What is a picture walk?” I asked.

“You don’t know what a picture walk is?” she exclaimed.

Her mom defended me by reminding Harper that I had not had the good fortune to have Mrs. Kinnert for second grade. So Harper patiently explained what should have been obvious to me.

While her little brother was sleeping and she and her sister were at swim practice, I started reading, and Harper is right. I love this book, and you will love it too. It is a Newbery Honor Book, a graphic memoir by CeCe Bell.

Of course, I am looking forward to discussing the book with Harper, and my mind is racing ahead. Could this be the first step toward showing my grandchildren that Shakespeare’s works are relevant and beautiful? Do I have a shot at convincing them that poetry has value?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. But no matter where this first step leads us, I plan to savor it with this outstanding work by Cece Bell. I highly recommend it!


Copyright Susan Motley , 2017

With Farm Markets, It’s All About Location

After our family had been settled in our Norfolk home long enough to think about what we were eating, I asked my new neighbors for the location of Norfolk’s farm market. No one knew of one. That was eighteen summers ago, and that is the only time I have ever doubted the wisdom of our move from Virginia Beach to Norfolk.

What a relief to find the Five Points Community Farm Market and Bev Sell operating out of a remodeled laundromat. The green beans, sweet corn, and farm raised tomatoes picked at peak were all there along with a prominently and proudly displayed WIC sign. I was elated when the market moved much nearer to me on Church Street. I attended the grand opening, and now all these years later, the market shut its doors on Sunday.

If Bev erred, it may have been in putting the Five Points Community Market under one roof. By all accounts, farm markets are proliferating; however, recent studies reveal that consumers site inconvenient location as the primary reason for not patronizing a market.


For this reason, I am willing to believe that Norfolk citizens want more of these markets rather than fewer.  Only a few years ago, a Saturday morning market in downtown routinely sold out in the first hour. Williamsburg’s Market Square is flooded with shoppers and fresh produce on Saturday mornings. In last week’s Virginian Pilot, Lorraine Eaton wrote in glowing terms about the Smithfield market. In Yachats, Oregon, the Sunday morning market, flush with farm bounty and the work of local artisans, is crowded with shoppers. Grandy’s market on the way to the Outer Banks is nearly always packed with locals and tourists stocking up on the good food they want for the week ahead. In Virginia Beach’s Town Center, the weekly Wednesday evening market invites shoppers onto the plaza for live entertainment while conveniently offering fresh produce for those on their way home from work.

Because local food fresh from the field, vine, or tree feels a bit luxurious, travel guides always alert their readers to local markets and the days they are open; and many friends have proudly taken me to their local farm markets just to see them.

Bev Sell has worked tirelessly and dreamed generously that every citizen of Norfolk have access to fresh nutritious food. For now, I can only thank her for her years of dedication. For now, I can only hope that somehow our community will capitalize on her knowledge and efforts and continue to guarantee access to nutritious farm food for all the people who live and work in Norfolk.


Copyright Susan Motley 2017

Win Big with Summer Community Swim Leagues


Blazing sun. Sweltering humidity. The splash of legs and arms slicing through water. The tinny clatter of the megaphone. The “wonk” of the buzzer. The crack of the pistol. The smell of chlorine in the morning air. It was deja vu all over again as they say.

There were my two granddaughters participating in a swim meet just as their mother had years before. The eight year old’s free style and breast strokes have become beautiful . She tells me, “This is hard, but I like it.” And the four year old swam the twenty-five meter freestyle and backstroke in the six and under category finishing dead last in both events. She was the youngest swimmer in these competitions and the last swimmer out of the water. If there is a place more last than last she was in it, but the entire crowd on the pool deck was wildly cheering her on. This is summer swim league.

Individually swimmers learn that practice really does result in improvement. Swimmers are competing for their teams, and they are also competing against their own best times. So while a swimmer may not come in first, a significant improvement in personal time is a big win individually. With daily practice capped by a swim meet on Saturday morning, week to week the improvement in the swimmers’ stokes and speed is electrifying.

After her competing in the breast stroke, the eight-year old’s coach exclaimed, “Your breast stroke is perfect. Don’t change a thing.” The four year old backstroked the entire length of the pool resulting in her first official time. Just a few weeks before she had giggled as she said, “Nana, I’m on swim team, and I don’t even know how to swim.” The coaches fixed that.

I have never met a summer swim coach who does not love the work and the kids, and I have always marveled at how quickly they learn the names of the swimmers who in swim caps and goggles appear almost identical in the pool. Swim coaches guide swim practices and advise swimmers on their strokes. At swim meets, they celebrate swimmers’ improvement with parents. They connect with their swimmers as they come out of the pool congratulating and encouraging and inspiring confidence. “You’ve got this,” they say.

Swim team is a great vehicle for the whole family to bond with new friends and to contribute to the community because the meets are run by parent volunteers. They manage the zoo where swimmers check in and assemble prior to their scheduled swim events. Armed with stopwatches, they serve as timers. The stroke and turn judges make sure swimmers compete in the designated stroke and that they touch the side of the pool correctly and don’t push off the bottom on the turns. Parents record times and keep the team scores at the stats tables, and they write hundreds of ribbons for every meet. They keep the concession stands interesting starting with coffee in the morning giving way to water, soda, and lunch items as the meet and summer heat progress. Week after week, parents make sure that swimmers get to practices and arrive at the meets on time. Needless to say, the swimmers who are grouped by age, make friends at practices, and between swim meet events, they hang out together and cheer on their teammates.

Checked in and ready to swim.

The bodies of even the youngest participants bear evidence of the health benefits of the sport. Legs and arms are strengthened. Shoulders broaden and waists tapper. After the required daily swim practice, swimmers eat heartily and sleep soundly.

The much anticipated days of summer vacation become long and hot, and they are too quickly filled with mindless eating, mind-numbing television, squabbles with siblings, and boredom inspired mischief.

So parents, take your mark. “Swim to win,” we used to say. “Swim to win,”
and let Community Summer Swim Leagues give shape and purpose to the days and weeks of summer.


Copyright Susan A. Motley  2017 July

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