Feeding Bodies, Sustaining Souls

Many years younger, fairly well-traveled but still impressionable, I arrived in Berkeley during the 1970s: a relatively peaceful decade sandwiched between the tumultuous events of the University of California’s Free Speech Movement and the slightly less shattering Livermore earthquake.

Despite the unfortunate closures of the original Fillmore and Fillmore West prior to my arrival, there were consolations to be had. Afternoons, I lingered at Caffé Espresso, breathing in the scents of eucalyptus and French roast. Weekend trips across the Bay allowed for exploration of San Francisco’s tourist sites (Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown) as well as increasingly confident forays into neighborhoods filled with fabulous architecture, tiny galleries, and expansive views.

Atop the Berkeley hills, views were as varied and compelling as anything available across the Bay. To the east lay Mt. Diablo, wheat straw dry or dusted with sunlit snow. To the west, San Francisco’s skyline shimmered by day and sparkled by night. In season, tendrils of fog twined their way around and through the Golden Gate, wrapping the Bridge in silence and the easy breath of dreams.

Surrounded as I was by art, natural beauty, a vibrant, polyglot culture, and more good live music than I’d ever experienced, surprises were inevitable. When friends discovered that Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Mimi Farina would be appearing live in San Francisco, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. There was no question we’d attend.

At the time, I didn’t realize the concert had been designed as a fund-raiser for an organization called Bread and Roses.  Founded by Ms. Farina as a way of bringing live music to people confined in hospitals, juvenile facilities, nursing homes, half-way houses and prisons, it was a direct result of her disillusionment with the music industry.

For some time, she had considered giving up her art, saying:

It really pains me to see people who were inspired when they were young, who got chills all over at the sound of music or a piece of art, something that inspired them to want to do it themselves…to watch that go down the drain for the sake of the industry, for the sake of money. That is uninspiring to me, and takes away from the value of the art.

Aware of her struggles, her cousin Skipper Henderson, who happened to be a social worker, suggested she make use of her talents by performing at his halfway house. After some hesitation, she agreed.

In the course of a later interview, Farina said:

The visit [to the halfway house] was depressing, but it revealed a great need, and made me think about the potential value of performing in places like this. Music is powerful; it can relieve pain and inspire. The things that music once meant to me were beginning to come to life.
It took me about a year to formulate an idea. Then, one day at the end of a tour, I was sitting alone in my living room, my life in front of me once again, with no planes to catch, no gigs to make. I found myself picking up the telephone and calling some institutions and saying, ‘Hi, I’m an entertainer. Would you like to have some free entertainment at your hospital?’

More often than not, the answer was a resounding “Yes!”  Over the years, her organization flourished, supported by some of the brightest and best among musicians and entertainers.

The name she chose for the organization, Bread and Roses, came from a poem written by James Oppenheim, published in American Magazine in 1911.  Oppenheim’s working-class sympathies were reflected in his writing, and led to his poem becoming associated with a 1912 textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts.  Martha Coleman set the poem to music initially, but Farina gave it new music in 1976, and her version is the one most well-known today.

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: Bread and Roses! Bread and Roses!
As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes.
Hearts starve as well as bodies: give us bread, but give us roses.
As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses, too.
As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler, ten who toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.

Whether the song was included in the first Bread and Roses fundraiser, I can’t say. I did hear Mimi Farina perform it live in 1978, and for years I kept Judy Collins’ recording of the song on tape, until the tape disappeared, and the song was forgotten.

Then, in June of 2001, tropical storm Allison rolled through Houston. After making short work of the Texas Medical Center, Wortham Theatre, the Alley Theatre, Jones Hall, the University of Houston and the downtown tunnel system, she swept through individual homes, offices, and businesses with a breathtaking lack of discrimination.

In the aftermath of the disaster, as the shock of seeing four feet of water roll through the neighborhood subsided and cleanup began, it became obvious just how difficult the job was going to be. Mud and debris, the stench of flood water, fire ants, snakes, rats, and looters: all conspired with a lack of electricity and fresh water to make each day worse than the last.

If we had known what yet was to come — months of living in RVs or camping out with family and friends; waiting on contractors, permits, and adjusters; attempting to combine employment with the process of rebuilding; coping with assorted  surgeries, illnesses, and death — it would have been unbearable.  But we didn’t know, and so life went on, putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again.

From the beginning, one of my jobs was to travel to a restaurant outside the flood zone and fetch hot dinners for the work crew.  The food was good, but the ambience wasn’t.

One evening I found myself thinking, Who wants to eat from a styrofoam carton in the middle of hell?  The next day, I pulled out some good china, and served dinner as though nothing had happened.

In the midst of the chaos and filth, the porcelain gleamed. Looking at the plates, one fellow walked outside, washed up with a bucket and hose, and put on a clean tee-shirt.  Paper-towel napkins were folded. Ice chests were transformed into tables, chairs were pulled together, and we sat down to eat, instead of balancing ourselves on window ledges or sawhorses. 

As silverware clinked and rattled against porcelain, we ate, and talked, and regained a bit of our humanity. Only later did Oppenheim’s phrase come to mind and take on new meaning.  Bread, and  roses.

In the midst of the struggle for bread– in the midst of every struggle for the basic necessities of life – the human hunger for beauty and graciousness may seem secondary, or even irrelevant.  Nevertheless, the need is real.  Hearts grown weary with suffering or struggle can become hard, or hateful. Even when the body is fed, hearts can wither away, becoming desiccated by cynicism or fear.

Mimi Farina understood it well:

One of the things that strikes me most about the prison shows is the realization that each of us has the potential of being an unlucky one.  Jon Hendricks put it very well. All of us share the universal fear of being locked up. We’re all prisoners of this planet, and we instinctively comprehend what that means.

After Allison, many of us shared that instinctive comprehension of what it means to be trapped, overcome by events, no longer in control of our own destiny.

Prisoners of a natural disaster, locked up by circumstance, lying sleepless in borrowed beds, we were most concerned with bread: with the necessities of life that required restoration and replacement. 

