An Unexpected Find

All of us maintaining our place in self-quarantine are quietly proving a point. We, the majority of citizens, are truly conscientious about caring for our families, our friends, our colleagues and even our strangers. This last group includes those who shop where we normally shop, dine where we like to dine, sit in the same audience or congregation that benefits our souls and indulge in the recreational activities we engage in to keep our bodies healthy. We avoid doing these things now because we care about the people who we might otherwise meet and potentially affect in an adverse way.

It’s true that a few people, who represent a new version of anti-vaxxer mentality, currently dominate the news coverage of those being politically labeled and morally demonized for opposing the severity of the lock-down guidelines. We on the other hand, who represent a new version of the silent majority, trust our leaders enough to stay the course no matter our political preferences and temporarily immobilized social mobility. We believe, as did Carol Lynley’s character in the original Poseidon Adventure, there’s got to be a morning after.

If we are being denied access to the best places to hangout (which for me is the public library) then perhaps we need to implement a new exercise to our daily routine. This entails tapping our heels together three times, ala Dorothy when still quarantined in Oz, while repeating her Pollyanna-like workout mantra that there’s no place like home. This may work even if you don’t own a pair of ruby slippers. Just paint your Air Jordans a sparkly red and have at it.

For my part I have turned to one form of entertainment that suits my personal interests best and can be conducted within the confines of my small apartment. I am re-discovering moments of family history. This entails pulling boxes of photos and other memorabilia out of the closet for a renewed inspection of their contents. It’s fun to discover things you’ve forgotten, perhaps intentionally because hair styles have changed. It’s also priceless to rediscover those moments in life, which are truly precious. Then there is the unexpected find, hidden inside a long neglected envelope of a mere utilitarian appearance.

Last week’s message concerned my efforts to uncover more details about a protracted episode in my father’s career, which may have brought him into contact with such disparate historical figures such as John and Bobby Kennedy and Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa. The Covid-19 virus brought to a halt my attempt at locating pertinent information via the National Archives, where I hoped to locate Senate committee records which could validate stories my mother told me when I was a boy about my dad’s heroics. But sorting through the contents of my mother’s keepsakes, while I passed the time in compassionate isolation, led me to a white legal-sized envelope, containing a treasure of immense personal value; one pertinent to my search.  

Inside were three newspaper clippings from the now defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner. This was one of the two major newspapers in the LA area when I was a growing up. Dad would not subscribe to the larger Los Angeles Times due to its anti-labor bias. He was during the period under scrutiny the Secretary of the Bakery and Confectionary Workers Union Local 37, purported to be about 5,000 members strong.

Unfortunately the articles are closely trimmed, eliminating the page headers, which could provide the publication dates for each piece. Their content, however, affirms that they are from the mid to late 50s as they report on events and people prominent in labor and politics of that time. It also helps to know that two of the articles were written by Harry Bernstein, the Examiner’s labor editor, who moved over to the competing newspaper, The Times, in the 60s. The articles provide some assurance that the stories mom told me when I was a boy are credible, but they do not totally validate her version of events.

One of her stories was about that connection between dad and then Senator John F. Kennedy. When the young Senator was elected President of the United States in 1960, mom said that dad once testified before a committee on which Kennedy served. Last week I wrote about my discovery in Jack Goldsmith’s book, In Hoffa’s Shadow, that Kennedy, as the Senator from Massachusetts, was a member of the Senate’s Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management formed in 1957.

My on-line search for the Committee’s records showed that they are on file with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The search also revealed that dad’s union was included in their investigation. And if dad did appear before this committee, then hopefully his testimony is preserved in the NARA files. I will just have to wait until the lockdown guidelines are lifted and the world re-opens to public participation before I can seek further evidence from this valuable source to substantiate mom’s boast about dad’s encounter with Kennedy.

Here’s the thing: The Bernstein article focuses on a lawsuit filed in a Washington, D. C. federal court, seeking an accounting for the use of funds by the union’s then President James G. Cross. The action also asked the court to compel a referendum vote on Cross’s removal from office should his mismanagement of funds be proven. Bernstein confirms that dad, as the secretary-treasurer of a reform movement within the troubled Bakery and Confectionery Workers Union, did fly to D.C. to be part of that court hearing.

A supporting, though unattributed article, states that dad would “go to Washington Monday reportedly to demand [the] resignation of James Cross as international president of the Bakery and Confectionery Workers Union.” The lack of dates on the articles prevents me from easily knowing which Monday was meant by this specific reference to his travels. And the whole thing only confirms that dad did go to D.C. to testify, but in a federal court, not to the Senate Select Committee of which Kennedy was a member.

Mom may still be right about dad’s appearance before the committee, but I need further proof, which will only come from accessing the NARA records. And this must wait until we all gain a new kind of immunity from the new kind of virus. In the meantime, we can only beseech Andrea McArdle to help us all self-proclaim from our self-quarantine by singing the anthem she made famous in the Broadway play Annie. We are in desperate need of her assurance that the sun will come out tomorrow.

Next week: The Hoffa Thing.

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