JWU professors, like students, are experiencing the “new normal” at home during the global pandemic, COVID-19. In this series, we’ll explore how they are navigating their day-to-day, both inside and outside the online classroom, and their observations of the world.
Certainly this COVID crisis has not only challenged but also inspired us in many and varied ways. Some folks have coped by augmenting their cooking and baking skills — Facebook is replete with photos of gourmet meals created by individuals who usually make reservations rather than dinner entrees. To counter this, others have designed unique workout routines combining in-home yoga, outdoor walking or biking even investing in actual equipment and virtual personal trainers. I have also noticed many more colorful gardens, so some folks must be cultivating not only their landscape but also their green thumbs. Yet many more have determined it has been a perfect time to conquer a few of those dreaded home improvement projects — you know the type — something you’ve always meant to do, but never could find the time — now you have the time and, sadly, no procrastination excuses.
Begrudgingly, I am a member of this last category. My Dad in terms of vocation was an educator for his entire career, however, in terms of avocation; he was also an avid photographer. Consequently, buried deep in the back of our spare bathroom closet has been not a gift box, not a shoe box, but a paper (ream sized) box full of 35 mm slides and a few other family mementoes. At first, this task was mildly interesting — reviewing every slide then separating and categorizing each one — scenery, vacations, and family — some were quite nostalgic. However, that novelty wore off quickly after the first 200+ slides with at least another 500 to go.
Then I discovered a book buried at the bottom of the box entitled Portuguese Spinner — An American Story, which I very vaguely remember my cousin pressing on me with the comment, “you’ll probably enjoy this”. Hmm – maybe – at least it offered a change of pace. However, what I found much more interesting were the letters, newspaper clippings, baptism certificates and black and white photos – each carefully folded and stuffed in envelopes inside the front cover of the book.
Upon further examination, I began to realize the significance of some of these documents — tales my Dad and aunt had mentioned long since forgotten. For example, according to Dad’s meticulously hand designed family tree, our original name was Silvia, later changed to da Silva, now Silva — apparently a fairly common custom at the time. Of course, if I had simply contacted Ancestry.com this entire line of exploration would have been more insightful, precise and certainly simpler — oh well.
One discovery was a distant relative who appeared to me to be a kindred spirit, Harriet Bence Silvia, one of 10 children born to the first Portuguese family in the Fall River, MA area. Her father prioritized education and she was one of the first to graduate from Durfee High School, attended the Fall River Normal/Training School — a two-year preparatory course for teachers, completed courses at Harvard and RISD (at the age of 47) — not bad for a female in the late 1800s. Naturally, she made a life-long career teaching in the public schools at the elementary level — retiring in 1942 as a junior high school art teacher. She also lectured on the topic of art at regional conferences, teachers’ meetings, area churches and clubs and was a contributing art columnist for the Fall River Herald News. Perhaps more fascinating, however, were these facts: she was a noted artist, her specialty being the art of china painting — much of her work is today displayed by the Fall River Historical Society; and she lived on the same street, at the same time as the notorious Lizzie Borden.
Therefore, education seems to have been the “family business” longer than I expected. Some of my cousins are either current or retired teachers, my Dad was in education his entire career which culminated being named Professor Emeritus at Johnson & Wales, and I (to borrow a quote from Harriet) “…was never of a mind to do anything but teach school.” After all, education is the one thing you earn to invest in yourself that no one can ever take away.
Oh, BTW, to return to those slides, carefully sorted and labeled, they are now in the capable hands of my talented and techie godchild, Katie, a film production major, who plans to upload them, sell some of the images, create notecards — perhaps a PDF, use them for her college projects, or maybe create presentations to teach others — who knows — after all, teaching runs in the family!
Best wishes on completing your own improvement projects during these final (hopefully) COVID phases — for myself, I am tackling my Mom’s hope chest next! Stay safe.
Karen Silva, Ed.D., teaches in JWU’s online graduate degree programs. If you’re interested in pursuing your master’s degree, consider exploring your options from JWU. Learn from experts with real-world experience. For more information, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].