Born in 1931, I grew up in New York’s Greenwich Village during the frothy ‘30s and ‘40s.
My family, never far from its Russian/Jewish roots, was, like that of most of my friends, artistically inclined, secular, and politically on the humanistic left.
Before my birth, my father had been a consultant to the Jewish land settlement movement in Soviet Russia through the “Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.”
My mother had been a preschool teacher trained in the Dewey tradition. I was therefore destined to experience several remarkable progressive schools including Bank Street kindergarten, City and Country, the Little Red Schoolhouse and the Elisabeth Irwin High School.
Then came the not particularly progressive Cornell University where I majored in English. I received a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia’s Teachers College, a return to the Deweyan world.
During high school and college I worked at several remarkable summer camps.
Given this history, it is hardly surprising that my career has concerned children in schools, communities and institutions. For fifteen years my office was in a Vermont forest where kids and parents would come for a day or so to think through personal or family issues.
On retirement in 1995, I began annual visits to Haiti and Russia where I got to know young people who were surviving without family help.
I have written several books and have taught at Harvard, Boston College, Boston University and Montreal’s Concordia University. I was the founding dean of Goddard College’s individualized master’s degree program.
Recently, I did a study of my family’s history. I am also writing about and for children.
Mary Field Belenky, a developmental psychologist, and I have been married for sixty years. We have two children, Alice Armen and Michael Belenky, and five grandchildren, Sofia, Max, Ella, Oliver, and Simon.
Mary and I now live in Kendal at Hanover, New Hampshire, a Quakerish retirement community.
Images are a great way to share information, ideas and feelings, moving and otherwise.
(More anon ...)
The Dog Star is from "Milly: My Life as a Labradoodle." Click "My Books" (above) to learn more and maybe even to order one or more copies.
Editor’s note: This is a story about Milly. But it is not the Milly you know. It is her Grandma Milly after whom our Milly was named. So don't worry. Our Milly is still young. In February she will be only six. She has a long way to go.
OK? To the story …
Grandma Milly is old now. She lives in a kennel down the road where she has many friends. She spends her time sleeping for the most part but when her nieces and nephews and various other friends and puppies visit, she likes to tell them about what the world was like when she was young.
The young animals’ favorite story is the one Grandma Milly calls, “The Dog Star.” It goes like this:
When we were puppies, my friends and I had lots of fun. We would chase each other and play snarf-ball. We would swim and chase ducks all summer long, stuff ourselves on kibble, chicken soup and beef bones and then drift off to sleep together in one big heap.
For a special treat we loved to attend concerts. The group we liked best was “Harlan Wolf and his Wolverine Brothers and Sisters.” These were cousins of ours who we greatly admired.
Late at night once every month when the moon was full, Harlan and the Wolverines would assemble on the very top of Bald Mountain and sing to the moon. They had deep, rich voices. It was so beautiful.
On those nights, my friends and I would sneak out of our houses after everyone was asleep, dance down the dirt road together, chasing each other, giggling and singing.
Our families never knew.
When we reached the concert, we found places to sit with all the other dogs, deeply moved and carried away by the music. Sometimes we sang along with the wolves. But they had more beautiful howls than any of us and so out of respect we mostly wagged our tails in time and when we sang at all did our best to keep our voices low so as not to disturb the magic of the evening.
When midnight came near a few of us began to dance. Soon the whole mountain top was filled with dogs dancing to the song of the wolves. Thinking of it now brings tears of joy to my eye.
As I got older, it occurred to me to wonder why Harlan and his wolverines came to sing to the moon in the first place. Was it because the moon is so beautiful or was the singing part of a religious ceremony? Is the moon sacred, a place of magic? Does a god live in the moon who hears the joyful but sometimes mournful songs of my cousins, the wolves?
One night I screwed up my courage and put the question to Harlan.
“No, no, no,” Harlan said. “It’s not like that at all, not at all. We only sing to beg the moon as respectfully as we can to please get out of our way.”
“What?” I said.
“So that we can see the Dog Star more clearly, so the moon does not hide it” He explained.
“The Dog Star?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “The official name is ‘Sirius.’ It is the brightest star in the night sky. It is where all dogs and wolves go when they die. My ancestors are up there waiting for me. Some day I shall join them.”
“Oh,” I said. “I understand. “Your singing is a way of staying in touch with your relatives. It is like prayer or the telephones that people use.”
“No,” Harlan explained.. “We weren’t baying at a our families in the Dog Star. We were baying at the moon to get out of our way so that we could see the Dog Star better. The moon has an irritating habit of blocking our view every month. We hope that our singing will convince it to move over a bit. Maybe some day it will.”
Grandma Milly, as I say, is old now. She has difficulty walking. She moves slowly and painfully and uses a walker. Dancing is out of the question. And her sight is not as clear as it used to be. Neither is her hearing. But her mind is good and she can still tell good stories to her nieces and nephews and to all the puppies in the neighborhood.
I hadn’t seen her for a several weeks and thought I would drop over to say hi.
Her neighbor said she wasn’t home.
It was nighttime. The moon was full.
“Where is she?” I asked.
“Oh, she just wandered down the road a bit. She’s okay. She took her walker.”
I headed down the road to catch up with her.
There she was, just beyond me in the darkness. I caught up.
“Hi, Grandma Milly,” I said. “Where are you headed?”
“I am off to the Dog Star to see my mother,” she said cheerfully as she disappeared into the night.