Category: Essays


Brooklyn: Remembering the old ‘Hood

In my city – Charlotte, North Carolina – they’re finally moving towards redeveloping the neighborhood in which I grew up. Back in late spring or early summer, the city accepted a bid from a contractor, and I just saw someone on the news talking about the plans and how to best honor the place.

They’re calling it “Brooklyn Village” but when I lived there it was simply “Brooklyn”. It was part of the redevelopment program in the nineteen-sixties and until now, though there have been various and sundry proposals made over the years, it was never actually redeveloped unless you count that portion of the freeway that cuts through parts of it, and little pieces of it pinched off for something else – which included a section from the end of Brooklyn where I lived.

Let me tell you about the slice of Brooklyn which was home to me.

The vast majority of the houses were rentals, and by the time I was born in the late forties, the whole area was, in fact, considered to be a slum. Most of the houses were what were called shotgun shacks because they had only three rooms in a straight line, and you could fire a shotgun at the front door and it would go clean through the house and out the back door without hitting the walls (I have no idea who first came up with that description because in all the years I lived there I never actually witnessed anybody firing a shotgun through one of the houses in that fashion).

I lived on Watt Street in one of the poorest section of the neighborhood, and the street had never been paved. It was, instead, covered in gravel rather than the usual tar, and the city sent a truck every year in late spring or early summer to renew the gravel (I hated that gravel because in the summer, we went barefoot and have you ever tried walking without shoes on newly laid-down sharp rocks? Sucks).

When you turned onto our street from Brown Street – which was paved – you could see all the way down to where the street was broken by a creek. I think it was a tributary of Sugar Creek but don’t quote me on that. We just called it “the creek”.

Anyway, there was no bridge across the creek though I think that, once upon a time, there had been one but by the time I came along it was gone, so the only way to get across to the other end of the street – which went up a really steep hill – was to walk across the sewer pipes that came out from under the street and continued in the open across to the other side,  or you could use the large, flat rocks in the creek or wade through the water. Since the pipes stayed slick from the creek spray, I think most folks used the rocks. Or, you could “skin” across the pipes – a method of straddling them and scooting across on your butt.

We, as kids, had a lot of fun “skinning” the pipes across to the other side – when we didn’t try to walk across them without slipping off and onto the rocks below, or into the water.

I vaguely recall seeing fish in that creek when I was very small but by the time I was around four or five years old, the fish were gone and the only things in the creek were broken bottles and other trash, accompanied by an oily sheen that left a greasy residue in the water.

Our parents were always on us to stay out of the creek. Not only were there all those broken bottles plus rocks and other things to cut our feet on, not to mention the germs, the usually shallow creek would rise after a rain and become more than deep enough in which to drown (of course, being kids we sneaked into it anyway. Hey, high water was the best time for skinning the pipes!). High water after a rain was the reason why the houses near the creek were built on stilts or pilings since if the rain was big enough, the creek would overflow its banks.

Closer to the business district of the neighborhood and therefore closer to the uptown of the city, there was an elementary and a junior/senior high school – Myers Street and Second Ward schools, respectively – that served the blacks (or “coloreds” as we were called in those days) in the community, both of which were several blocks from my street and to which we walked – rain, shine, sleet, or snow.

There was a neighborhood playground on the street that ran parallel to the street I lived on,  a block behind the house I lived in ( which, by the way, was one of the two or three houses on my street that were not shotgun shacks because it had four rooms, though it was unpainted and had a tin roof that leaked, and up until I was around five or six years old, the only water to the house was a facet out on the back porch).

We enjoyed that playground immensely, especially during the summer when we’d go “swimming” in the wading pool. In the winter, we’d go washing-machine-lid or cardboard-box sledding down the steep hills of the playground when there was snow (sometimes we’d go “sledding” on the slick grass when there wasn’t any snow – or we’d just roll down the hills). It had a cement skating rink where everybody eventually got scraped up from falls on our adjustable skates that sometimes loosened up on us.