And yet, as people reestablished routines, rebuilt structures, and moved beyond the destruction of their lives, the instinctive yearning for a bit of beauty couldn’t be denied. In those days, any rose would do. A song or a smile, a slant of sunlight, a patch of blue or a freshening breeze could lift and feed hearts still hungering for the fullness of life.

For now, the floodwaters have receded, and the Massachusetts sweatshops are gone. Still, the realities of Oppenheim’s “million darkened kitchens, and thousand mill lofts gray” continue to exist, whatever form they may take.

The world is filled with struggling survivors of every sort. Victims of earthquake or crippling drought, displaced by war or genocide, overcome by waves of disease or sexual trafficking, many do require bread: the physical necessities of life.  But while food, water, clothing and shelter can sustain the body, truly human life requires more.

Decades ago, my grandmother often admonished: “A loaf feeds bodies. A loaf shared with love feeds body and soul.”  I’ve no reason to believe she knew Oppenheim’s poem, but in the end, it makes no difference. The spirit of her proverb is the spirit of the poem, and in this world, so often obsessed with bread and forgetful of beauty, the message of the song endures.

Hearts starve, as well as bodies….
Give us bread, but give us roses.

Comments are welcome. To leave a comment, please click below.

83 thoughts on “Feeding Bodies, Sustaining Souls

  1. People feeling despair and frustration want to have some dignity. They want a job to do with a fair wage. They want to care for their loved one. When they cannot, they need help.

    Last night we watched American Masters on PBS. It was about Dorothea Lange and her photography during the depression and the interment camps for the Japanese in WWII. She saw that despair and emptiness with her camera. She captured it eloquently.

    Thank you for your post.

    1. I learned a good bit about dignity and coping with difficult circumstances from my paternal grandparents. They lived in an Iowa coal mining town, and Grandpa was a miner.

      Over time, conditions in the mines improved, but there still were illnesses, injuries, funerals and job loss to cope with. The mutual aid society they belonged to helped with such expenses, and I know it helped my grandparents in the period between Grandpa being forced to leave the mine (he was injured in a slate fall) and the kids being old enough to help out financially.

      Even when I was a child, they still were making contributions. I’m not sure when the society was dissolved, but I know how important it was to them. The “mutuality” of it all helped to preserve their dignity.


      1. The mutuality is a key element to civil societies. Those that recognize the importance of caring for others as well as ourselves can offer security and help in times of need.

        It distresses me to see the push in our society away from this. Too many feel it is up to each person to make their own way and take care of themselves. Everyone should make contingency plans for bad times. Well, of course. But, when bad times get too frequent, all the time, or much too expensive, the society ought to help those in need. Don’t let them fall by the wayside and tell them they should have been prepared. That ends up with greater separation between the haves and the have nots. We are on that track now.

        I’m glad your grandparents were able to preserve their dignity. That is something every person wants and deserves.

        1. You’ve reminded me of another example of mutual assistance. During Rita, we evac’d to Nacogdoches and stayed at the La Quinta. It took us fourteen hours to make what should have been a three hour trip. When we got there, the shelters already were full all the way up to Oklahoma. So, people camped out in their cars in the La Quinta parking lot.

          The manager took it upon himself to open one room for the people living out of their cars. They could use the microwave, take showers, charge cell phones, use the wifi. People organized themselves, and it worked out beautifully. There wasn’t any destruction, no one fought. People took turns. It was perfectly civil, and there were a lot of grateful people.

    1. Sad, yes. But many lessons were learned, and the city is much safer now from floods because of the changes that were made.

      There have been other storms since Allison: Katrina, Rita, Ike. We’ve recovered from those, too, and learned more lessons. I like the way our American poet, Carl Sandburg, speaks of it in his great poem, “The People, Yes.”

      “In the darkness with a great bundle of grief
      the people march.
      In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people
      “Where to? what next?”


      1. Perfect response.
        Sadly,as people fled the coastal areas during Rita resulted in some bad behaviors along the way – and apparently some took advantage of the small towns’ good nature and kindness. As we headed out ahead of Ike to Arkansas , – we were stunned to see many small towns had barricades and police lining their streets not allowing any one to stop for any reason. Once we managed to break off of the conga line down some back roads, we discovered the locals had bitter memories of Rita’s evacuees and were reluctant to open themselves up to that again.
        All we could do is shake our heads and say “there’s always bad apples in every bunch.” We were so grateful to those who provided assistance.
        Just when you think there’s no hope for the human race, someone finds the china and roses. And it makes all the difference

  2. oh my, this was beautiful! I knew when I read, “Who wants to eat from a styrofoam carton in the middle of hell?” that I should brace myself for tears – and yes, your thoughtfulness prompted a tenderness of the moment… surely everyone remembers your beautiful heart and the positive difference you made.

    1. Whether anyone else remembers, I can’t say. But I remember, and the experience certainly shaped my views in several ways — not the least of which is how to survive difficulties with a modicum of grace.

      I don’t know if they say it in Mississippi, but an expression I often hear in rural Texas is, “Don’t be ugly.” It has nothing to do with physical appearance, of course. Depending on context, it can mean, “Don’t be nasty, gossipy, snarky, back-biting, or hyper-critical.” I suppose it can mean a few other things, too.

      A kind word rather than a harsh word is just another way of choosing china over styrofoam. Picking up socks from the middle of the floor keeps the tide of chaos at bay. Plucking a single hibiscus for a waterglass vase says the same thing brings beauty indoors.

      “Don’t be ugly” would be a pretty good motto for life, don’t you think?


  3. This is a beautiful post, Linda, and the premise is so very true. As I read it, the thought occurred to me that in the wild country, the residents there spend nearly all of their time acquiring the food that they have to have and shelter, temporary as it may be, all made available by Mother Nature Herself and all the while Nature provides for them also the beauty of Her flowers.

    1. It may be facile to put it this way, but it just occurred to me: without life, the appreciation of beauty is impossible, but without beauty, full human life is impossible.

