Sister Sara, RIP

As bmaz noted, we have learned that long time commenter and my blogmate at Next Hurrah, “Sister Sara,” passed away last year. If you’re familiar with her comments and posts, you’ll remember that she was incredibly knowledgeable with long experience in progressive politics (including in Wellstone’s early career). It was a tremendous gift to have spent so much time online with her (and meet her in person last year).

There is perhaps no better testament to who she was–and the kind of impact she had on people’s lives–than this post she wrote in 2006 about her kitchen cabinets and loyalty.

The Saga of my new Stove

By Sara

Much is being made these days about the dirty old hippies.  I have a loyalty saga to tell.

About 29 years ago I remodeled my kitchen.  I bought what was then a very expensive stove, (micro on top, real oven below, and 30 inches wide cooking space. )  I’ve since done some cooking — I helped found an AIDS home delivered meals project, and to that objective I calculate I cooked at least part of 90 thousand meals.  I remember the Thanksgiving when I did up 7 donated Turkeys, and much else that would be processed into servings to be delivered.

Alas, last year my oven and broiler failed, the microwave ceased to deliver power you could count on, and two stove burners ceased to function.  Simply put, time for a new stove. The whole stove was pre digital, and 29 years later, no parts.

I went to some appliance stores, and very discouraging.  Tap my 29  year old Tappen, and it was heavy steel.  Tap the new ones, much like a can of pop.  Finally I went to the place where they discount everything and bought a 5 Star — a Commercial Stove, twice what I paid for the Tappen, but at least it could take a missed pan.  But because the micro was incorporated into the old stove, I had to buy a new micro.  (I think I have one that if I miss a step in programing will launch a rocket)

Aah but the problem of moving the 29 year old stove out, and moving the new one in.  To understand it all you have to appreciate how I got a kitchen with cabinets copied from Frank Lloyd Wright designs.

Back in the dark days when the Feds were looking for draft evaders, and worse, moms who harbored draft evaders  put posters of J Edgar Hoover as Evil Man Number One, on their front door saying he was an enemy of the people, the guy who became my master cabinet maker (dresser, stereo cabinets, book cases, file cabinets, and yes, the kitchen)  refused the Draft.  It was difficult, he almost went to the Federal Pen, but I got him the right lawyer and in the end, the lawyer got him off.  I wish I could reconstruct the several hours I spent with his dad who was a submariner during World War II, and who was detailed to film Hirshoma.  Which he did.  What I had to do was take this dad to look at the Federal Pen in our area, Sandstone, and get him to comprehend his first born inside because he would not accept the draft for vietnam.   (You want a dad to stand up for CO Status for Son — well let them look at the walls of a Fed Pen.)

Back to the saga of my stove.  The utility men pulled the old one out, and immediately the kitchen cabinets around it began to cave in.  And they caved and caved and caved.  Ten feet of cabinets up to the 10 food ceiling caved in.  You know what supermarket bags are made for — pulling out everything in cabinets that are in total collapse.

Of course I immediately asked if the stove pullers intended to repair, but then I realized they were going to call insurance and all that, and so I put in a call to my cabinet maker who had mounted the cupboards 29 years earlier, when he was actually still on the run from the FBI.  Voice mail.  But within a few hours he called me back.  Yea, he would remount, moreover he wants to do the other side of the kitchen too.  (Not many of us who have Frank Lloyd Wright copied Kitchens — well at least mostly a copy),  Anyhow within two days I got the cabinets remounted and my grand new stove and micro installed.

Now I told the installers and all why It was I could call a cabinet maker I had employed 29 years earlier, and he would come quickly and fix.  It was because of Vietnam, and how those of us who opposed, supported each other then when and how we could.  It was deeper than that.  It was about finding that old Norwegian Cabinetmaker up north who would take in a mad Catholic Irish war protester for about a year (who needed to disappear) and teach him the arts of cabinetmaking.   But it is also about the traverse of Bishop Shannon from where he started at the end of Vatican II to when he just left the church and priesthood.

I look at my new stove and appreciate all this, and the teaching moment I was again granted with the 19 or 20 year installers to whom I could message it all.  My cabinet maker came, he brought appropriate jacks, he moved everything back into place, and we ran bolts through the wall to make everything super secure.  Then we remounted the Frank Lloyd Wright copy doors on the cabinets.   And I did explain to my commercial installers  that this was a war protester I helped stay out of the Federal Pen back in the 60’s, but instead learned an arts  trade that could make him a living.  We’ve looked at it, and the other side of the kitchen needs a re-mount too — so we’ll be doing more.