There were businesses that served the neighborhood: beauty and barber shops, little grocery stores, a drug store, clubs, a couple of movie houses, and various other shops (we won’t get into the illegal liquor houses but they were there, too, though mostly down side streets or back alleys. Hey, there was one on my street. A very nice lady ran it). There was even a library for us, up on Second Street next door to the Savoy theater. I hung out at the library a lot but along with all the other kids, I also frequented the “movie house”. This was because when school let out for the summer, we were all given “show badges” that allowed us to get in and see a movie for a nickel instead of the usual ten cents.

So, we’d go to the library first (you also got gold stars for the books you read over the summer) then we’d hook next door to see the double feature and the cartoon that was always shown in between. The movies were changed twice a week, so we’d hustle up five more cents and go back for the new films. I read a whole lot of books and saw plenty of movies (my favorite books were fairy tales, and once I discovered them, science fiction and fantasy, and my favorite movies were science fiction, horror, and monsters. I probably saw every one ever made).

I reckon it wasn’t what could be called the finest of neighborhoods, but I suppose with it being segregated the way such neighborhoods were back then, that it was a little town – or a village – within the city. I imagine that’s why they’re calling it Brooklyn Village, now – except that one hopes the new place won’t be so segregated.

When urban renewal came rolling through, the people were moved out, and a lot of them went to live in the newly built public housing of Earl Village. My family opted not to move into those – my mother said she didn’t want to live in an apartment because there wasn’t enough yard, and she did love her flower and vegetable gardens – so we moved from our street into a house that was still in the general vicinity but nearer the high school which was a later part of the redevelopment program.

So, there the area has sat for all these years, not really being developed or used for much of anything.

There have been a lot of proposals made for what to do with the place since then but nothing really happened. Now, at last, they’re revving up for renewal, and I truly hope it comes about, this time. I just saw on the news where the developer wants to honor the old neighborhood, and I suppose that’s good. However, will there be room for folk who used to live there? I saw where they’ll be putting in retail, hotels, and residential housing, and even keeping a portion of a park (Marshall Park) that was built much later in what I would call the actual uptown, plus, I think I’ve heard someone say the old Second Ward High School gym – which is still there though the school is long gone – will be retained (nice touch!) but I wonder – what of the people who used to live there? Will anyone (still alive) who used to live there be able to afford to move back? I hope so but I would say that for the most part: probably not.

This is not the entirety of my experience of having lived in Brooklyn as I could probably fill a book if I were to write it all but as unsavory as it may seem to some now, it was home and I loved it.

It’ll be interesting to see what they’re planning to do to “honor” the old neighborhood. Since the work isn’t scheduled to begin anytime soon – in five years for the first stage, I think – and I’m sixty-nine years old, I just hope I’m around long enough to at least see it get a good start.

Why I Hated School

During my seventh grade year, I began hating school.  Before then, I still pretty much enjoyed going, though some of my original eagerness had cooled off in the fourth grade in the wake of an incident that I’ve previously blogged about (see Why I Don’t Like Math).

Here’s what happened to snuff my desire to get up every morning and look forward to spending most of the day enclosed in a brick building learning one subject or another.

I was eleven years old at the beginning of my seventh-grade year, and excited about going to junior high school (it wasn’t called “middle” school back in the fifties; we had three divisions of school: elementary was grades one to six; junior high was grade seven to nine, and of course, there was high school which was from grade  ten to twelve).  I was looking forward to learning to go to different classrooms for each subject (wasn’t any of that in elementary school) even though on the first day of school I wasn’t feeling well.

On the second day of school, I, unfortunately, learned why I hadn’t been feeling well: my appendix ruptured.  I was in the hospital for two weeks and was put on bed rest for four weeks after that.  I should’ve been able to get back in school before Halloween of that year, however, I didn’t get back until after Christmas because that was the year the city buses went on strike.