      It may even be that certain residents of the woodlands appreciate beauty. I remembered learning about the bowerbirds, whose males decorate their bowers to attract females. I went looking for some photos, and just couldn’t believe what I found. Here’s one bower, all citrus fruits and children’s toys, including a dinosaur. Reds, yellows, and oranges predominate. And yet, look at this one. Someone’s taste in decorating is very, very different! Beauty in the eye of the beholder, I suppose we could say.


      1. Also, I have thought for years that certain animals, for example mule deer and big horn sheep, live where they do at least partially because of the views that they have from such places.

  4. O I have a few pictures just like that, the city immersed in muddy water. At first as I just scrolled down, I thought you’d posted Cowtown in the 2013 flood. Fine China tea set in the midst of ruins… What you’d done was, shall I say, The Praxis of Wabi-sabi. ;)

    1. I thought about you when I was looking for the Houston photos, Arti. There seem to be many more photos of the Calgary flood online now, and you’re right. The similarities are astonishing.

      And you had your little victories in the midst of the chaos, too: like this one. They all count, don’t they?


  5. “A loaf feeds bodies. A loaf shared with love feeds body and soul.” Never heard that one before. Lots of good stuff to chew on, in this post. DM

    1. Grandma was just full of good sayings. I found myself wondering if this one was a Swedish proverb, but it seems not. It could have been one she picked up from her Croatian friends, or just something she made up.

      She did practice what she preached. She fed anything that moved, from her family to the hobos riding the rails behind the house. But she rarely just “handed out.” The men who stopped by might end up weeding a couple of garden rows, or painting the end of Grandpa’s shed. In turn, they’d get soap and towel, access to the yard pump, and a meal. Win/win.


  6. “In the midst of the struggle for bread– in the midst of every struggle for the basic necessities of life – the human hunger for beauty and graciousness may seem secondary, or even irrelevant. Nevertheless, the need is real. Hearts grown weary with suffering or struggle can become hard, or hateful. Even when the body is fed, hearts can wither away, becoming desiccated by cynicism or fear.”

    So well said, Linda. I know that when I have been at my lowest points it was those moments of graciousness from others that gave me hope. There’s much here to think on.

    1. Your comment about your lowest points reminded me of an experience I had while writing this. The second paragraph begins, “Despite the unfortunate closures of the original Fillmore and Fillmore West prior to my arrival, there were consolations to be had.” Originally, that sentence read, “Despite the unfortunate closures of the original Fillmore and Fillmore West prior to my arrival, it was the best period of my life.”

      I had to change that, because it isn’t true. At least, it isn’t wholly true. Those years were wonderful, but they also were among the worst of my life.The more I thought about it, the more I realized Dickens captured it exactly in the opening lines of his “Tale of Two Citiies.”

      “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

      Now, that’s a sentence! But the point is, today I remember the good times emotionally, and I remember the bad times intellectually. I suspect it was those moments of graciousness along the way that made the difference.


  7. Such a lovely post Linda. I couldn’t agree more about our need for roses as well as bread. I would love to have been with you when the best china came out! As you know, my blog partly came about as a need to provide ‘roses’ in my life, post earthquake. And, at one stage, you sent me a link to the song Bread and Roses, which is a truly beautiful song.

    Did I ever mention the New Zealand film Bread and Roses? It was released to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. Bread & Roses tells the story of pioneering trade unionist, politician and feminist Sonja Davies (1923 – 2005) who rose to prominence in the 1940s and 50s. There are some clips on the NZ OnScreen website that you may enjoy.

    1. It occurs to me that you would have needed to be here for the experience, Gallivanta, because I’m not sure I’d figured out how to send photos via email by then, and I certainly didn’t have a blog.

      That in itself is amazing. I purchased my first computer just prior to the terrible tornado outbreak in Oklahoma City in May, 1999. I still remember watching live reports via computer, and being utterly amazed. I had Windows 95, a CRT monitor, a dialup connection, and AOL. How things have changed.

      I don’t remember you mentioning the film, but I suspect that’s what I found while I was doing some fact checking for this post. I saw several links and videos, but didn’t pursue them at the time. Now, I’ll go back and have a look. It seems the song has been widely adopted now, for a variety of causes. That’s not surprising, because it’s a wonderful song in its own right, and broadly applicable.

      The original tune nearly has disappeared. I found a midi file that’s only a melody line, but from what I heard there, Mimi Farina’s setting is more singable, and more memorable.


      1. I am enjoying reading more about the Bread and Roses organisation and have also watched a few video clips of the live concert at SingSing Prison. Joan and Mimi were wonderful to watch, even in an old video clip. I wonder if we can make any associations with Mimi’s name Farina and the Bread of Bread and Roses; probably not, but it’s interesting to think about.

        1. Like you, I don’t think there’s a direct connection, but it’s still one of those coincidences that makes life so interesting. Here’s another one: “farina” is another name for Cream of Wheat, which was one of my childhood comfort foods, and in its broadest sense, farina even could refer to the finely-ground meal that makes your cornbread or cornmeal mush!

  8. What an interesting post, Linda…
    I found it absolutely mesmerizing as I read it all throughout!
    The excerpts related to the natural disaster were truly breathtaking.
    Thanks for the reading. Best wishes to you, Aquileana

    1. Thanks so much, Aquileana. I’m glad it engaged you. There’s something about events like Tropical Storm Allison that makes the telling and re-telling of the stories inevitable. It’s almost as though they’re too big to grasp all at once. We keep going back to them, to take another look.

      Thanks for stopping by, and thank you for the kind words.


  9. Your post is so intense I could spend days on end writing my impressions about it. But of course, that I will not do.

    I will however, mention the power of the words, “Give us bread, but give us roses.” They ring strong and loud in the world of morality. We are after all made up of body and spirit and each has its own special needs.

    Your description of Berkley was so well described I could see it inside my head, specially the way you narrated the spreading of fog around the Golden Gate Bridge.

    The music of Los Lobos, Willie Nelson, Tom Jones, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grateful Dead and so forth strike a chord with me. I was a young man during the seventies when they were active.

    One of your readers—Jim—mentioned the photography of Dorothea Lange. I’ve seen the pain expressed through her camera and viewed numerous Vietnam movies with all their horror and madness. Apocalyse Now is one of them.

