Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Trick or Treat

She sat waiting on the wide wooden porch, a deep bowl of candies on her lap. Carved pumpkins, their eerie candles flickering in the light autumn breeze, provided the only light. Children and parents crept along the sidewalk bordering the dark yard. Though most hurried past, a few brave--or greedy--trick or treaters braved the scary trek up to the porch.

Those who found the courage to climb the worn steps were well rewarded. She smiled as she doled out the candies, speaking quietly to each child. Her soft white hair and bright blue eyes calmed their fears as she complimented them on their costumes and inquired if they'd collected many treats.

She noted the changes from other years, long past, when the majority of children dressed as pirates or clowns or cowboys or Indians or even a princess or two. Now, they all seemed to favor superheroes and Disney characters.

One little girl, dressed as Princess Fiona from Shrek stopped dead at the open gate and refused to go further though her mother urged her on. The woman's eyes met Fiona's for a sharp pregnant moment and then, Fiona was fleeing down the walk, her mother racing after her.

Well, now, the woman thought. There was more than met the eye there. Miss Fiona was a most perceptive princess. Her visitors usually saw what she wanted them to see. She smiled. They didn't know her at all. Or all the others like her who eagerly waited for this one day of the year. Some called it Halloween.

But others...called it the Night of the Hunt.

Friday, October 26, 2018

American Experience

Some folks believe the American Experience is the National Anthem. Other believe the essence of America is embodied in the pledge of allegiance. And still others think it's the fireworks of July 4th or the Veteran's Day parade. I believe the American Experience can be distilled down to the right to vote.

Yesterday the hunk and I went to vote, taking advantage of the early voting hours in Maryland. It was quite chilly as we stood in line outside, a longer line than I'd even hoped for on this, the first day of early voting. We arrived at 4:15 PM. It was 5:45 when we finished and walked back to our car. And all the time we waited and voted, I watched the folks around me, men and women, old and young, every skin color, and multiple languages as they patiently stood in line to vote. And it came to me that THIS was the American Experience.

Regardless of party affiliation or agenda, the true path to change is this simple act. We go to the polling place and exercise our right to vote. Yesterday, I stood with folks who showed up with their canes and walkers to vote. Young, old, wealthy, poor, they all came to join in solidarity for this most important responsibility of citizenship. They came to vote. One woman--possibly in her twenties--confessed it was her very first time to vote, and received a round of enthusiastic applause.

I have voted in every election since I was eligible to vote--fifty years now in several different states. When my children were old enough, we went together to vote, because the hunk and I believed citizenship is taught at home--not learned through school or television.

I hope there's a record turnout, because when it gets down to the most basic tenets of our society, the right to vote is there at the top. Vote. Take a friend. Go with your youngsters. Demonstrate good citizenship!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Where Were You?

A lot of words have been written, folks asking, "Where Were You?" I believe this is one of the best answers...

Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)

Where were you when the world stopped turnin'
That September day?
Were you in the yard with your wife and children
Or workin' on some stage in L.A.?
Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke
Risin' against that blue sky?
Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry?
Did you weep for the children, they lost their dear loved ones
Pray for the ones who don't know?
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below?
Did you burst out with pride for the red, white, and blue
And the heroes who died just doin' what they do?
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself and what really matters?
I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I'm not sure I can tell you
The diff'rence in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love
Where were you when the world stopped turnin'
That September day?
Teachin' a class full of innocent children
Or drivin' down some cold interstate?
Did you feel guilty 'cause you're a survivor?
In a crowded room did you feel alone?
Did you call up your mother and tell her you love her?
Did you dust off that Bible at home?
Did you open your eyes and hope it never happened
Close your eyes and not go to sleep?
Did you notice the sunset for the first time in ages
And speak to some stranger on the street?
Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow
Go out and buy you a gun?
Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watchin'
And turn on I Love Lucy reruns?
Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers
Stand in line to give your own blood?
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
Thank God you had somebody to love?
I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I'm not sure I can tell you
The diff'rence in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love
I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I'm not sure I can tell you
The diff'rence in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love
And the greatest is love
And the greatest is love
Where were you when the world stopped turnin'
On that September day?
Songwriter: Alan Jackson

Monday, September 10, 2018

Common Sense

There are days when I wonder if the human race will survive the week. When did we choose to send our brains on sabbatical? When did we decide to let someone else do all our thinking?

I love this picture because it's a perfect demonstration of the current 'climate'. We've ceased using our brains. It's easier to let someone else tell us what to think, what to do, what to wear. A casual glance at the timeline on your facebook or twitter (or any other social media, I suspect) reveals just how far we've fallen.

A lot of folks have withdrawn from social media in self defense. They've chosen to go elsewhere, seeking out someone, anyone with a brain. Some stay and block or remove posts, valiantly fighting against racism, political idiocy, and general stupidity.

I generally end up ignoring the majority of posts. But occasionally, I put in my two cents worth...and then move on. Engaging in long-winded debates serves no purpose. My comments are only posted to let the individual know there IS a difference of opinion. I think it's important to show others don't believe the same things. And if I have researched the post and know it to be false, then I simply post the word 'FALSE' in the comments and move on. It's up to that poster to rectify the issue.