Such a strike nowadays wouldn’t affect getting to school because kids now ride big yellow school buses, but at that time, short of walking or unless you had a car, the city bus was the only way to get from my house to my assigned school which was clean across town from where I lived.  We didn’t have a car, and my mom wouldn’t allow me to walk so I was stuck at home until the strike was over.

Now you may think that being unable to get there was the reason why my enthusiasm for going to school waned.  After all, while I was out ill, I wasn’t sent a tutor (I wasn’t aware until years later that one should’ve been sent), and even if I’d had one, the tutor wouldn’t have remained while I was out due to the strike, so I would’ve been lagging far behind after being out for half the school year.  You’d be wrong.  My mom was my tutor for that period of time, so I was up to date on the school-work.

Bear with me, I’m getting to the cause of my disaffection with school.

I showed up on the first day after the New Year, relieved to be back.  I was all brushed and polished and ready to go, my mom had even allowed me to put on a smattering of lipstick.  My homeroom teacher (who shall remain nameless), a man whom I’d only met briefly at the beginning of the school year, welcomed me back.  I noticed he kept glancing at me, but I thought nothing of it.

He asked me to remain when the bell rang for my first class and I thought it was to go over my schedule with me.  However, instead, to my consternation, he began to lecture me because I was wearing that barely discernable amount of lipstick.  Turned out seventh-graders weren’t allowed to wear it, a fact I hadn’t known because I was out sick.  He told me that the punishment for breaking this rule was paddling (corporal punishment in schools was still very much in effect in nineteen fifty-eight).

Because I’d been unaware of this rule, I thought I was simply being warned not to do it again.  I explained that since I now knew, I’d be sure and not wear lipstick to school again.  Wrong.  The bastard pulled out a paddle and bent me over a desk and proceeded to give me five whacks across my behind which were apparently how many you got for wearing lipstick to school.

I was stunned.  I was also embarrassed because there were two other students – boys – watching, and waiting to get their whacks for whatever school rule they’d fractured.

I was not a violent kid, but at that moment, I wished with all my might that his head would explode.  Needless to say, I did not have a good rest of the year at that school.  I was humiliated because all the kids knew I’d been paddled, and some of them teased me which didn’t help anything.  I became quiet and stand-offish.  I didn’t tell my mom because I was too ashamed to do so, and there was no message sent home (no auto-calls then, and even had there been, we were too poor to have telephone service at that time), so I suspect she never knew.

Years later, looking back, I knew I should’ve told her but at the time, I was afraid she’d give me grief for having gotten paddled.   Yeah.  Stupid, I know, but those were different times.

Now, as I said in my post about hating math, I respect teachers and recognize that they have a hard job (my sister is a retired teacher) but, some people are not suited to be teachers.  My seventh grade homeroom teacher certainly wasn’t, and I lost all respect for him.

What this incident had the effect of doing was to make me wary of all teachers, and to absolutely ruin school for me.  After that, I hated going, and though I had to go to homeroom, I refused to have anything to do with that teacher, even refusing to answer roll call, which of course, caused even more trouble for me.  Eventually, I began skipping school and did not finish the seventh grade.  I got into a heap of trouble that year.

It’s a long story that I won’t go into right now, but after I repeated seventh at a different school, I  tested out of eighth grade and was, instead, placed in ninth.  I suppose I should’ve been happy, but I wasn’t.

I’d gotten over the physical pain of being unfairly beaten – and in front of other students at that – but I’d not gotten over the psychological damage.  In high school, I dropped out in tenth grade.  I went back the next year and even made good grades when I felt like it, but I dropped out altogether in twelfth.  It was a long time before I finally understood exactly why I didn’t like school, and by then it was much too late though I later got my GED, and even some college (after I was an adult, and married with children).

I’m a great-grandmother now, and have long since gotten over it, but I sometimes wonder how my life might’ve been different if I’d had a seventh-grade teacher worthy of the title.

