On Thanksgiving Day I found out that my good friend Jan Lieberman just died at on Thanksgiving morning. I received a call from her cousin. I feel very sad, as Jan and her late husband Don were two of my closest friends. I’ve been playing tag team with a few other friends in visiting Jan every day in the hospital these past 2 weeks to make sure she knew she wasn’t alone.
I’ve never met two people who shared more of the same interests as I shared with Jan and Don. We used to go watch movies together, either the latest Woody Allen movie or a classic movie at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto. During the summers, we would watch a silent movie with the organist playing in the background. After the movies, we’d go to their place, eat ice cream, and talk for hours about movies, books, art, history, politics, sports.
It was only with time that I was to see how special that friendship was. They were always there with a sympathetic ear to listen whenever I had a personal problem that I needed advice on. Sometimes I’d get into situations that I never got into before and I needed someone to just talk to. And we’d spend a lot of time just laughing at each other’s sense of humor. I always knew that they were on my side.
These past few years, I’ve been in conflicts where things got said behind my back and some of the people that I thought were friends turned out not to be friends. I learned a new term these past couple of years, “gaslighting”. After a while, it became difficult to know who to trust.
The Liebermans were always honest with me. If they disagreed with me or got annoyed with me, they would gently but firmly tell me. We care enough about our friendship to resolve any problems that might affect that friendship. We were always kind in our communication with one another. I could always trust them.
My friends Jan and Don Lieberman influenced me in several ways. One of the things that they inspired In me is to try to visit all 50 states before I die. They both had traveled around the country and they told me that I can love the country, but I can’t really know the great diversity of this country until I actually travel and experience it myself.
The Liebermans were right. So far I’ve visited 20 states, visiting historical spots, parks, eating spots, and the like. And each state is very different. I started in the 1990s when I visited New York City, and since I married Lisa, found a traveling companion that I enjoyed traveling with. Among our favorite places: Central Park in New York City; the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival in New Mexico; The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachussetts; The Birmingham Civil Rights Museum in Alabama; The Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and the Marin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington D.C.; Mount Vernon and Monticello in Virginia; Savannah, Georgia; visiting the spot where Lincoln had his Gettysburg Address in Pennsylvania; exploring Kauai; seeing the Grand Canyon and Sedona in Arizona; wandering around the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City; visiting the Andrew Wyeth Museum in Chads Ford, Pennsylvania; visiting the Kennedy Library in Massachusetts; taking a river tour to see the skyscrapers in Chicago.
Now that Lisa and I have siblings and nieces and a nephew to visit in several states, we probably won’t make our 50 state goal. I have a feeling we’ll probably visit 30 to 35 states before I die. But just from visiting the 20 states that I’ve already visited, I have a greater appreciation of this country. I wouldn’t have done any of that traveling without the Liebermans’ example.
The Liebermans and I loved talking about history. We were all big fans of the more enlightened members of the Founding Fathers: they were big fans of Thomas Jefferson; my favorite Founding Father is Benjamin Franklin, with John and Abigail Adams and Thomas Paine coming close behind. I used to be a huge Jefferson fan too. I still respect Jefferson’s fight for the separation of Church and State, his efforts to expand public education and end primogeniture, his unsuccessful efforts to pass legislation to abolish slavery and end the slave trade and the high ideas that he espoused in the Declaration of Independence. When I found out about his private views on race, his allowing slave families to be separated as he sold slaves to try to pay off his debts, and I found out that he allowed his overseers to whip slave boys to get them to be more productive in a nail factory on Monticello, I began developing more of a love/hate relationship with Jefferson. One of the big thrills that Jan and Don shared with me was when they visited Monticello, Jefferson’s home. When Lisa and I got a chance to visit Monticello, we both had had the same thrill. I had wanted to visit Franklin’s home before Jan passed away so I could share my experience with her.
We loved talking politics too. But we didn’t share exactly the same political beliefs. Jan and Don were middle-of-the-road independents. When the Republican Party had a sizable number of moderates and liberals, Jan and Don would divide their votes between Democrats and Republicans depending on whom they thought were better candidates. It was only when the Republican Party began purging itself of moderates and the party began moving to the extreme Right that the Liebermans began to vote exclusively Democrat. Like most people that I know, they were liberal on some issues, conservative on other issues. They admired the presidencies of both Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower. They were social liberals and fiscal moderates. Because of their experiences with antisemitism, they didn’t like the Religious Right. They were wary of budget deficits. They supported government programs to help the poor so long as there were stringent safeguards to insure that no one took advantage of the system.
Because of Jan’s work promoting children’s literature, she would take workshops around the country. She and Don would take the time to visit interesting historical spots in the area. They both loved music. They were big fans of classical music and jazz. When Jan was young, she was one of the bobby-soxers that screamed at a young Frank Sinatra, the way later generations screamed at Elvis, the Beatles and One Direction. They saw Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn and all the great jazz musicians of their time. One of the last trips that they took together, they went to New York City to watch a performance of Hugh Jackman on Broadway. They influenced me to listen and love classical and jazz music.
Jan had a newsletter that went to children’s librarians around the country to recommend children’s books. Publishers would mail to Jan their latest books for her to read and to review. Children’s book writers and illustrators would visit her home and she became close friends with several of these writers and illustrators. Before Harry Potter hit it big, J.K. Rowling visited Jan at her home to promote the first Harry Potter book and Rowling slept at Jan’s couch to stay the night.
I was able to share with the Liebermans a love of travel, a love of American history and a love of books and music. If I was to give advice to anyone who wants to learn about America, I would advise them to travel around the country and to explore. Don’t wait until retirement to start traveling. There’s no guarantee that you will still have good health by the time you retire. Go to the library and read histories and biographies of American lives. In spite of its faults, this is a wonderful country.
Here is a video of the top 25 places to visit in the U.S. according to Touropia. I haven’t visited all these places, but I hope to some day. I’m sure the Liebermans would approve.
Here is a video of from the miniseries John Adams on the correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson