No Biking in the House without a Helmet

The author I escorted at the Book Festival was Melissa Fay Greene who had written the article Wonder Dog in the New York Times a month ago about an adopted boy with fetal alcohol syndrome who had horrible problems until, in his ninth year, was helped by a golden retriever trained by 4 Paws for Ability. Great article!

Greene has written a number of non-fiction books. (These are all quotes from her website,, and I couldn’t bear to delete much, the book descriptions were so good!) Her first book (finalist for the National Book Award) was about the discrimination  and corruption that she became aware of when she worked for a legal services agency in Georgia, where she met her husband:


Somehow the sweeping changes of the Civil Rights movement bypassed rural McIntosh Country, Georgia.
“Dr. King come as far south as Albany but he never did come here,” said the old-timers, as if it would have taken no one less than King to overturn the ancient system of segregation descending from slavery time, and to overthrow and the semi-criminal almost-legendary rule of Sheriff Tom Poppell.

Praying for Sheetrock tells the true story of a group of younger African-American leaders, allied with a motley crew of Legal Services attorneys, to begin to right the wrongs of several centuries’ duration.

She also knew the history of the bombing of an Atlanta synagogue, especially as a Jew living in Atlanta, and consequently researched and wrote the book (also a finalist for the National Book Award):


In 1958, anti-Semitic white supremacists dynamited Atlanta’s oldest Jewish synagogue, whose rabbi, Pittsburgh-born Jacob Rothschild, was an outspoken advocate of integration. A trial of the accused terrorists ended in a hung jury, and a second trial in acquittal. The Reform Jewish Temple became a rallying point uniting blacks and Jews in efforts for racial justice, and Rabbi Rothschild (who died in 1974 at the age of 62) befriended Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1960 moved home to Atlanta, the scene of many critical confrontations in the early civil rights movement. Greene recreates these events in a spellbinding narrative written with fierce moral passion and a great sense of historic drama. By delving into the exclusionary policies and attitudes of Atlanta’s white Protestant elite, tensions within the city’s Jewish community, related terrorist incidents and links among right-wing extremist, racist and anti-Semitic organizations, she has reclaimed a forgotten chapter of the civil rights era.

Her next book was also about segregation in the South –

LAST MAN OUT, The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster

In October 1958, a subterranean catastrophe collapsed the deepest mine on the planet, in the coal-mining town of Springhill, Nova Scotia, Canada.

A hundred men died. Long after hope was gone, rescuers continued the dreary task of recovering bodies until, in a miraculous discovery unequaled in modern times until the Chilean rescue, they found a dozen men walled-in, alive, and they brought them to the surface.

Two days later, a second mind-boggling discovery was announced to the world: a vertical mile underground, six more men clung to life. One in their group had died and others were near death.  The rescues received global coverage, the first such stories of the television era.

In the U.S., in the State of Georgia, a fantastic PR plan was hatched by the tourism staff of white supremacist governor Marvin Griffin. ‘Let’s invite the survivors of Springhill to come recuperate on the Georgia coast in an all-expenses-paid vacation! The whole world will watch. Then folks will want to come to Georgia’s beaches for vacation instead of Florida’s!’

The invitation was relayed and accepted before the last men were brought out of the pit and hospitalized.

The last man out, a father of twelve children, was Afro-Canadian miner, Maurice Ruddick, who had nursed and befriended his fellows underground, becoming an overnight folk hero.

He was black, Georgia was segregated, there was no place for the Ruddick family to stay on the beach, and Governor Griffin tried to avoid shaking his hand. The clever PR idea turned into an internationally-reported American insult of a Canadian hero.

I am now reading THERE IS NO ME WITHOUT YOU, One Woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Her Country’s Children. It is very heavy on facts about HIV/AIDS, and the contaminated needle theory that I hadn’t heard:

In the 1950s, the use of disposable plastic syringes became commonplace around the world as a cheap, sterile way to administer medicines. However, to African healthcare professionals working on inoculation and other medical programmes, the huge quantities of syringes needed would have been very costly. It is therefore likely that one single syringe would have been used to inject multiple patients without any sterilisation in between. This would rapidly have transferred any viral particles from one person to another, creating huge potential for the virus to mutate and replicate in each new individual it entered, even if the SIV within the original person infected had not yet converted to HIV.