 

 

Every writer has a debut book, right?  You’re supposed to get a blog, go on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc, and do a press release and some serious promoting leading up to your publish date so folk will hear about your brand new baby way in advance.

*SIGH* Well, I did none of that.  As far as I know, nobody knows, even now, that my debut novel was Boucher’s World: Emergent, a science fiction novel set on a world circling the star, Epsilon Eridani.

My reason for doing none of that?  Simple: I didn’t have a clue.  I didn’t know I was supposed to do all that.  I just wanted to get my book published before I died.

I’m an independent writer, one who never tried traditional publishing.  I checked into it but determined that if I went that route, since I was sixty-five years old at the time, by the time I got a book published, I’d be at least in my seventies – assuming I ever got one published.

So I checked on publishing a book on my own and discovered there were several ways of going about it.  I decided it was best to steer clear of vanity publishers – mainly because I was broke and they all wanted a bunch of bucks – and went with doing it as an ebook at Smashwords which was FREE.

I liked free.  I had my book ready to go, so I read the free guide on how to format an ebook and get it distributed to the major ebook sites (the Smashwords Style Guide), uploaded the thing, and off she went.

I have to admit that it’s a good guide, especially for a rank beginner – as I was – and after going through it and following the instructions, I had no problems getting my book through what Smashwords calls their “meat-grinder”.

What I didn’t do, though, was read the other free Smashwords guides:  the Smashwords Book Publishing Guide, and Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success.  Something I should’ve done before publishing, I suppose, but, who knew?  Had I read those first, I probably wouldn’t have published when I did.  I think I would at least have signed up for Twitter, first.  Heck, I didn’t do that ‘til months later, after I’d already e-published several other books.  Too late, I believed, to holler about my debut novel.

So, I didn’t.  I just kept writing and publishing, mainly because I realized early on that I got a large amount of pleasure out of just writing the stories.  I wish I was good at promoting, though, because I also get a kick out somebody, somewhere, reading one of my books, too.  Not good at that, so I just keep writing.

Anyway, what I’m trying to do (in a round-about way) is holler about my debut book.  I know, I know, it’s a bit past time for that, and at this late date it’s probably useless to even bring it up, but I spent a good deal of enjoyable time writing that book, and I feel it deserves to be acknowledged as the very first book I ever published.

The first in what eventually became a trilogy in a series of nine (so far), that I call the Boucher’s World series, this  book is free on all ebook sites, the others can be had for a negligible sum.

So, here’s an introduction to my debut novel, Boucher’s World: Emergent

Synopsis:

The people of Boucher’s World have been trapped inside a Dome that has covered nearly their entire continent since shortly after the Earthlings arrived on the world a little over two millennia ago.  For ages, they’ve sought a way out.
One day, a Human predult, a young woman named Jade, and her Cat partner, Tally, make a remarkable discovery: a door to the outside.

This book chronicles what happens when the people – which includes sentient cats and dogs, and an alien race called the Elvwists – finally emerge from what has been a cage for them for so long.  Will they be able to contact their home worlds? And what happens to Jade when she’s kidnapped by a man who “collects” young women?  Will she be rescued in time?

 

Find a couple of reviews, here, and here.

Why I Don’t Like Math

I don’t like math.  Yeah, I know.  A lot of people don’t like math.  I don’t know why other people don’t like it, but I know why I don’t.

It’s not because it’s hard, or confusing – though it certainly can be – but I lay the blame at the feet of my fourth-grade teacher.

Before I go any further, let me just say that I have nothing but respect for teachers.  They have a hard job to do and I don’t want to take away from that.  Heck, my sister, who’s retired now, was a teacher.  She was, in fact, a math teacher, and a very good one, not to mention that some of my classmates from high school became teachers.  Those brave souls all get a bow of veneration from me.