    You have come up with a very strong and significant post worth its salt. Wrote down in my notebook, to read it again next month. Literature like this should be read regularly to remind us that not only do we need food for the body, we also need food for the spirit.

    Thank you for sharing wisdom and knowledge with your loyal readers.


    1. In the process of doing a little research, I found something that should give you a smile, Omar. This is the list of performers at Fillmore West from 1968 until its closing on July 4, 1971. One of your favorites, Creedence Clearwater Revival, played the last show there. It’s interesting to watch the lineups change from Woodstock-heavy in the beginning to newer groups in just three years. Of course the Grateful Dead were there throughout. It was fun to go through the list and be reminded of groups I’ve not throught of in some time.

      I’m glad you liked my description of Berkeley, and of the Golden Gate. To be fair, I was as fond of the Oakland Bay Bridge as I was of the Golden Gate, even though it’s not as dramatic. But I was fond of a good bit while I was living there. I could go on and on myself — but I won’t!

      I’m pleased that you plan to re-read this. We listen to favorite songs over and again — why not written works that give us pleasure, or inspire us? Even if the words on the page are the same from year to year, we’re different, and our reading of the words is different, too.

      One song I’ve listened to over and again through the years is John Stewart’s “Gold.” You may or may not know it. It was a chart-topper in 1979, and for me it’s the quintessential California song. I drove a lot of miles through the hills, listening to it.


  10. This is beautiful, Linda, and so wondrously written. I mean that. Every phrase has poetic undertones. Your bringing out the good china is a wonderful example of how to elevate one’s surroundings and one’s thoughts. I can well imagine it as a lesson not forgotten by those who ate from your porcelain.

    1. Thank you, Teresa. But I must say — bringing out the china wasn’t meant to be a lesson, and it wasn’t thought out ahead of time. I simply did it because I was sick to death of mud, soggy carpet, mold and drywall dust. Even the rose bushes were covered with mud — enough, already!

      Sometimes, my impulses get me in trouble, but in this case, it worked out fine. Doing the dishes was a bit of a project, but it was worth it the hassle.

      It really is amazing how Oppenheim’s poem can tie together such disparate experiences. Who says poetry isn’t useful?


  11. Another great post with so much education. You wrote “like it was” but with a certain finesse. It’s true that during chaos and loss we need civility and grace in our lives even if it is for the briefest of times. I’ve not listened to Bread and Roses but will later. I know that it will be enjoyable and probably sobering.

    PS: I had no idea that you were in Houston during and after the ravages left by Allison.


    1. I was here for two big storms, Yvonne: hurricane Alicia and Allison. The eye of Alicia went right over my place. Just as they say, blue sky appeared for a few minutes, the birds flew and sang, and then — the other side of the storm rolled through.

      I evacuated with Mom and the cat for Rita and Ike, but stayed put for a goodly number of “just storms.” I just looked at the list of storms from 1980 to the present, and was amazed how many I’ve lived through and forgotten. Now and then I wonder how I’m going to evacuate when I’m 85 or 90, but I can’t figure that one out, so I just quit thinking about it.

      You’ll like Bread and Roses. I purposely chose a version created by someone not as famous as Baez and Farina, and not associated with specific events. It’s lovely, and has become one of my favorite versions.


  12. I’m sure you’re familiar with Saadi’s poem:

    ‘If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft
    And of thy simple store two loaves of bread alone are left
    Sell one, and with the dole,
    Buy hyacinths to feed the soul.’

    I believe that’s so important, and not just because I’m one of those creative types. We need money and the basics to get by, but our inmost being cries out for beauty, harmony, and a certain loveliness that money can’t buy.

    Well written, Linda. Your description of the aftermath of Allison brought to mind the devastation left by the hurricanes along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, many of which touched me or my family personally. Those of us living inland fail to grasp just how HARD life can be after a natural disaster like that. Kudos to you for bringing out the good china!!

    1. I do know the poem, Debbie, and it’s a lovely complement to other comments here. Perhaps some of the most interesting questions we can ask ourselves are, “What are my hyacinths? What feeds my soul? What bit of beauty do I require for my spirit to flourish?” We can only answer the questions for ourselves, of course, but they’re worth thinking about.

      I saw Bay St. Louis and Gulfport about a year after Katrina. It really was a shame that the Mississippi coast was so neglected — both in terms of news coverage and timely disaster aid. One of my friends in Louisiana, who rebuilt after Ike, just this summer finally demolished the old, hurricane-ravaged house. It takes time, and far more of it than most people realize.

      Of course, inland people have their own travails. Some of the tornado outbreaks in the past couple of decades have been truly terrible: Joplin, Oklahoma City, and elsewhere. The people who are facing drought are perhaps worst off. It’s not that something happens, and then you recover. It’s that the disaster unfolds so slowly, and you don’t know when it will end. I’ll take a hurricane over a drought any day.


    1. Yes, they are, and a world more expensive now than they were thirty years ago. The good news is that even those consigned to flats in the Berkeley Flats can take a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and their cameras up into the hills, and enjoy.

  13. Oppenheim’s phrase “a thousand mill lofts grey” reminds me of “these dark Satanic Mills” in William Blake’s poem, now usually known as “Jerusalem” and most familiar musically in its setting by Charles H.H. Parry:

    1. Thanks to your comment, I read the Wiki for “And did those feet in ancient times,” and may have solved a mystery.

      Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet” is filled with allusions that aren’t as obvious to me as they might be to the British. One snippet of verse begins,”Hail Albion drear, fond home of cant…” I’d always meant to look up Albion, just to see why it might be so drear. Now I suspect that Blake’s ‘dark, Satanic mills’ lie behind Durrell’s metaphorical use of Albion for England, particularly given this additional line from Blake’s poem: “And all the Arts of Life they changed into the Arts of Death in Albion.”

      I’ve known the poem and its musical setting, but didn’t know that the Emerson, Lake, and Palmer version was banned from the British airwaves, or that some in the Church of England were willing to argue that it isn’t a hymn. Always something.

      But the best, of course, is this.

