Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Remembering Idora

"Idora C. Tucker, 1921–2012"
Close to 300 people gathered at Bethany Church on Saturday morning to celebrate my mother's life with songs and stories and prayers. They included all the grandchildren, who came from as far away as California, Wyoming, and New Zealand. The singing began with "For All the Saints" and ended with "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" (Mom was a Red Sox fan). Among the speakers were a former student, a fellow teacher, and her tree guy; later in the week I'll publish some of their words. My mother's decline was so swift that she didn't have time to pick out an urn, but she had often said that she wanted one "like Fred's," her longtime neighbor, who died a few years ago. So that's what I told Lindy at Day Funeral Home the morning after she died. He then left the parlor where my sister and my aunt Ruth and I were sitting and went back into his records to uncover the details of Fred's funeral arrangements. Sometimes things are easier in a small town, and this was one of those times. (By the way, Fred's wife Ellie makes a cameo appearance in Our House in Arusha—it was she who startled the folks at St. John's Episcopal Church with the news of my second marriage.) The urn is a simple oak box, and I can see why Mom and Fred liked it. The day after the memorial, about 20 family members gathered at the Randolph Center Cemetery, where we shared more stories and laid flowers and trinkets on the urn, which then went into the ground near my father's casket.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Springtime in Paris

Sneak preview of my trip to Paris in May 2012 for the September issue of Condé Nast Traveler. This trip was planned with the help of my Facebook friends as an experiment in "social travel media." In this video: The murals of Vitry-sur-Seine, Musée des Arts et Metiers, Fat Tire Bike Tours, La Rotonde, Le Littré, E. Dehillerin, and the Black Krim Tavern in Randolph, Vermont. Music "April Showers" remix by ProleteR, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Correction from a Reader of "Our House in Arusha": Kabye, NOT Ewe


A reader of my memoir "Our House in Arusha" has written to point out a factual error that occurs in the section on Togo. I wonder if this would have been caught before publication if I had gone the traditional publishing route. Well, too late for that. My thanks to Emily Gilkinson for noting the mistake and bringing it to my attention, and my apologies to the entire Ewe tribe. Emily wrote to me three weeks ago, and I vowed to make the correction ASAP. With all that's happened in the recent past, the earliest opportunity came later than expected. So today, I will upload new files for the printed volume. I also need to correct the e-book version. Meanwhile, here is the letter from Emily explaining the goof. Pretty mortifying. It's an unfortunate illustration of the Alice-in-Wonderland struggle I had to comprehend what was happening around me in Togo and Tanzania.

Dear Sara,
I recently read your memoir Our House in Arusha. I greatly enjoyed it. I thought it was beautifully written and the content brought back memories of my own. I have been to Arusha twice - once in 2005 when I went on safari and just recently in February 2012 when I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I've had my own adventures and love affairs with safari and mountain guides. :) Your story became even more exciting to me when the story line included Togo, a country that I deeply love and where I lived for two years. I was a teacher at the American International School of Lome. I was surprised to encounter an error in your description of Togo and felt compelled to write to you so that you could correct it. The Gnassingbe family - former dictator Eyadema and his son, Faure, the current president are from the Kabye tribe,from the north of Togo in the Kara region. The Ewe tribe is in the south of the country and is known specifically for being supportive of the opposition. Togo is divided politically north vs. south along ethnic lines. The north supporting the RPT - the president's party and the military. On behalf of my good Ewe friends, who have been the victims of horrible violence at the hands of the government, I encourage you to make the correction. I'm sure few people would catch this error but anyone with a connection to Togo would be offended by the mis-characterization of the Ewe people. Even the Kabye I'm sure would be disappointed not to get the credit. All you have to do is step foot in Kara and people will proudly tell you that this the home of Papa Eyadema - as if that weren't obvious enough by their t-shirts featuring his picture and the beautiful boulevard and parliament building - investments that rightly should have gone to the capital. Perhaps someone else has already brought this to your attention, but I felt compelled to get in touch with you about it.
 Thank you again for sharing your wonderful story.
 Sincerely,
 Emily Gilkinson

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Idora Cooley Tucker: March 23, 1921–July 15, 2012

“I have said many times that my life has divided itself quite naturally into three segments: childhood and growing-up years, married life, and life since my husband died. It is the years of my marriage that stand out the most clearly in my memory.” —Idora Tucker, Wife and Mother (2009)

Idora Cooley Tucker, a retired educator who spearheaded special education in Vermont public schools in the 1960s and, in her 88th year, started a memoir-writing group that became known around the state as the Hale Street Gang, died at her home in Randolph on July 15. She was 91.

The eldest of five children of Harry H. Cooley, a lifelong farmer and Vermont’s secretary of state under Governor Philip Hoff, and Gertrude Small Cooley, a farm wife and music teacher, Idora graduated from UVM in 1941. Her first teaching post was a one-room schoolhouse in Randolph Center.

As an itinerant reading specialist in the Randolph schools in the early ’70s, Idora used innovative methods to help children who were not being served by the standard curriculum. “Working with struggling learners is hard work,” she wrote in an account of her teaching career that she penned in her eighties, “and sometimes not as successful as one would wish. Add to that the fact that at first I didn’t really know what I was doing or should be doing. Gradually, over a few years, a combination of trial-and-error experience and graduate level training gave me more strategies to use with my pupils and brought with it more confidence in my ability to help them.”

Idora’s work in Randolph was closely followed by Jean S. Garvin, the state’s director of special educational services, and in 1975, when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed into law, Garvin tapped Idora to help schools implement the new regulations at the local level. With the Orange Southwest School District as her proving ground, Idora developed an administrative model that would be used by future special-education coordinators around the state.