I would say 95% of political posts in particular are at least partially false. I always wonder why people post them. Does the post reflect their beliefs? Their hopes and dreams? What? Do they honestly think it will change someone else's viewpoint?

Wake up, people. I know it's hard to think when you stay up all night watching junk on television, then stumble out of bed, down your latte and sugar/fat fuel before heading off to work, but try. Make the time and effort to consider the long-range consequences of your actions. Look around you. Observe what is really happening in your family, your neighborhood, your town.

Figure out whether the stone is wet, swinging wildly to and fro, or gone.    

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Sock Thief

IF I had a cat, I would certainly believe this. However, since I don't have a cat, I'm stumped. In the last few weeks, I've worn short, cotton sports socks 24/7 because I had a prescription cream I had to apply to my feet twice a day. That's a lot of socks to wash. And every load I washed, one sock disappeared.

I've looked in all the usual places. Static cling to my nighties, underwear, where. I looked inside the washer and inside the dryer. I checked down both sides of the washer closet. No socks.

I used to have a cat. Maybe she's trying to get my attention. In the meantime, I have six unmatched sports socks, waiting for the rest of them to reappear. I hope they're having wonderful adventures.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Free-range Contemplation

Folks don't take time anymore for contemplation. In our guilt-driven culture, you're not supposed to take time out to mull life. You know--where you're going? Where you've been. What you're goals in life are? No...mostly we do life on the fly, hoping we don't make too many mistakes.

That is why I knit. Knitting (painting, crocheting, carving, beading), really almost any handwork project allows for some free-range contemplation. Reading doesn't work because your mind is engaged with the story. For some folks--like me--music irritates and annoys. Electronic interfacing such as television, computer, gaming all take up too much of the mind for true contemplation.

Back in the day, I used to do a lot of contemplating while ironing. That was a perfect occupation for contemplation. You were 'chained' to the ironing board so you couldn't pursue too many distractions and let's face it--ironing is boring. Sooooo boring, your mind naturally wanders.

With the advent of new technologies, we have less of the mindless work we used to do. So, less gardening, less weeding, less ironing, less handwork and more time spent engaged with electronics. In the past, the telephone was a tool for communication, seldom used unless you had a job that required it. Otherwise, it sat on the desk or hung on the wall, silent for most of the time. Now, too many people, young and old, spend hours in fascinated interaction with their phones. I confess, I have no idea why. What is the attraction?

Perhaps, just perhaps, it's a way to escape contemplation. Who knows what thoughts might occur if we allowed them to form? Is that it? The ultimate escape from self-knowledge and awareness? What drives us to flee from peaceful contemplation? And what would change if we pursued it?

Maybe...we would embrace less rage, less judgment, less greed, and find more joy, more peace, more love.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Uncomfortable Truths

For more than forty years, I've researched my family history--and the hunk's. Back waaaay before the convenience of the Internet, we traveled miles away, making stops at state libraries, local libraries, local government offices and national archives. I must have made a zillion photocopies of census records, pension records, birth/death/marriage records, Bible records, and collected letters and wills from all over the southern U.S.

I have four--no, five file cabinets full of papers.

When you start out researching your family history, it's mostly just a fun attempt to find out cool things about your family. Where did they come from? How many kids did they have? Did they fight in any wars or do anything strange or awful or weird?

If you continue with your pursuits, that wears off when reality sets in. Then you start to find out stuff you never aimed to discover. You find out your ancestors were slave owners. You find out a family connection was a pedophile--and the entire family was aware, so children were not allowed to visit without adult supervision. You find out a particular ancestor was cruel and beat his wife and daughters. Or another was a womanizer to the point there were several children born to multiple women while he was married.

You see, family history isn't all romantic with pirates or horse thieves or bank robbers or all those other possibilities. Mostly, it's about real people, some flawed, some outright terrible, some survivors of terrible events.

I am the keeper of all the uncomfortable truths. The real stories as opposed to the airy-fairy stories passed down to cover those truths. I don't share the whole truth with just anyone. That's the reason I know those secret truths...because people trust me and talk to me. But if someone comes to me, asking specifically for a certain truth, I will tell them.

Mostly what I've discovered is this: People don't really want to know. They would rather cling to the romantic, rose-colored view of their ancestors. That's their prerogative. Of course, many, many, many of them share that view through various Internet sites and that's exactly why I don't rely on them. Such information is iffy, at best. Researchers aren't interested in sharing reality.

No one wants to hear the uncomfortable truths.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

From the Outside

A relative recently asked me for help with our mutual family history research. He's new to the game. I've been working on it since I was in high school. As I looked through notes and obscure entries in old records, I thought a lot about the family dynamics. Genealogy isn't just some dusty old list of family information with marriages and deaths and lists of children. For every family group, there were heartaches and joys and grief and laughter. Too often, from the outside, we forget they were people with triumphs and defeats, just like any others.

Every time I look through the files, I am reminded of my own failings as a parent and I wonder what those long gone mothers and fathers thought about their own children and grandchildren. Did they too wonder what difference they could have made it they'd chosen different actions?

Children grow up and move on and make their own choices. And parents watch from the outside, unable to intervene, unable to share the wisdom they've acquired unless it's sought out. No, they have little choice but to sit back and pray their children won't make the same mistakes they made themselves. Who knows? Perhaps they weren't mistakes, but the only viable choices at the time.

Over the years, I have acquired a reputation for trustworthiness regarding family secrets and therefore, many different folks have shared the 'real' story rather than the public version. Families traditionally keep secrets with the best. Each succeeding generation adds a new layer of secrets until the genealogist is confronted with a bewildering maze of truth and lies. Much of it is never committed to paper (or computer) so descendants go through life puzzling over their ancestors' choices and actions.

Is it better that way? I don't know. I believe how we view our forefathers is directly related to how much truth we know about them. Too often, because we're viewing them from the outside, we look at them through rose-colored glasses, assuming they had no faults, made no mistakes, and lived untroubled lives. When we take that view, we do ourselves a disservice, giving ourselves an impossible standard to live up to. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Change, Change, Change

Editing and revising a previously published novel is difficult. Editing and revising a previously published series is tortuous. Doing so without making new errors or timeline mistakes can give me gray hair. I suppose it's fortunate all the ones I already have will hide the new ones.

Or maybe, I can just color 'em all blue...Then I'll blend in with the rest of the folks in Mystic Valley.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

You Are Not Me

A child once asked, "Why don't white people and black people like each other? Why are they mean to each other?"

I could have answered at length. I could have explained about slavery and white privilege and all the long history of different races and ethnic groups. But I didn't. That would be a way to white-wash the truth. The simplest truth in the world is this: they are not us.

From the dawn of humanity, we've protected our own and fought off the 'others'. One would think we've learned something, but obviously not. A lot of folks think only whites are racist, but that's not true. You only have to be the minority in another racial group to find out the reality of this.

The hunk and I once worked at a fast food restaurant where we were the ONLY white employees. Most of the customers were a mixed group of black, Latino, and even Asian. The rare white tourist wandered in looking lost and uncomfortable. In our time there, the other crew people treated us with respect and courtesy, but the customers...well, that was different.

I didn't take it personally because I understood the underlying mechanism. I was not one of them. I didn't look like them. I was in their space, making them uncomfortable and wary. That is the hard, unvarnished kernel of truth.

In our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world, it is tough to integrate when underneath we still have that visceral caution. They are not us. We are not them. We look different, speak different languages, worship different gods, dress differently, eat different foods. It doesn't matter how much effort we put into understanding each other, we never will on that deep visceral level, anymore than men understand women or straights understand gays or any other number of differences out there.

So what's the solution, then?

Kindness, courtesy, and a celebration of our differences. As long as we allow them to divide us, all the talk about racial equality or gender equality or any other equality will be just that--talk. Instead of talking, maybe we should celebrate our commonalities and showcase our differences. Share those things that make us who we are.

We can't do that until we admit who we are. I am a senior citizen. White, female, protestant, heterosexual. As far as I can tell, that doesn't make me special in any way. If I have special qualities, I hope they are things like generosity, empathy, love, and comfort. Those are the things that count. That other stuff? It's just the casing I was born with. Nothing special at all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Willful Blindness

When I was a youngster, there was a well-known story titled, the The Emperor's New Clothes. It was about an emperor who strolled around naked while all the sycophants surrounding him exclaimed over his new clothes because none of them had the courage to point out he was naked. It takes a child to point out that the emperor is in fact naked.

Today, our congressmen and congresswomen, our judges, our department of justice are too cowardly to declare that in fact we are naked. They refuse to see the obvious truth everyone else sees. Instead, they spend their time bragging about the wonderful new clothes we wear. In November, we have the opportunity to reveal the truth by going to the polls to vote.

Isn't it time we declare the truth for all to see? In fact, we are naked.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Contract

Recently noticed a spate of posts of Facebook mourning the (sudden?) death of an author. Many of the posters mention various ways the deceased author mentored them or how much they will miss the author's books.

I find it sad that we wait until someone dies to tell them how much they mean to us. I further venture there will be folks who buy this author's books now when she's no longer around to know or care. What is it in our makeup that we wait until folks are dead to celebrate them?

How many times do we attend a funeral for someone, often driving many hours or flying across the country, guilt-ridden because we didn't visit them when they were alive? It's not enough to say we would have visited if we could. If we can go to the funeral, then why not before they die? After all, the only ones who know we showed up are the living.

So here's my idea. Let us have a contract with each other. Every single day, let us find one person to celebrate publicly. This person might be family (though no one should have to remind us to celebrate our family)! But I propose we choose someone unrelated--someone who likely has no idea what their contributions to our life have meant. Call them out. Brag on them to all our friends. Let them know just how special they are to us.

While they're still alive to appreciate it.