      “The song had been taken up by the Suffragettes in 1917 and Millicent Fawcett asked Parry if it might be used at a Suffrage Demonstration Concert on 13 March 1918. Parry was delighted and orchestrated the piece for the concert (it had originally been for voices and organ). After the concert, Millicent Fawcett asked the composer if it might become the Women Voters’ Hymn.

      Parry wrote back, “I wish indeed it might become the Women Voters’ Hymn, as you suggest. People seem to enjoy singing it. And having the vote ought to diffuse a good deal of joy. So they should combine happily.”

      Two nations, two causes, the work of two poets turned into two songs. It looks to me as if “Jerusalem” was in many ways the “Bread and Roses” of England.


      Add: I just noticed the date of the Suffrage concert. March 13, 1918, was two days before my mother was born.

      1. It’s possible Durrell was influenced by that line from Blake, but the name Albion goes way back to the time when all of Britain was Celtic. The dreariness could refer to the prevailing weather of the British Isles, especially in the north, when contrasted to the much milder Mediterranean climate of Alexandria.

        For more on Albion:


        1. How I missed Albion as another name for England, I haven’t a clue. My paternal grandparents first lived in Albia, Iowa, and there’s an Albion, Iowa not far from where I grew up. Maybe I just accepted Albion as a place name and thought no more about it.

          Clearly, “Albion drear…” is a far cry from that “green and pleasant land” Blake wrote about. But Durrell is concerned with more than weather. The dreariness he describes also is a stiff and buttoned-up approach to life reminiscent of Prufrock. Even without a direct reference to those “dark, Satanic mills,” I’m sure Durrell would have known that some associated them with the Church of England, which takes some knocks in his writing. It’s interesting to ponder, for sure. And now at least I’ve made sense of Albion!

    1. You’re so right, Ruth. Your words remind me of something attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (rightly so, as far as I can tell). He said, “A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

      It sounds like very good advice to me.


  14. Beautifully written, and thought-provoking post. I also loved how you described serving dinner on china to the people after the flood. It had to have made everyone feel just a little better to have food on nice plates.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Sheryl.

      I’ve been remembering a lot about my own grandmother because of your posts. Today, I remembered sitting in her front porch swing, reading a Reader’s Digest version of “The Nun’s Story.” I remember one scene very clearly. The Sister had come down with TB, and part of her treatment was to consume two raw eggs each day. The doctor gave them to her in a crystal goblet or wine glass, and when she fussed, because of her vow of poverty, he said, “Sister, to a tuberculosis patient, presentation is everything.”

      Who knows? Maybe it was that bit of wisdom that led me to pull out the china.


  15. What a thoughtful essay about beauty, grace and resilience. Very heartening to read about people who use their talents and blessings for good. One of the best books I’ve read about people pulling together after natural disasters is Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell. I recommend it.

    1. I’m glad you were heartened, Rosemary. That’s a word we hear far too little. And you’re right to mention resilience. After Allison, but even more after Ike, it was heartening to witness the movement from, “I don’t think we can do this,” to, “It’s possible we are doing this,” to, “We did it.”

      I have no desire to go through another hurricane (though I probably will), but I cherish many of the experiences I’ve had because of them.


  16. I’ve waited awhile to comment Linda in order to read and reread this great memory.

    The 70’s as you know were MY time in Berkeley, and I loved every minute of it. We were all astonished at the Free Speech movement, and the confusion which followed. The earthquake hit very close to home. I remember Bread and Roses. Grace under fire. People somehow rise to the occasion.

    My hurricane was in 1939 in Connecticut. It was a dilly too. But somehow we all survive! This is a disjointed comment, but there was much meat in your post to digest. I love that you supplied the china dinner plates. Very classy lady.

    1. I was thinking about you as I fact-checked some things, Kate. I finally pinpointed that “rolling” earthquake that sent the wave of energy through the tiled floor. It was the Livermore quake. Once I knew that, it was easy enough to go back and read the reports. I was surprised to see it happened on an inactive fault. Well, inactive until then. We thought it was active enough.

      There are other things I’ve learned. For one, Michele, who made pizza at Caffé Espresso, ended up as pizza chef at Chez Panisse. And Catharine Hiersoux is still in her studio on Colusa, in Kensington. I found a vase on her website very much like the one I purchased so many years ago. You can see it here, the last photo on the right side of the page.

      Disjointed? I don’t think so. It just was one of those times and places that’s so rich in memories, they tumble around like crabs in a basket. It’s hard to know where to start, or stop. Life itself served up a lot in those days.


    1. It is a wonderful name, isn’t it? It’s a little like comfort food — the sort that reminds us of home, and brings happiness.

      I’m so glad you stopped by, and I’m glad you found some beauty in the story. Here’s to even more beauty in the future — especially on the beach!


  17. So very true, today, yesterday and every day in the future.
    We think money makes us what we are and money makes us happy. That attitude causes so much strife in the world.

    If we could take time to admit to ourselves that we also need beauty, kindness, laughter, if we could all share the bread, roses would flourish of their own accord.

    Eating off china instead of styrofoam, what a huge difference that must have made. I can see it now. That’s why, at least once a week, mostly on a Sunday, we lay a ‘proper’ table here at home and take our time over a meal prepared with care and forethought. It instantly lifts the day. Even the conversation becomes more thoughtful.

    1. Friko, your comments about the inability of money to provide happiness, and the ways that sharing brings roses to bloom, reminded me of a film I haven’t thought of in years: “The Poor Little Rich Girl.” It was a popular Shirley Temple film, but if you want to see the 1917 version starring Mary Pickford — here it is. I think it must have been turned into a children’s book at some point, because I’m sure I never saw the film, yet I remember the story. Its lesson? Money doesn’t ensure happiness. Indeed, it doesn’t.

      I was raised with “Sunday dinners,” too. We used the good china, always paired with a tablecloth and cloth napkins. No one thought of coming to the table with bare feet or a tee shirt, let alone putting elbows on the table or interrupting someone who was talking. And always, there were flowers on the table. It might have been only a spring of forsythia, but it helped to make the day special.