“The laws about special education were new and were much resented by almost everyone except parents of the children who needed special education,” Idora wrote. “I was often bitterly attacked in meetings. At first I felt very threatened. Later, I realized that those who gave me such a hard time were merely venting their frustration at doing something they didn’t want to do, and I was the person telling them that the law required it. After that I stopped taking it personally and just went about doing my job to the best of my ability.”

In 1980, Garvin recruited Idora for a job that would bring her skills to other school districts. “In 1980, the federal law was only two years into implementation and there was a lot of groundwork to be laid,” remembered Judy Eklund, a former colleague in the Department of Education, in a phone interview last week. “Idora was at the forefront of making that happen. She was a visionary and an organizer, and she knew how to get the job done.” Over the next six years, Idora traveled some 120,000 miles over Vermont roads to arrange teacher training around the state.

Born on March 23, 1921, at Gifford Hospital in Randolph, Idora grew up in a family that prized education. The Cooley farm in Randolph Center was a place where one might mow hay or put up beans all day and then sit down in the evening to play Mozart for a gathering of friends and neighbors. “Mom and Dad were very courageous to send me off to college that fall of 1937,” she wrote in a memoir that she entitled Childhood and published in 2008. “We were still not quite out of the Great Depression, war in Europe was imminent, and I was the first of five who would be expected to acquire an education.”

As the wife of Dr. Ransom E. Tucker, a Randolph obstetrician, Idora raised five children and did what she described as “the kinds of volunteer teaching that mothers did then: Brownie Scouts, church school, junior choir, ski instructor.” She and her husband also served on the board of Randolph’s first special-education class, a local initiative that was funded and supervised by the state at a time when the 1975 federal law mandating a free and appropriate education for all school-age children was a decade in the future.

After retiring from the Department of Education in 1986, Idora mentored young teachers through the Upper Valley Teacher Training Program, then returned to the classroom as a volunteer at the Rumney School in Middlesex, where her three granddaughters were students.

An accomplished pianist and a voracious and wide-ranging reader, Idora inherited her father’s love of books and her mother’s passion for music. The shelves behind the Steinway in her front parlor bulged with sheet music, and get-togethers at the Tucker house often turned into songfests with Idora as accompanist. In her eighties, she shelved books as a volunteer for Kimball Library and participated in three different book groups that met monthly.

In November 2011, at the age of 90, she stood up at the speaker’s podium in the Vermont State House, a small figure with a bright smile and sparkling blue eyes, and read an excerpt from her memoirs to a gathering of Vermont historians. With her were members of the Hale Street Gang, the memoir-writing group she started at the Randolph Senior Center in the fall of 2008.

Like Harry Cooley, a farmer, teacher, and politician, she did not hesitate to state her beliefs. Her memoir Wartime ends with a passionate warning about the “futile and wasteful endeavor called war,” and members of her church remember the quiet firmness with which she urged the congregation to adopt an “open and affirming” attitude toward all, regardless of sexual orientation. She was still articulating her ideas about education reform at the end of her life, and in her final days she advised young family members to “go your own route.”

As the family matriarch, Idora kept in touch with relatives all over the country and was the magnet that drew them together. She continually expanded her circle of friends even into her nineties, taking a special interest in newcomers to the Randolph community. As news of her death spread and messages poured out on Facebook, a friend who met Idora when they became neighbors in 2008 remembered her as “honest, caring and curious . . . the memoirs she shared with us tell of a life that admitted it all—the good and bad, the joy and sadness, the breath and death.”

Although people sometimes worried that she took on too much, especially after Ransom’s death, Idora herself believed she had nothing to complain about. On the contrary, she considered that she had led an interesting and fulfilling life.

A woman of many accomplishments, Idora considered her most important role to be the raising of her children and grandchildren. She spent her final days with them, as well as two of her siblings and their families. She experienced no pain and although “very tired,” she was able to enjoy home-cooked meals, bouquets of flowers cut from her garden, and keeping up with the Red Sox. Her last outing was to join family and friends on her front porch as the Fourth of July parade marched down Highland Avenue.

On Wednesday, July 11, she told her doctors and her family that she was ready to go and she hoped that she could manage a graceful exit. Practical, wise, and dignified to the end, she died four days later in her home of 66 years with family members at her bedside.

She is survived by her daughters Ruth Tucker of Bomoseen, Sara Tucker of Randolph, and Martha Tucker of Montpelier; her sons James Tucker and John Tucker, both of Randolph Center; her sister Ruth Demarest-Godfrey of Brookfield; her brothers Charles H. Cooley of Randolph Center and John H. Cooley of Baldwin, Michigan; and six grandchildren: Shawn Ingram, James R. Tucker, Thomas Texier, Hannah Phillips, Courtney Phillips, and Sara Phillips. She was predeceased by her husband, Dr. Ransom Tucker, in 1972; her sister Marion Stouder; and a grandson, Douglas Ingram.

Memorial services will be held at 10 A.M., Saturday, July 28 at Bethany United Church of Christ in Randolph, with Rev. Robin Junker officiating. There are no calling hours. Private burial will be in the Randolph Center Cemetery at a later date.

Arrangements are under the direction of the Day Funeral Home, Randolph. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Kimball Public Library, N. Main St., Randolph, VT 05060 or to REECH, POB 303, Randolph, VT 05060.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Randolph Parade

One year after Hurricane Irene, towns along the White River celebrate the Fourth with a parade in Randolph, Vermont. Here, the parade moves down Highland Avenue. The gray house with the white columns is my mother's; that's her on the porch at the end of the video, surrounded by family and friends.