The Free Speech Movement Cafe, Berkeley

Whatever your views on balancing protections for free speech and against hate speech, we all have an obligation to get our facts straight. Yes, as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, I understand how reality can be manipulated. Still, according to a responsible source, the facts point to last week’s violence on the University of California, Berkeley campus as being incited primarily by people who were not students or faculty at the university.

Let’s go back to 1964 and the birth of the Free Speech Movement at Cal. The original FSM coalition focused on allowing political parties of all stripes to distribute political information on campus, something that we now take for granted. Over 800 people occupied the administration’s main offices (Sproul Hall) and were jailed to make that happen. No one set out to break windows and damage buildings. When a police car drove onto Sproul Plaza to arrest a student, scores of other students on the Plaza merely sat down, preventing the patrol car from leaving. […]

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This Monday, December 16, 2013, at 7 pm,  the Blue Thread universe will celebrate the launch of The Ninth Day by zooming down to a single spot on the olam: 732 NW 19th Avenue, Portland, Oregon. JOIN US! It’s officially the Koehler House, named for the German family who first lived there, but for me the angular blue-gray structure is the real-world inspiration for Miriam Josefsohn’s home in Blue Thread, a companion novel to The Ninth Day. And it’s still filled with my imaginary friends.

In the 1912 portion of Blue Thread, Miriam spends about half of her time in the house on 19th and Johnson. She sews money into her petticoats in her bedroom and washes off biblical sand in the bathroom. She argues with her parents in the parlor and disappears from the kitchen to travel back thousands of years through time and space. […]

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“I’m coming with you,” I said. Dr. Kravitz was Mim’s family doctor, and mine, too. Bertha Kravitz. Someone who, I imagine, had fought her way to get into medical school and to stay there, and to establish a highly respected practice in a male-dominated world. If Bertha had been our doctor then, Sidney would have gotten better care instead of nearly dying of whooping cough.

So I was there, you see, on December 29, 1947, to hear Mim tell Bertha about her symptoms: bloody discharge, bloating, general fatigue. I was there to read Bertha’s face, which belied her reassuring words. I was there when Bertha wrote down the name of a specialist on her prescription pad and told her assistant to make an immediate appointment for Mim.

“I’m busy all this week and next,” Mim stated, as if she were arranging to go to the beauty parlor. “Any time after January 11th.”

The assistant was about to object, but Bertha whispered, “That’s fine.”

There you have it. […]

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I’m no expert on marriage, but the relationship between my best friend and her husband would have made most of us eager to march down the aisle. Except in 1938.

Of course, Europe was falling apart back then, and the United States was struggling. In the first half of ’38, Hitler annexed Austria. German troops marched into the Sudetenland part of Czechoslovakia, and no one came to the defense of that poor country. All that was horrid, but it was the rift over Rachel that stunned me.

Rachel had turned 19 that April. She’d graduated from high school the previous year and stayed home to help with Sidney—she adored her little brother—and to pitch in with housework and gardening. Rachel had some sort of part-time secretarial job—for an insurance company, I think. Every dime she earned there went toward the family expenses. But right after her birthday, she started a business of her own. […]

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September of 1923 was miserably hot. Every day dry winds swept down from the northeast. It was the kind of weather that made me wish we lived in San Francisco instead of on the east side of the Bay. Looking back now, I divide my life with Mim into our world before September 17th and our world afterward.

On the afternoon of 17th, Ephraim was at Double-J, and Mim was with me. I had persuaded her to go shopping for a new dress. Paul was in elementary school—second grade I think—and Rachel was in an afternoon nursery school.

I remember that Mim and I were on Milvia and Vine, not far from campus, when we smelled smoke. She saw the flames first, roiling off the hills to the north of the university. I watched panic rise in her face.

“The hills are tinder dry, Florrie,” she said.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. […]

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Mim loved being pregnant, despite the queasiness in the early months and her waddling walk in the last weeks. Ephraim was over the moon.

Mim gave birth to Paul Daniel Jacobowitz at 4:38 in the morning on May 8, 1916, after 17 hours of labor. I was so frightened for her, because she was such a slip of a thing, and this was her first child. Mim had planned to have a midwife. I persuaded her to try the new “twilight sleep” that they offered at the hospital. Morphine to ease the pain, and another drug to help her forget the whole experience. Yes, that was bossy of me, but I didn’t want her to suffer, and “twilight sleep” was all the rage then. After a week of hospital care, and six weeks of a nurse (my baby gift to them) at home, Mim was almost back to normal.

Dear Mim, she missed the fun our friends and I had celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Berkeley. […]

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I’ve got another postcard for you from my collection. I believe the publisher of this one is Edward H. Mitchell from San Francisco. This is Berkeley, back when Mim arrived. You’re looking at Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way, right near the University campus.  I wasn’t much interested in college men, then, but some of the professors were entertaining. The trolley ran through the heart of town. I loved the place. So did Mim.

Uncle Edward and Aunt Helen welcomed Mim like family, which meant they made sure that she was exceptionally comfortable and then left her to enjoy her own life. By Thanksgiving Mim had gotten a typography job at Shaker Press, acquired fashionable work attire (with my help and finances), and learned to drive. You see, I don’t think she really wanted to go back to Portland so soon after she’d left. Perhaps she missed a few people, but she did relish her independence. […]

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1909 Valentine

Over the past year, many of the people who have read Blue Thread ask me the same question: “Did Miriam and Ephraim ever get together again?”

Now, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ll tell you that the short answer is yes. Most definitely. Miriam gradually came to love Ephraim, who had been smitten with her for months before the book started. They married in 1914, back in Portland, at Temple Beth Israel. Miriam’s father, Julius, was furious at his only child marrying “beneath her.” Miriam and Ephraim honeymooned in San Francisco….and then…and then….

There’s a lot more to the story. Over the next few months I expect to give you the details. But for now, let’s leave it like this: one of their grandchildren–Miriam Hope Friis, who lives in Berkeley, California–inherits the blue thread and travels back to medieval Paris. More later!

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