  18. This is a wonderful piece of writing, Linda. And also a wonderful look at who you are.
    When I was at UMass in the late 60’s we would do food drives. We also would sell locally made bread while roaming around the lawns during outdoor concerts to raise money for food pantries. But quite honestly, it was hit or miss and nothing that any of us thought to do around an organization like Bread and Roses.
    There was an awful lot going on in the S.F. area during those times. Must have been so enriching to experience that.

    I must say that I am so impressed with this blog. Not just for your excellent thought and writing, but also for the comments posted by so many of your followers (sorry if that sounds a little cultish) and it took me a few days to even come up with the little bit I had to offer.

    1. Gosh — thanks, Steve. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece.

      When I was refreshing my memory about events in Lowell during the textile strikes, I thought about you and wondered if you’d been around Massachusetts for a while. Looks like the answer is yes. I like the thought of your fund-raising efforts. Who doesn’t appreciate fresh bread — especially when it’s for a good cause?

      You said your project was hit-or-miss, but I think most of us were involved with some hit-or-miss ventures back then. For one thing, we were young, busy trying to figure out how to turn our good impulses into actions that would be of actual benefit to someone.

      As for the comments – I love the different perspectives people bring. There’s really quite an assortment of people who’ve come here, gone, returned, drifted away. Some are professional, some have high school educations. Some are just as chatty as I am, and others stop by with just a sentence or two. Some send along emails, and there are plenty who never comment at all.

      That’s the way it should be. I think. From the very beginning, I’ve thought of blog posts as nothing more than starting points. I throw them out, and see what happens. If nothing happens? Well, there’s always next week!


  19. I think what I may love most of all about this post is your own contribution of roses, with dinner on porcelain for the flood work crews. Your post also puts me in mind of Amy Garapic, a Contemporaneous percussionist who wears loads of other hats. One of them is as an organizer of Make Music New York, which includes a 10-day workshop with inmates and a concert featuring them on Rikers Island.

    1. Thanks for the link to Garapic’s concert, Susan. What an experience that must have been for her. Talk about working a tough room.

      I went a-browsing to see what else I could find regarding Make Music New York, and my goodness, there’s a lot. The video that appealed to me today was KUN by Wendy Mae Chambers. Even someone like me, who has a hard time with new music, can be entranced by a work written for sixty-four toy grand pianos. It tickled me to see the banner ad for Contemporaneous across the bottom of the video, too. I might not be downloading their music yet, but at least I know who they are, thanks to you.

      The information offered with the video lists the pianists by name. You may know some of them. I’m supposing you know about the I Care If You Listen YouTube channel.



      1. Rest assured, there’s a lot of this that is beyond my ken, as well. But what I love is the joy I see, the passion. It’s what your post speaks to, as well, as do you, the zest for life, to use that terribly hackneyed phrase. Yes, I do know the names at least of some of the pianists, though wow, what a long list of music-makers! It gives one hope. Thomas Deneuville, whose brainchild I Care If You Listen is, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting, though only once. his videos are beautifully and lovingly made, I hadn’t seen this one–what fun!

  20. Oh, your post brought back my own memories of being in a natural disaster. On the evening of May 11, 1970, the soul of a whole city was changed. Twenty-eight people died, over 1500 people were injured, over 1000 houses and apartments were destroyed, thousands more damaged, About a thousand people lost their jobs because the places where they worked simply weren’t there anymore.

    The city had already been hit by one tornado that evening, an F1, that touched down south of the airport at 8:10 p.m. and did little real damage compared to the baseball sized hail that accompanied it. Then at 9:35 p.m., an F5 tornado touched down a block away from where I was living at the time, and remained on the ground for the next 40 minutes, plowing through the residential area south and east of the University, and through the downtown area, leaving a path of destruction 9 miles long, devastating 15 square miles of the city and caused $1.25 billion (in today’s dollars) worth of property damage.

    I was living in the garage apartment of one of only four houses left standing on my block. People were killed within 50 feet of my house. There was debris everywhere. The National Guard had the area cordoned off for over a week and only residents and repair crews were allowed into the area.

    I got off so easy. All I lost was my electricity for ten days. Many other people lost everything, including family members. I had a roof over my head, a dry place to sleep, and clean water. I had food I could prepare and eat. It only took ten days to get my electricity back as I was close to a main trunk line. (Others were without power for over a month.) Electricity was all I lacked, but since I had a kerosene lamp, all I really did without for 10 days was a refrigerator and my phonograph. — The thing I missed the most? My phonograph.

    Your post brought up a very key point. People tend to think that if you have a roof over your head, a dry, place to sleep and food and water, that’s all you need to be OK, but it isn’t. Bread isn’t enough.

    If I can quote myself, “Having to choose between books and food is a hard choice. The mind hungers, too.”

    1. In 1970, I hadn’t yet been to Texas. Honestly, I probably couldn’t have found Lubbock on a map, other than pointing to the Panhandle. I did find the website that the city of Lubbock created to memorialize the event. They’ve done a good job — one of the best I’ve seen. I spent some time looking at the photos. Unbelievable.

      One of the things that amazes me about tornados is the arbitrary nature of the damage. The crystal sitting in a cabinet, with the rest of the house gone — that’s a staple of news coverage, but it’s real. One house is untouched, the one next door lands in the next county. You were lucky to get electricity back so quickly. After Ike, my place had power restored within two days, but our lines are run underground. Across the lake, some people went for two weeks, and closer to the Gulf, it took months.

      It’s funny. Of all the things that made a difference after Ike, the mobile laundromats were near the top of the list. I think it was the Tide Corporation that brought them in. One was parked down the road at Target. There wasn’t any cost, and being able to have clean clothes and bedding was such a morale booster.

      I can’t imagine you without music, but it’s even harder to imagine you without books.One of the worst things about Allison was trying, trying, trying to dry out books, photographs, letters. Sometimes it just wasn’t possible. It’s one reason I have a box of books that evacuate with me. I could buy replacement copies, of course. But new copies don’t have the years of notes and comments.

      That’s the one great advantage of a hurricane over a tornado. There’s at least a chance to get out of the way.


  21. Linda,
    This reminds me of Unbroken – my last book club selection. The survivors of the POW camps found that they could endure hideous conditions, vile food and unbelievable torture, but the stripping of their dignity and the degradation of their spirits were the worst things they had to endure, and the most difficult to overcome when they returned home. Degradation of spirit removes the will to live faster than anything else, and it causes future struggles for survivors.

    Survivors of the Pacific theater had far greater instances of suicide, alcoholism, and marital problems than survivors of the European theater because the Japanese culture understood this. They felt that surviving was disgraceful and deserving of humiliation. Their soldiers were trained to choose death over capture.

    I’m sure your beautiful china lifted spirits.

    1. Bella, I remember your post about “Unbroken.” Books like that are hard to read, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid them.

      Another one that comes to mind is “The Savior,” written by Eugene Drucker, the founder of the Emerson String Quartet. Arti reviewed it on Ripple Effects in 2008. The fact that I still remember her review is a pretty good indication that I ought to get it and read it.

      Here’s one of her summary paragraphs:

      “In the book, the protagonist Gottfried Keller is a young German violinist during WWII. Due to a weak heart, he cannot serve his country in the front line, but he is drafted into the Nazi war machine by the SS for an experiment in a Holocaust death camp. Under the cultured yet ruthless Kommandant, Keller is to play four solo violin concerts to selective Jewish prisoners. The expressed purpose is to test whether music has the power to revive languishing souls.”

      As you might expect, the answer to that is complicated. Here’s a good video of Drucker talking about the role of music in the book.

      I think I have another recommendation for your book club, but it isn’t due in my mailbox until tomorrow. Once I’ve read it, I’ll give you a review.


  22. There’s so much truth in what you write, Linda – Bread and Roses – it applies in so many situations in life. Something as simple as a comment made with a smile rather than a blank face can change a person’s mood. Help to those in need needs to be multi-faceted. It does involve body and soul.

    Speaking personally as a retired doctor, the easy way out when faced with a depressed patient was to prescribe, but what was really needed was the time to listen and understand and offer support and empathy, and possibly then some medication. On most occasions it was the conversation rather than the pills that was the most important.

    1. Isn’t it ironic, Andy, that in a world filled with people posting, tweeting, texting, and status-updating, the ability to listen seems to be atrophying? I carry in my head a list of courses I’d insist every school child complete before they could graduate. I hadn’t added “learning to listen” to the list, but I think it belongs there.

      And you’re so right about simple things making a bigger-than-expected difference. Now and then I’ll remember to, for example, comment on a bracelet a store clerk is wearing. You can see in their faces the sudden surprise at being recognized as a person.

      Your point about the doctor-patient relationship is exactly right.My mother lived alone in Iowa for nearly twenty years after my dad died. Eventually she moved to Kansas City and lived with my aunt and uncle for a time.

      When she arrived at my aunt’s, she was making doctors’ appointments left and right. Her weekly appointment became a bit of a joke. One day, I asked her what was up, since she really didn’t seem to have any immediate problems. She said, “I just wish one of them would listen to me.” We went looking, and found a new doctor for her: a young woman who had a number of elderly relatives herself.

      She took time at each appointment to just talk with Mom, and it wasn’t long before the interval between appointments was getting longer. Part of the reason was that Mom’s social life was developing outside the doctor’s office, but part of it was that her appointments left her feeling satisfied.


  23. Another beautiful post Linda. I’m enjoying the image of you bringing beauty to that meal and how something as simple as serving it that way changed the mood and created a bit of beauty there. When we routinely eat meals that are handed to us, wrapped in paper, through our car windows, we are, at best, getting bread without roses.

    The idea that we must have not only work (bread), but meaningful and dignified work (roses) is a consistent theme of Wendell Berry as well.

    I’ve been trying to read the names of the artists performing at the festival. I can make out John Mayall, Mimi Farina of course and perhaps John Paxton, but not the others. What a treat that must have been.

    1. Even in the world of fast-food, you can find bread offered up with a rose of two. I’ve long given up the drive-through for meals, but Chik-Fil-A has the best diet lemonade in the world, and I’ll sometimes stop and get some on especially hot afternoons.
      Their order-takers always respond to customers by saying, “My pleasure…” Not “no problem,” or something unintelligible. Yes, they’re trained to do it, but it never fails to make the transaction a little more pleasant. It’s a bit of the graciousness that used to be common in retail transactions.

      The concert was a treat. I know that. But now, at several decades’ remove, it’s interesting what memories remain. I don’t remember any of the performances, but I vividly remember the drive across the Oakland Bay Bridge, and the SF skyline. I remember the quilt we spread out for our picnic, and a very real sense of dislocation. I hadn’t been gone from Liberia more than a few months – clearly, I’d arrived in a different world.


  24. This touches me in so many ways, Linda. As you might suspect, one of the first, one of the “you go, girl!” moments, was when you told about sharing dinner with the workers on china instead of styrofoam. I cannot imagine how grateful they were to see a bit of beauty after what was clearly a tough job and one that would keep on keeping on. Because we ALL deserve to be treated well in a bad situation — in any situation, really, but especially when things are so seemingly impossible. (And you know my china thing!)

    It also reminded me of a conversation Rick and I had last night. He showed me a letter from this schizophrenic fellow who befriended Rick and vice versa at the coffee shop. For more than two years Rick has listened to Paul and his other people, has had him for dinner, taken him out for his birthday lunch (and Paul has reciprocated, which I find lovely).

    Rick was gone for six days on his bike tour, then time at the lake and when he returned there was a very desperate letter stuck in his door from Paul, saying Rick was his only friend, except for one. Rick connected with him when he returned and last night he asked me, “Are we having plans Friday?” No. “Paul and his friend at his building invited me to dinner. And I feel I should go.” I knew I wasn’t invited. Rick said he tried, but no go and that was OK. I know Paul sees me as a threat to his time with Rick and I know it will be a challenging evening. Being with Paul can be very frustrating because there is only Paul and his voices. It’s a very one-sided conversation and to be honest, I admire Rick more than anything for this friendship because it can be trying.