Quite a bit about politics too, like how the drug companies lobbied to keep the price of antiretroviral drugs for HIV at $15,000 per person per year, far too expensive for people in poor countries. Contrast that to Dr. Jonas Salk, inventor of the Polio Vaccine who never patented the vaccine and never became a billionaire.  He insisted that, “like the sun,” the vaccine should be free to everyone.  (The HIV drug is now $30 per person per year.)

By 2000 21 million people had died of AIDS, including 4 million children, and 13 million children had been orphaned.  The story of  Haregewoin, a widow in Addis Ababa, and the AIDS orphans she took in is riveting.

THERE IS NO ME WITHOUT YOU is the story of a middle-class Ethiopian widow, Mrs. Haregewoin Teferra who, out of the multiple tragedies in her own life, opened her door to AIDS-orphaned children and was then inundated by them, nearly beyond her capacity to care for them all. Her path takes her from public adoration to denunciation and prison; but, then, it has been said that “even Mother Teresa was no Mother Teresa.” Along the way, she saved the lives of hundreds of children, many of whom began new lives with adoptive families in Ethiopia and abroad.

In the book about which she spoke, No Biking in the House without a Helmet, Greene subsequently tells of her family, which includes four children adopted from Ethiopia. On her website I checked out the subheading News/Blog. In Ethiopian Adoption: An Informal & Unofficial Guide where she also tells a story of her Bulgarian son:

Jesse, crossing the ocean by air at age four-and-a-half from Bulgaria, came to believe (we surmised) about two hours into the flight: “This is it. This is America. This is my new life. I have got to get out of here.” He was fleeing up and down the aisles in search of an exit and a fast boat back to Bulgaria. He sat down in the middle of the aisle and rocked back and forth, the orphanage self-soothing scary-looking rock; in my arms, he flailed and screamed and kicked. He kicked the seat in front of us so hard and frequently I feared we’d injure the man. Late in the flight I suddenly remembered: “Benedryl! We were supposed to have given him Benedryl to help him sleep!” As he writhed and flailed and screamed, I got a cap-full of Benedryl between his lips and waited, my arms and back aching, for it to kick in. It kicked in as we were in descent towards Atlanta. We carried his sleeping body off the plane and into immigration, where he slept on the carpet during our wait, and he slept in luggage claim and he slept on the car-ride home and straight into his new life.

She was a marvelous speaker, and her stories were hilarious. However, I felt intimidated – she had raised nine children, five of whom hadn’t even spoken English when she and her husband (an attorney) adopted them, and she was an award-winning author to boot – all I could talk about was that she should see the raptor show at the Desert Museum.

But only three people came to her signing table while at the next table, Elmore Leonard had a line of people snaking around the patio, waiting to have him sign their books.


“This is my twenty-first year in elementary school,” the story begins. “For twenty-one years, I’ve carried in cupcakes, enclosed checks, and provided emergency phone numbers. I have staple-gunned and hot-glued. I have given standing ovations, volunteered at the school library, and stood in the cafeteria line as the servers dropped balls of Thanksgiving-flavored foods from ice-cream scoops onto my wet tray.”

“We’ve steered by the light of what brings us joy, what makes us laugh, and what feels right and true. In shaky times, I’ve thought, ‘Did we take on too many?’ ‘Is the whole family at risk of capsizing?’ ‘What do the experts say?’ But we and the children seem to be thriving; it seems we have been right to trust love, laughter, and happiness.”

My photos from the fair. I spent a bit of time checking out the children’s section to see why those volunteer positions filled up first.  Parasols, turtle hats, balloons, full-sized book characters wandering about, story time, face painting.                           

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One Response to “No Biking in the House without a Helmet”

  1. Jim Says:

    She is fine role model – thanks for sharing, Lynne.

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