Ms. Magazine    
feminist news wire feminist archives

spring 2003
* * * *
this is what a feminist looks like

The Feminist To-Do List by Gloria Steinem
Ms. Poll Feminist Tide Sweeps In as the 21st Century Begins by Lorraine Dusky
Affirmative Action on Trial by Teresa Stern
Women on Death Row by Claudia Dreifus
In the Thick of Life at 70 by Jessica Chornesky

Special Action Alert
Women Take Action Worldwide
Listing: Coalitions and Groups
National Council of Women's Organizations Statement on War with Iraq
NCWO Partial Members List
Why Peace is (More Than Ever) a Feminist Issue
by Grace Paley

Writing of War and Its Consequences
Ghosts of Home by Patricia Sarrafian Ward
Tales from an Ordinary Iranian Girlhood by Marjane Satrapi
Snow in Summer: LA, CA, 1963 by Helen Zelon

Pat Summitt's 800th Victory
Augusta Golf Club's Red Face
National Map of Priest Abuse
Women Warriors
Lesbians with Strollers
Kopp Trial
Trouble in Herat, Afghanistan
Reproductive Rights in Poland
Health Clinics in Guatemala
Congolese Women for Peace
Global Good News Round-Up
The Opposite of a Nuclear Bomb

Lower Breast Cancer Risks by Liz Galst
The Making of an Activist by Gloria Feldt
Nature Conservancy Gains by Rachel Rabkin
Harvard Stumbles on Rape Rules by Lorraine Dusky
The Bush Overhaul of Federal Courts by Stephanie B. Goldberg
My Friend Yeshi by Alice Walker

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This essay first appeared online in the Spring 2000 collection at

Snow in Summer: LA, CA, 1963
By Helen Zelon

"Ask Mom," I said, sullen, on my hands and knees in the dichondra. He went into the house, then came out again, and said, stiffly, "Clean it up. All of it. You'll work until it's clean, you understand me?" I had violated something inviolable. What? And why didn't someone help me? All I wanted was snow..

I found the garden hose and soaked the dichondra, thinking it would make it easier to get all the feathers out. I felt alone. And the wet feathers just stuck worse. I had to crawl every inch of that green mass, my soggy Capri pants bagging at the knees and butt, raking my fingertips underneath the dichondra's clover-tops down to the muddy stems, where the wet down seemed to wrap itself, intractable. It got dark. My father snapped on the yard light for me; no one spoke. I finished after 10 p.m.; my sister was asleep and my mother had a headache. My father sent me to bed. No one spoke of it ever again, until 18 Julys later, when my parents returned to Poland, and to Warsaw, where my mother was born and lived her youth. After a lifetime of imagining, I went, too.

The Umschlagplatz, where transports of Jews were shipped East decades earlier, still received trains, including mine. Disembarking into the early morning haze, I realized I was stepping out of a station where others only stepped in. Better to find a taxi than dwell on that darkness, I thought, and headed out to look for a cab.

We settled into our rooms at the Hotel Warsawa and began to tour the capital once known as Paris of the East. The elegant. "Cosmopolitan" restaurant in the hotel lobby was open for business but hadn't any meat; grocery stores were open, too, but bare, with long shelves standing empty or lined with limp cabbages and cauliflower.

A horse-drawn droshky drew us through the serpentine paths of Ogruzaski Park and the cobbled city streets until we reached a low, broken brick wall, the perimeter of what once was the Warsaw Ghetto, where my mother's family were moved when the war devoured Poland.

"We will walk now," announced my mother, aloud and to no one. My father paid the driver a fistful of zlotys as my mother strode off, down Mila Street, past Pawiak, the prison building where underground school was held, "only for boys." She looked around as if she could see through the Soviet-issue cinderblock apartments that stood on the old streets. Abruptly, she back-tracked to the block where she had left the burning Ghetto, through the sewers. She thought she found the manhole cover in the street, but couldn't be sure. It had been the middle of the night, she reasoned, and everything was up in flames. She couldn't be sure.

We traced bullet-grooved bricks with our fingertips as we wandered the alleys, looking for remnants of buildings that had burned in the Uprising.

"Here," she said to me, grabbing my wrist in her hand, pointing up to an empty slice of yellow-grey sky between buildings. "Here was the bridge where they shook the feathers."

"Ma," I said, pulling my arm back, "let go."

"When they took people out from the Ghetto, see, it was all very official, with the yellow papers and the official stamps, you needed the Nazi permission to go to the east. It will be for the best, they said, we will give you food, two loaves of bread and a kilo of margarine, and you will settle in a new place. People believed them-- they wanted to believe, and what did we know?"

"But the women did not want to leave everything behind; they took pots and pans, beds, quilts, pillows. This took too much room. You could always get goose feathers on a farm-- they thought that's where they were going, see?-- so they shook out all the feathers on the street, up from on top of the little bridge, and packed everything else away. So everything was under feathers the days the transports left." She looked at me again. A shudder rose through her, until she touched the hollow of her throat and pushed back a wavy lock of hair. Then she stopped talking.

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Photo: Dwight Carter
Helen Zelon is the child of two engineers trained in post-war Munich who then came to the United States. A family joke was that her mother, who worked in the aircraft industry, was responsible for everything up to 30,000 feet, and her father, a space engineer, took care of everything above that. Helen was born in California and went to New York as an adult. Her children all were born in Brooklyn. Zelon has written about US space missions for Rosen Publishing, and about taking her older daugther to space campus in Florida for Scientific American Explorations. Zelon has written for Family Circle and New York Lawyer. Currently she teaches Shakespeare to male prisoners at Sing Sing Correctional Facility.
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