My Beloved Benita

July 24, 2013 • Posted in baseball, blindness, memoir writing, Uncategorized by

My friend Benita Daniels Black grew up in the Bronx, taught at public schools in Queens, and raised her son in their apartment in the Village. She loves New York City, and she planned on living there the rest of her life. But then she went to her grade school reunion.

That's Benita with her beloved grandson Sam (photo courtesy of Josh Daniels).

That’s Benita with her beloved grandson Sam (photo courtesy of Josh Daniels).

Dr. Henry Black attended P.S. 114 in the Bronx (sixth-grade class of 1954) with Benita and took time off from his job as Chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center here in Chicago to attend that grade school reunion, too. The New York Times published a very sweet story about the epistolary romance that ensued after that. “Within a few weeks, they’d amassed 1,200 e-mail messages,” the story said, quoting Benita saying how exciting it was to be with someone you shared a childhood with. “So much could be shorthanded.”

Benita and Henry were married at the New York City Municipal Building on April 19, 2002. Shortly after joining Henry here in Chicago, Benita started volunteering at Blind Service Association (BSA) to read aloud to people like me.

Week after week she’d help me weed through the pile of books and magazine articles I’d lug into the BSA office on Wabash. We learned a lot about each other in a very short time — she by the things I brought to read, and I by the inflection in her voice as she read them out loud.

When we discovered we were baseball fans, and we both followed the American League, we started going to games together. Henry and Mike joined in the fray, and the four of us started going out for meals, too, mixing politics with baseball talk.

In 2006, Benita let me know that she and Henry were moving to Manhattan. I wasn’t surprised. New York City was their home, after all, and I was just grateful for the serendipity that connected the two of us during her time in Chicago.

We’ve visited each other a few times since, and we keep up with each other via phone and email. When Benita emailed me a few months ago recommending the audio version of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir My Beloved World, I took note. Benita and Justice Sotomayor both grew up in the Bronx, and I am guessing some of the talented students Benita taught at public schools in Queens reminded her of young Sonia. In her email, Benita pointed out that the Supreme Court Justice and I both grew up with hardworking single moms (Sonia’s father died when she was young, just like me) and that I’d be able to relate to Sonia’s stories about learning to give herself insulin injections when she was in second grade (Sonia and I were both diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as children).

But could Sonia Sotomayor write well? If Benita was recommending the book, I figured the answer had to be yes. I just finished reading the memoir, and I figured right. It’s a great read, and it’s well read, too: Rita Moreno is the narrator. Yes, that Rita Moreno. Anita from “West Side Story.” She’s friends with Sonia Sotomayor, and hey, I suppose when a Supreme Court Justice asks you to read, you do it!

You can tell that these two women know each other well by the way Moreno intuits which word to punch, where to pause and which phrases her friend would have said with a laugh. As a reader, the Academy award-winner is second only to Benita Daniels Black. And in a wonderful, wacky 21st century way, Benita still acts as my reader, sending links to New York Times stories she knows I’ll be interested in, and recommending books and authors she’s sure I’ll like.

If only the robotic drone of my talking computer would read with a New YorkYawk accent.

Kelly On July 24, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Although I couldn’t read with a consistent NYC accent, I wish I could read for you, Brth. That was one of my favorite volunteer activities when I was in my 20s in Champaign,

bethfinke On July 27, 2013 at 11:06 am

It sure is a good way to get to know another person, don’t you think?

Mary Rigdon On July 24, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Beth —
I just read that book here in Nantucket and liked it so much that I wrote a brief review for the Atheneum Library.. All the brief reviews for the week are put in a box and one is drawn for a prize at the end of the week — I won a $25 gift certificate for lunch at a great restaurant here — wish you could join me and we could chat about this book.


bethfinke On July 27, 2013 at 11:09 am

Oh, Mary, I’d *love* to discuss this book with you –especially on Nantucket! Will email you privately, am interested in reading your review if you have it.

Robert Ringwald On July 24, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Hi Beth,

I do not like the American League because of the DH. It takes away some of the strategy.

BTW, did you know:

“If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there is a man on base.” –Dave Barry

bethfinke On July 27, 2013 at 11:08 am

Hmmm. Not so sure I like that Dave Barry quip…

Mike On July 28, 2013 at 9:43 pm

Bob, I’d rather watch paint dry than watch a pitcher hit. Strategy? C’mon. If I can see it coming, it ain’t strategy. It also gives managers a free pass. AL managers, when they take a pitcher out, have no excuses. (Please, see Grady Little.) NL=BORING.

Monna Ray On July 25, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Dear Beth, I think of you and am trying to do some writing during our recess. You know its not the same as going to class and sharing what you write with you and the class, having that 500 word limit and one week to wind it up. All that is a powerful incentive.

Beth, the next big thing may be a robotic computer that reads with a New York accent.

Wish you well.


bethfinke On July 27, 2013 at 11:11 am

One thing I’ve learned from leading these memoir-writing classes is that it’s sort of like piano lessons — you do the work because you know you have to “perform” every week! I’m looking forward to the Monday class starting up again after Labor Day…

nbollero On July 25, 2013 at 9:55 pm

I just heard someone discussing the accents they set on the car GPS. One was a big fan of the Aussie version. Another liked the Brit… maybe new yawker is an option!

bethfinke On July 27, 2013 at 11:32 am

I already think the GPS voice barks at the driver when it detects a wrong turn — imagine how that would sound in a NYC accent!

benita On July 28, 2013 at 8:53 am


I am beyond flattered by this piece! Josh just this moment told me to look at it…he never even told me you had solicited a photo from him. Hilarious that someone commented about the DH in response to this piece, as if that were the point. I am delighted that you followed up on the Sotomayor recommendation; that’s a woman I’d love to know. And i love hearing her speak with her distinctly New Yawk accent, Princeton diploma and all.

Thank you so much for this loving piece. I will cherish it always.


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