sopranos f-word update

berkeley lady

I should note in advance that there is no point to what follows … it's just an exercise in small-worldism.

Robin has a term she uses, "Berkeley lady," a role to which she aspires. It's not an exact term, but she described in this way when I asked her about it a bit ago. "A lady of a certain age who is stylish and comfortable in her own skin. She's not looking to be younger than she is." She probably has long grey hair, and she's at least older than Robin … say late-50s or beyond.

I was trying to get a visual on this, so I typed "berkeley lady" into Google images, but that didn't work … I got lots of stuff related to Lord Berkeley. Then I thought to try someone I knew, see if she showed up. Flossie Lewis is not a Berkeley lady, exactly … she's from Brooklyn … but I got to know her when we were grad students together at Cal, so she's a Berkeley lady to me. Flossie was the only grad student in the English program older than I was, for which I was always grateful. (If you attended my PhD graduation, that was Flossie giving the speech.)

Well, I found a picture of her right away, which I'll post in the hopes that it's OK:


That's Flossie with the beads around her neck. And that's the end of the first part of this story. What follows is a story about the woman with Flossie in the picture.

Now SHE is a Berkeley lady. She grew up in Petaluma, and she became friends with Flossie when they taught together at Lowell High in the City. They were both legendary teachers, beloved by generations of students. It's the part where Flossie's friend (her name was Anne) retired and moved to Berkeley that she became a true Berkeley Lady. Here, I'll quote from a memorial page to Anne Wallach, created after she died in 2005 at the age of 93:

Moving to Berkeley, she embarked on a second career that continued for over 30 years and from which she never retired. She had a passionate faith in the importance of special programs for academically gifted students, and she now began to work closely with the California Association for the Gifted. She helped establish the Academic Talent Development Program at UC Berkeley, which continues to offer summer courses for bright high-school students. Lobbying at Sacramento for the gifted brought her to the League of Women Voters, and for decades she also never missed a meeting of the Berkeley Board of Education: she often spoke out there with a quiet determination that she, the shy child decades earlier, would have thought utterly impossible.

With the advent of jet travel, she went not only to Europe but to the Middle East and India. She retained her lifelong interests in the theater and in concerts, in movies, and in literature. Even when she became too frail for these activities, she arranged for the short ride to Willard Middle School, where she volunteered as an 8th grade writing coach. Her interest in national politics grew stronger, and near the end of her life she was praising the report of the 9/11 commission and excoriating the Bush administration. A late child of the Enlightenment, she could admire religious art but found nothing to admire in religion itself. She was determined, until to the end, to live independently, and this she managed to do until the last few days of her life. Surrounded then by friends and family, she said that she had done the things she wanted to do.

That, folks, is a Berkeley Lady. And this is a small-world story by virtue of the fact that I found out about Anne Wallach via a Google search for my old friend Flossie.

But that's not the end of the small-world part of this post. I should probably mention Willard Middle School, referenced in the above obituary. Sara went to Willard … Neal not only went to Willard but was student-body president … and not only did both of my kids attend Willard, my MOTHER attended Willard.

But that's not the end of the small-world story, either. You see, I was pretty fascinated about this Berkeley Lady who knew my friend Flossie, so I kept reading. And … well, I'm cheating now to make for a little drama, I figured this out right away, but I'll stretch it out a bit. I mentioned that Anne grew up in Petaluma … her father had a chicken-and-egg farm, which was apparently quite successful until the Depression came along, at which point the family moved to San Francisco. While the family struggled, all three of the daughters and one brother managed to get college educations, which in Anne's case began her long career in teaching.

If you share some of my interests, you may have already guessed where this is headed, because to the best of my knowledge, there is only one family from Petaluma that moved to San Francisco and sent the daughters to Berkeley for schooling where that story is famous in certain circles. You see, Anne Wallach's maiden name was … Kael.

Pauline was her little sister.

And that's the end of the small-world story. On the extremely rare possibility that you don't know why this part of the story is small-world to this blog (maybe you googled "berkeley lady" to get here), check the quotation at the top of the blog.