    But as I read this, I thought that Paul has some bread. Paul knows he doesn’t have a lot of money, but his housing is paid for and he receives a monthly social services stipend. He has little to spend it on and while through my eyes he may be poor as a church mouse (and maybe through is, too), his needs are met. But his soul needs — the roses — that’s another thing. And I thought, in a way, Rick is his “roses.” Someone who gives him a sense of dignity.

    We all need someone who gives us the roses, whether it is china in the aftermath of a hurricane or time to listen. So well stated. And a good reminder for us all.

    1. Jeanie, that’s so insightful — that Rick is Paul’s “roses.” I don’t know what the mathematicians would say about it, but in emotional and human terms, the difference between one and none can be infinite. I watched my mother as she lost friends and family members one after another — it was so hard for her. It’s part of the reason she was so anxious about something happening to me. It wasn’t just that I was her caregiver in a practical sense, it’s that I was that bulwark between “one” and “none.”

      I don’t know why this crossed my mind, but I suspect there’s something about Rick’s personality that makes him both the biker he is, and the friend that he is to a troubled person. Maybe its the patience, the ability to take things as they come. In any event, I admire him for it, too.

      And yes, I know your “china thing.” I’ve been dispersing everything from dinnerware sets to art china over the past five years: selling, consigning, gifting. Finally, I’m down to a manageable stash, although choosing what to save in case of a hurricane still would be quite an issue. But I love the stuff, especially the beautifully decorated chamber sets. Now, there’s a combination of beauty and usefulness!

      Well, here’s to roses, in all their forms — even furry and four-footed.


  25. This offering brought back memories of my sister and I “mucking out the mud and picking up the pieces” of both my home and animals stranded, left behind to fend for themselves after Hurricane Rita flooded my bayou community.

    The Salvation Army food wagon drove down the barren, water-laden bayou road offering us a hot meal, a bottle of water, and a piece of fruit. For me, their willingness to be in a hot, humid, stinky, mosquito-ridden place devoid of happy life was the rose. Wonderful piece, Linda. Compelling lyrics, music, and images just pull it altogether.

    1. We had the same experience, Wendy. As soon as people were able to get back into the neighborhoods, the work started. I still was cleaning up the mess from the refrigerator (moved from one room to another by flood waters and tipped!) when the kids from a local Baptist church showed up at the door.

      They had water and sack lunches for whoever needed them: peanut butter sandwiches, apples, bananas, homemade cookies. If anyone had griped about those lunches not meeting nutritional standards, or had fussed about people feeding other people without the proper license, they wouldn’t have been very kindly received. In fact, they might would have been run out of the neighborhood.

      When you get right down to it, it’s that core of common decency that made such a difference, for both of us. That’s a common core worth preserving.


  26. I was so touched by the reaction to your setting out china in the midst of all that depressing mess. Truly, God spares us the glimpses of the future so we don’t despair.

    1. That’s right, nikkipolani. I couldn’t help remembering the familiar verse: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Or, as some of my older relatives would say, “Don’t go borrowing trouble.” A version for today might be, “Don’t listen to AM radio between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.”

      It’s enough to cope with what’s been set before us, as best we can. If we can make things a little better for someone else in the process, all the better.


  27. You make me think of our church family and congregation at the city house. What used to be a suburban community became mid-urban and then urban. Last December about a week before Christmas one of our visitors died on a cold night bedded down outside the sanctuary doors. The story of how the congregation responded is miraculous. How her partner heard the news of her death and ultimately the service that honored her is no less miraculous. Each attendee of her service was given a rose to place at the place where she died. You can read about it here http://umcconnections.org/2013/12/18/church-honors-homeless-woman-died-grounds/.

    1. What a painful, touching story. I’m not so surprised by the congregation’s response, given what I’ve learned about it through your blog over these years. I am amazed that her friend and partner was found — although the ties among the homeless are stronger than we sometimes imagine, and their communication “networks” can be just as effective as ours.

      Your story makes me think again of my blog friend Ella, who was well-educated, well-off financially, and professionally well-regarded, and yet who ended up homeless, living in her car before dying in a shelter. The causes of homelessness clearly are complex, and not always “rational.”

      I thought, too, of Camp Hope, Houston, which has been doing such a fine job dealing with both PTS and homelessness in the veteran community. Do you know about them? They’re on Derrington Road, and are worthy of support.


      1. Although I was reluctant to comment on that post as I did not know her, I will never forget your post about Ella. Your researching skills, strength and beautiful writing came together in the tribute you wrote. Memorable, absolutely memorable.
        I will tell Rick about Derrington Road as veterans are always close to his heart.

  28. As far as your writing goes, Linda, it’s just wonderful how you tie your ideas together. I’d never heard of Bread and Roses before, but it sure does bring the message home, that the former, alone, is not enough, once you’re no longer starving.

    1. Thanks, Andrew. It crosses my mind that you’ve proved something about those “roses,” too. They don’t always have to be red. Sometimes they can be black and white!

      When I think about some of your photos, especially of the fishermen and villagers, it’s clear that the roses of life are available even to those who aren’t “rich” in the usual sense. And sometimes, the bread-rich live the most impoverished lives, thanks to their obsession with consumption rather than enjoyment.


  29. Thanks for this… it left my skin tingling. Beauty is surely more than adornment, and so we do well to fight for roses too. Thanks for the reminder and for instantiating it in your prose.

    1. It’s a wonderful song, isn’t it, Allen? Maybe you could introduce it to your choir — you know, as an example of music from that strange country to the south with so many peculiar tribal customs!

      In the end, Grandma and her friends were right when they told us, “Beauty is as beauty does.” Looking nice is nice, but beauty shines in spite of imperfections, and there isn’t anything in the world that can cover up an ugly spirit. (Funny – an expression I learned when I came to Texas is, “Don’t be ugly.” It refers to behavior, not appearance.)


  30. What a heartwarming story! I love the quote by your grandmother about how, “A loaf feeds bodies. A loaf shared with love feeds body and soul.”

    1. I thought you’d like it, Sheryl. As for Grandma? She was one smart cookie, as we used to say — and she was a whiz at baking cookies, too. Bread is good for conveying love, but cookies? Oh, my!

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