Life Story for Ellen Anita Bernabei-Musgrave (Edell)
Because she would never do it, I wanted to tell you a bit about my wife, Ellen Bernabei-Musgrave and why she will always be admired in my mind and heart, and in the minds and hearts of all the students and patients who had the pleasure of being with her.
First off, she was a born teacher. Unlike many of us, myself included, she immediately understood the power of the "message" needed to be transferred from one single human being to others who needed to hear that message. Perhaps because of her Jewish upbringing, she had an appreciation for the concepts of justice and fair play that immediately transferred over to her daily teaching and, to a lesser extent her nursing duties.
For example, as I look over at her dead body, I only see the smart, spirited woman I married twenty-three years ago. I was easing out of early sobriety in that A. A. Program that really teaches you much more than just not drinking one-day-at-a-time if you're paying attention, that is. I was drawn to her calm and quiet, yet invigorated passion for teaching.
I soon learned that she was a teacher in her first, unsuccessful marriage, and she was forced out of a high school in New Jersey (not the deep South, mind you) in the early 1960s because she was actually teaching the black kids in the school how to read and write so they could compete with whites. How dare she! She had the audacity to believe these students had the intelligence to critically think about complex subjects and then read more and write about them! Absurd! This teacher has to go, said the administration, and those black kids came to demonstrate in her behalf, and so did the sprinkling of white parents who were not racist. Of course, the "Liberal" media was there taking her side, but the system won, of course, because the Civil Rights Movement under Dr. King had not taken root, and my wife was way ahead of her time. So many Jews helped the good Dr. because they have a credo that says "justice and equal opportunity" are not just words in the Constitution. They must be practiced in real life!
She taught me so much about being an effective teacher, and when I was all on my pity-pot about students not seeming to pay attention, she would say, "Jim, you don't know when your students will respond to your teaching. It may be years from now, but if you did your best to reach them they will remember." Lesson 1 from a real pro, my Ellen Anita.
As adjunct professors (which most of education is made up of today, in case you weren't paying attention), we had to freeway fly to different districts to do our jobs. As a per diam nurse, Ellen already knew what that was like. In fact, as a nurse, she received no health care, and I did, so the joke between us was that "she married me for my heath care." I was fortunate enough to get into the AFT's program for adjuncts to guarantee health and dental if you taught over three classes a semester. I had to fight for those three classes, mind you, as they were trying to cut us out of that deal, you can be certain.
Ellen was a thinking woman, a woman I had always longed for, and finally found the "second time around" as "Old Blue Eyes Sinatra" would say. She was working two jobs because of a jerk husband who wanted to drag her down to Texas (with her two boys, mind you) to teach and to live a wonderful manage a trois with his girlfriend. She chose me, of course, and I became the second father to two wonderful boys. I also had two children from my first marriage, and so I was a father two times over.
We worked our asses off for our twenty-four years teaching as adjuncts, and it was a great experience. We still got letters and cards (and FB friends) from our students, and our teaching message still resonates inside them. Never give up the fight for equality, justice and fair play. That IS AMERICA, and it never has to be "taken back." We, the people, simply have to insist that the precepts need to be carried out in all our organizations, including business, education, science and technology. When we lose the goal of making life better for all creatures (yes, we are responsible for animals also), we are on the path to destruction.
Thank you Ellen, for being you and for making me learn a better way of thinking and a better way of living at my own speed--not the speed of the "winners" and the "players" but in the speed of calm and just living and learning. It's not about all the toys we can accumulate that makes us better. It's about the way we treat our fellow sentient beings on this planet. I love you, darling,, forever.