In the meantime, I have a fantastic new stove — a super new stove — where all the burners work, the oven works, the broiler works, and a new micro which is also combined with combination features such as convection cooking — which I fear might launch a rocket.  (have not yet tried).  When the men came to take away the old one — finally — all I could think about were the 90 thousand AIDS home delivered meals I had helped to cook on the old one.   Peeping out the front room shutters I watched it  get wheeled up into the disposal truck, but I was thinking about the day the Department of Natural Resourse called and told me they had shot me ten deer.  I had to get busy pulling together my butchers and roasters.   My butchers were employees of a Catholic Hospital, (recruited by a nun), and my roasters were all gay men who had a huge argument about how to cook venison, but then did it well, after they reviewed all the possible recipes.  After my mother died, I taught my dad to cook with a microwave, on my old one of course, he has been dead for many years. — but teaching him, and then installing one in his kitchen kept him out of nursing homes. (given the 8 Heart Attacks).   Watching my old stove trundle out meant moving out the memory of that critical teaching that saved both of us much pain.

“Do you micro a cup of rice for 7 minutes or 17 minutes?  Daddy — you micro it for 17 minutes if it is a full cup.”   One wonders what the nippers listening in on the phone lines made of such.  My Dad had one of those Q clearances which was beyond Top Secret.  Yes, how do you ask the child who opposes war the proper time for cooking rice?

  1. Phoenix Woman says:

    Check out one of her comments in that comments thread:

    Oh yea, on the Clearance and Classification thing…

    My Dad was an accountant. He went with the War Department pre-World War II, and was just above the age for the draft. He worked in the field of creating the bookkeeping systems for the USArmy at four of the five Rubber Companies in Akron. Because he had previously worked for Goodyear, he was not authorized to have anything to do with his former employer for five years after he left, (odd rules in those times). After then selling off all the factories that had been built for the War (War Assets Administration) he went with the Air Force, and eventually became deputy chief of procurement of Research and Development. Then the Chief’s job opened up in the Navy Department, and he did that for a few years. Then he retired and along with a good friend, created a Consultant firm in DC that serviced what people here would call the Military Industrial Complex. Essentially he was a master of DOD’s rules and regs on Procurement, and he could advise his clients on how to negotiate the best deal when they contracted for DOD R&D programs. Two years after he left DOD in the early 60’s he could also negotiate for them, which he did. He had to have the high clearances because of the nature of some of the R & D. I know or have learned some of the things he dealt with — he had something to do with the R&D on Stealth technology — He negotiated some parts of the Global Explorer with the CIA (the recovery of the Russian Sub off Hawaii) — the client was Howard Hughes Inc. — and much of the R & D had to do with missle firing systems, (several clients) and late in his career, whether missle firing systems could be adapted to automate railroads and commuter trains. I still find things in the press about various kinds of equiptment DOD uses that jog my memory — oh yea, I remember that R&D idea. He never dealt with the technology — just the accounting and contracts.

    Of course many of his friends were DOD officers — pretty high up in the services. I don’t think one of them really supported the Vietnam War, and many of them made sure their sons avoided it like the plague. In fact, many of the wives joined my mom at the big protests in the mid 1960’s. This is another aspect of those times not well told. But if you look at the films you will see lots of blue haired ladies at the events — guess who these women were? People would go to a demo in the afternoon, go home, change clothes, and do dinner at the Army-Navy Club or one of the officers clubs, and if the company was right, re-hash the demo earlier in the day. This is an element of the “resistance” that has hardly been recorded, but it was very much part of the huge mix. Perhaps the retired officers who spoke up last year are the heirs to this from the Vietnam era.

    Sara, we will miss you.

    • lefty665 says:

      It seems so long ago and far away. My first draft notice was in January ’66 and the last November ’72 when the SS decided not to draft me at the moment, but they reserved the right. I was at the top of the list until well into the Reagan years.

