This I Believe: Judy Ottman (2004)

The UUSC, Indian John, and Me

I believe that grocery shopping is entertainment. I go grocery shopping at least once a day because I think it is fun, rather than a necessary chore. I like going to the store to see products from all over the world, like Albanian apples, Columbian coffee, Polish ham, New Zealand kiwi, and Japanese sushi, which are available for me to purchase. It’s a cheap world tour.

I am grateful I can afford to buy everything in a supermarket, like Queen Elizabeth or Bill Gates. As a child, my family couldn’t afford to buy everything in the grocery store. Most of the world still cannot afford to buy even what they need at the market.

I believe in the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) because charitable giving is the real expression of gratitude. The UUSC is the Unitarian Universalist’s social justice organization. It is both an advocacy for social justice and an operational organization delivering services throughout the world.

I have been the church’s UUSC representative for 25+ years raising money in the Guest at Your Table Christmas program. My most unselfish act all year is raising money for the UUSC because I receive no tangible benefit from this work. Donating money to the church or to local organizations benefits me at least indirectly.

I believe that being generous is a learned behavior. Sometimes learning comes from the most unlikely source. “Indian” John was a Native American man who earned his living by washing bar windows to supplement his veterans’ disability pension. He lived in a shack by my home town’s railroad depot. My grandfather knew “Indian” John because my grandfather worked for the railroad.

Generosity does not depend on your income, a lesson I learned when “Indian” John gave me the gift of a dime. The dime was a significant amount of that day’s earning for “Indian” John.

I believe in unions: civil unions, credit unions, labor unions, and the European Union. According to the dictionary, a “union” is “an alliance or confederation of people, parties, or political entities for mutual interest or benefit.”

I lived with my grandparents. My grandfather was a charter member of The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen (The BRT), one of the first American labor unions. Every week the Union Advocate (The BRT’s newsletter) arrived in the mail. I read it cover to cover because my family could not afford magazine subscriptions. My grandfather didn’t read the Union Advocate because he only had a sixth grade education. One of the strongest political/intellectual influences in my youth was the Union Advocate. My grandfather and the BRT’s Union Advocate editor would be astonished to discover that magazine’s influence on the future beliefs of an 11-year-old girl. They did not expect me to read every word of their magazine and live her life based on the moral teachings of the Union Advocate.

My husband Richard and I had a mixed marriage. I was pro-labor and he was pro-management when we got married in 1968. Because of my strong pro-labor beliefs, Richard converted from pro-management to pro-labor and became a founder of two different unions. My daughter, Gerda, is a member of a pharmacist’s union and has served on four different union negotiating committees. All of this started with my reading the Union Advocate as a child.

Why should doctors, lawyers, and Indian Chiefs care about unions? Unions are responsible for laws providing a 40-hour work week, unemployment compensation, and health and safety work rules.

I believe that if women are ever to achieve comparable worth for comparable pay, they need to be in unions.

I believe in universal health care because, though my mother worked a full-time job, we had no health insurance. Her employer, a small business owner, did not provide health insurance and, because she earned minimum wage, we could not afford to buy any. Our only insurance was sold by the school district, which covered accidents to and from school and in the school play ground. My mother told me to drag myself to the school play ground if I got hurt and pretend it happened there.

I believe that providing government universal health care is not only the right thing to do but would cost less than the private health insurance system.

Beliefs can come from the most unlikely sources, like the Union Advocate and “Indian” John.