      My Dad was civilian DoD, in the days when Agency folks seemed to really believe that the first commandment was to never, ever turn the very sharp tools they built inward, although COINTELPRO eventually told another story. We did not always agree, but he would take me into D.C. for demonstrations and arrange to pick me up. His advice was consistent, whether it was dealing with Washington’s finest or the SS. “You don’t accomplish anything by going to jail. There are two sides to the law. Those in authority have the right to require that you obey the law. You have equal right to require that they fulfill their obligations under it too. It behooves you to understand exactly what the rules are.” With that guidance I never was arrested in demonstrations running from new MOBE in ’67 to the counter inaugural in ’73, and I argued the SS to a stalemate over 7 years.

      Kent State divided the DoD folks we knew. It was either “My god we’re shooting our kids” or “Line up some more of the hippie bastards”. Dad took me to play golf at the Ft. Meade course one weekend when I was in town for a demonstration. We were quite a sight, me with hair over my shoulders, shaggy beard, jeans and tie dye shirt. Him crew cut in kakis and chomping a cigar. Looking back I believe he too was making a statement.

      Where is the willingness to stand for what we believe in today? Where is the outrage? I stood in the rain on election day ’08 with precinct folks in my district working the polls and turning Virginia blue. The country voted for Change that day, but we got Same, Same with an attitude, and in areas like finance, economics, war, FISA and state secrets, worse than Same. I’ve now been thrown off the Exec Committee of the local Dems twice for agitating that to be leaders people need to get their heads out of the sand and think instead of being sycophantic lemmings. The State party is not better, and National makes me cringe, even, or especially, with our own Timmy running the show. The ’09 and ’10 elections show that much of the rest of the country has gotten the message, but not the Dems.

      Where do we go today to work constructively? The Dems are hopeless, and it sure ain’t the Teabaggers or Repubs. Sara burned with a bright light to the end. Help please, it’s dark out, my cabinets are from Lowe’s, and like the song said, “I can’t find my way home.”

  2. SaltinWound says:

    She had deep knowledge in a lot of subjects and provided the kind of institutional wisdom that we need more of in progressive politics. She also seemed like a nice lady..

  3. Phoenix Woman says:

    You know, finding this out so soon after seeing amoral lying creeps retool the right-wing lies about the Wellstone memorial so they can attack the Arizona one in honor of those who shot and killed in the assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords just plays up the contrasts between the left and right.

    The left side’s heroes are people like Sara. The righties’ heroes are people like Breitbart.

  4. MadDog says:

    A Sara Story that captures the essence of the wonderful woman!

    Thanks EW! We are all better for being in her presence!

  5. orionATL says:

    i am deeply sorry sara has died.

    i will very much miss her knowledgeable and wise comments.

    her comments were very special in that they often told a story and with that story came information i would not otherwise have ever known.

    from her comments, i judge sara was a professor of history. one of the great values of her comments was they would place matters in a historical context.

    sara was a strong, life-long political activist; raised in that tradition by her parents.

    she was an astute, detailed observer of the day-to-day realities of local and stata politics.

    she was a great admirer of senator paul wellstone and of president obama.

    sara had a long-time interest in the cia and clandestine activities.

    i have never run across another commenter whose comments i welcomed and valued (though not necessarily agreed with) as much as i welcomed and valued sara’s comments.

    as with all of us down here, i am certain that st. peter is better informed now on many issues than he was before sara passed thru those gates.

    you were a rare person, sara.

    i will miss you.

  6. phred says:

    This is very sad news. I always appreciated Sara’s comments and posts.

    EW, thanks for putting up a post that captures her generous spirit so beautifully.

    I will miss her.

  7. bobschacht says:

    Thanks for this. One of the delicious and memorable thing about Sister Sara’s posts was the continuous run of fascinating digressions– which flesh her stories out and give them full-bodied flavor. Thank you, Sister Sara, for schooling us in the arts of life and living.

    Bob in AZ

  8. JClausen says:

    Ironic that Quakergirls’ name came up Glenn Smith thread this AM as well.

    It’s amazing the wisdom offered here. RIP Sara and Quakergirl.

  9. Mary says:

    All I know of Sara is her comments, here and at Next Hurrah. With just that tenuous thread, the news that she has died still creates a huge sense of loss. It must be devastating for those who knew her well. Her comments and posts and stories were so layered – with so much life experience and observation and awareness. Although I never really knew you, vale, Sister Sara. The world just lost a repository of information and goodwill and wisdom.

  10. JohnLopresti says:

    I am glad emptywheel had the opportunity to meet sara. I dearly hope the venue was at the Gerald Ford library. I think sara was a denizen of Mondo Orange. I found the culinary post of hers cheering, but I preferred her personal histories. When I think of a distracted, existential moment I spent in Yellow Springs on a spatial trajectory I was following once, the genius and hospitality at the college campus there whose rescue from shuttering was an enduring effort of sara*s, I somehow always blend my own recollections of that wonderful liberal arts site with sara*s monologues of the Peace Corps and her other history discourses interpreting modern politics. Indeed, often this past year I have missed her commentaries. Appreciation, as well to MadDog for the helpdesk migration facilitation he provided sara at the time of the eschatological leap from Typepad to firedoglake. sara has left us her gifts, and ample suggestions guiding us forward. Rest in peace, lady.

  11. Teddy Partridge says:

    Let’s all aspire to be the commenter Sara was.

    Thanks, Marcy, for sharing this wonderful contribution of hers with those of us who didn’t see it first time around. I will miss Sara.

  12. ffein says:

    Marcy…I went back to the old Next Hurrah site and read several of her blogs. Then from one of them I figured out she had an interest in Antioch College so I went to their site and found her obituary. What an interesting woman, and interesting life!

    Sally Lou Todd ’62

    I hope the link works. I’m never sure. Also there was one she wrote about the Chicago politics where the second paragraph starts “Barack Obama is, without question, the candidate of the Daley Family wing of the Democratic Party” which is interesting in that she wrote it in February 2008 and given Obama’s new Chief of Staff.

    Link, I hope:

    A Political Culture approach to Obama v Clinton

    Thanks, as always, for your great contributions!

  13. Petrocelli says:

    Sara, the World is a far better place because of your presence. Heaven has a new Angel … continue to guide us with your incredible wisdom and sense of humor.

  14. Gitcheegumee says:

    This is heartbreaking.

    I recall that one of her close friends passed ,and her sharing that fact with us-evidently not long before Sara’s own passing.

    I remembered that in her last posts she was ailing ,although I had no idea the extent or depth of her illness.

    Her posts were always a joy to find…and I always was better informed or more thoughtful after having read her wonderful commentaries.

    I miss you, Sara…and I always will.

    Farewell,dear one.

  15. orionATL says:

    ffein @17

    thank you so much for sharing that info.

    i had wanted to ask here if anyone knew sara’s real name so that i might know her life story in its own context, but hesitated to ask for fear of violating some weblog notion of good manners.

    sara wrote a comment once about the decline of antioch college, to which she was deeply attached.

    i have thought recently, given the societally destructive arc the u.s. is now, and has been for 3 decades, transiting,

    that sara’s story of how antioch brought about its own demise by being true to its principles,

    was a parable for the societal destruction the u. s. is currently undergoing.

    i doubt sara would agree with mt thesis, but i am confident she would provide me with her inimitable relevant, interesting commentary on why not.

  16. pdaly says:

    I add my condolences to Sara’s family and remember her contributions here and at The Last Hurrah.

    Thanks for the link @17 ffein. Per that link,

    A 1962 graduate of Antioch College, Sally worked with other alumni in recent years to help reopen the College which will happen in 2011.

    Good news! I hope Antioch College announces a chair in her name.

    I was sorry to learn that she died of lung cancer. In what may be just a coincidence, her follow alumnus Stephen J. Gould ’63 (paleontologist and evolutionary biologist) also died of lung cancer –after surviving mesothelioma. He had the same ability to link stories from the near and distant past to issues of the present.

    Sara mentioned in passing in one of her FDL comments that she kept track of historical details on note cards.
    I hope she made plans for them to be saved and archived. Perhaps at Antioch?
    Even without those notecards, her blog comments will serve us well.

      • JohnLopresti says:

        I agree with the interest in preservation of research papers, if family is interested, in some accessible format. As the formal Antioch obituary mentions, and I had thought immediately upon hearing the unfortunate news, evidently the allusions to *stacks* of books was a reference to an expanse worthy of a library collection. From the short story at the alma mater site, another university also might be involved, the campus at which she taught. Beyond those other references, for me her commentaries were valuable, pertinent; thorough, yet always asking for a world of collateral research and corroboration. I appreciate bmaz*s adding to the voices honoring her memory with some incentive to look to archiving of her wonderful insight. I thought of sara*s early concerns about leadership of the US House of Representatives, at one juncture, as well; I wonder how sara might have done followup on a few of those early blogposts. On the Antioch materials, I very much appreciated some of sara*s writings about the aspirations of the founding of that college; it was a special place, and likely is to remain so.

  17. 4jkb4ia says:

    Baruch Dayan haEmet is what you have to say in these situations, but this is the most sad and painful death that I can immediately think of in all the years I have hung around Blogtopia. I read enough of Sara’s posts to know and feel why she was beloved and respected. What Sara said was always learned/well supported and illuminating, and she had wonderful stories of what activism meant before I was born. Sara had experienced the moral arc of the universe bending towards justice and was able to remind all of us of that.

  18. greenwarrior says:

    This is really hitting home for me. I didn’t know Sara. Reading that wonderful story about the stove, it was clearly my loss.

    Today, here in Austin, we had a memorial for another woman like that who died a little over two weeks ago – Susan Bright, publisher of a small independent press, award winning poet, courageous outspoken activist, lover of nature. We had the memorial at Barton Springs where she used to swim most mornings. I miss the singing in my heart when I was with her.

  19. papau says:

    condolences to Oliver and all the rest of Sally’s family – I did not know her – but I admired her.

    Our generation loses another one, and this time someone who had a life that made a difference, that was a positive for those of us that lived during her time.

  20. klynn says:

    I had just referred Jane back to some of her comments and posts about a week ago, suggesting Jane even contact her.

    I had no idea she had past away.

    I wish I could have met her…

    Thank you Sara for welcoming my comments and taking part in online dialog about some serious issues.

    My sympathies to Sara’s family, you EW and bmaz.

  21. BooRadley says:

    Although the competition is stiff, my all time favorite from Sara (April 2006)

    Sorting out the Generals

    What’s important to comprehend is that George Marshall comprehended this in the early 1920’s — and from his “Major” position he worked to deal with what he understood as problems. He pressured Pershing to do what became the “Hunt Report” — the history of American Military Occupation 1775 -1922. When he taught at the War College — he used Hunt as textbook and problems to resolve — how do you do an occupation and accomplish political objectives? By 1934 he was more influential, and got the Army to commission a drafting commission to take up Hunt, and write a military doctrine and then an Army Manual for how to do it. Between 1934 and 41 it went through five editions and revisions. What happened in Germany post 1945 was according to this 5th revised edition of Marshall’s plan and one must understand that is not referenced to post 1948 Marshall Plan matters.

    Doctrine: Marshall believed that no officer or soldier who had been blooded in combat should be used in occupation. For Germany in 1945 he trained 6000 officers, about 3500 NCO’s and about 120 thousand troops specifically for the “Military Government of Germany” and none of them were combat soldiers. If you look at the charts, the two top folk are Ike and Bradley, but below that, there are no cross-overs. Yep, some transport companies got transferred and so did some engineers, but virtually none of them were “blooded” — and I would suggest that this insight that Marshall gained watching the occupation of the Rhineland in 1919 by an unprepared. untrained, doctrine lacking but fully blooded American Outfit, is perhaps somewhat equal to what currently serving Generals have encountered in Iraq — and that they have been encountering it now for three years with no relief in sight. …..

    • Nell says:

      Thanks, BooRadley; that one is Sara’s most memorable for me, also. We are all diminished by her death. Special condolences to ew and bmaz and other ex-Next Hurrahers.

  22. wavpeac says:

    Sara (Sally) was one of those people who’s contributions will be referred to over and over again. Thank you for your well lived life. If we work very hard, we all get to rise from the dead…at least for a while. Rise…Sally, rise. Your essence is not dead, your contributions…alive.

  23. whitewidow says:


    So sad. I had so much admiration for Sara. So much lost with her passing. Funny, I had thought about her and wondered how she was doing just a couple of days ago. I would be content if I could live my life with 1/1000th of her kindness, intelligence and purpose.

  24. bobschacht says:

    More than preserving Sister Sara’s notecards, I would hope that her posts and long comments would be collected and archived in an accessible place– and, better yet, that someone would edit them into some kind of book. We can honor her well by preserving her insights and making them available to a wider audience.

    Thank you, Sister Sara, for the insights you have left for us!

    Bob in AZ