But sometimes, I think there are folk who aren’t as cut out for it as others, and the following is why I blame my fourth-grade teacher for my dislike of math.

I don’t know the order in which kids are taught things in elementary school now, but when I was there (back in the ancient days, as my daughter would say, just after they invented water) long division was learned in the fourth grade.

Now, up until the fourth grade, I pretty much liked math, or rather arithmetic, as that’s what it is at that stage.  There was no public kindergarten in our school system at that time, and my family was much too poor to pay for a private one, so my mother, along with teaching me my ABC’s and to read, long before I ever started first grade, also taught me to count to a hundred and how to write my numbers, and to do simple additions and subtractions, so I had no problems with arithmetic.  Until fourth grade.  And I didn’t really have a problem with it then, however, apparently my fourth-grade teacher thought I did, which subsequently made me think I did.

She went over the long division method, showed the class how to work such problems, and gave us a sheet with four problems to take home, to be turned in the next day.  I remember being excited about learning something new, and that night, I eagerly worked my problems the way I’d been taught in class.  I showed my work to my mother, and she went over it and gave me a big hug for having all four problems correct.  I was happy.

The next day, we turned in our homework, and the teacher said she would go over our papers and give them back to us after lunch.  I looked forward to that big “A” I knew was going to be on my paper.

I got an “F”.

I saw some of the other kids’ papers, and nobody had an “A” but I was the only one with an “F”.

Well.  It was all I could do to keep from crying, and I was ashamed to take it home to my mother because what that “F” meant to me was, not only did I not understand how to work long division, neither did my mother, and that was something I just couldn’t fathom because I’d thought my mother was the smartest person in the world.  How could she have been so wrong?  Getting an “F” in something that she’d declared to be correct skewed my view of her intellect, and I never again showed her any of my homework.

When my mother asked about it, I lied and told her I got an “A”.  She, of course wanted to see it, so I told another lie and said I dropped the paper and it went down a sewer opening (see – I was already on my way to being a fiction writer!  I actually tore the paper to shreds and tossed it into a trashcan).  Bless her heart, she believed me.  Sigh.

It never occurred to me to ask the teacher why she’d given me the bad grade because back then (it was the nineteen-fifties – right after dirt came into being) you didn’t question your teacher when she gave you an “F”.  Normally, the teacher would tell you why, but for whatever reason, in this case, she never did (and I was so hurt that I never mentioned to to anybody.  Hey, I was eight years old – it just never occurred to me that I should).  By the time I figured it out, it was much too late – by then, I didn’t like arithmetic.  Which, in later years, had segued into disliking math.

In fact, I never got a decent grade in arithmetic the whole fourth grade year because there was always at least one long division problem included in any classroom work or homework, and I refused to work any of those, not even in class.  My reasoning was that since I’d gotten all those wrong at the beginning, and the teacher kept showing us how to do them the same way, then I must not be very smart in arithmetic.

The only reason I passed fourth grade was because I did well in everything else.  Fourth grade was also when we began doing simple fractions, and oddly enough, I didn’t have a problem with those, and the teacher, for some reason, never questioned why I could do those but not long division problems.

By the next year, I finally began to work the long division problems but by then I didn’t like arithmetic, and always rushed through any of it as fast as I could.  I never regained the confidence I’d had in myself for being able to do arithmetic prior to being introduced to long division, so I never knew if what I was doing was correct, and I never had the courage to ask.  My arithmetic grades ranged from so-so to pretty good, depending on how much time I took to work the problems.  I had a preference for reading and writing and I did very well in Language Arts – I could diagram the mess out of a sentence, and conjugate any verb in existence.  And in later grades I did great in History, Civics, English, Literature, etc.  Math?  Nope.

I have to admit: getting all those long division problems wrong really bugged me, and I never forgot the incident.  But it was a long time before I finally figured out why my teacher gave me an “F” on that first homework paper.  It was simple: I was the only one who’d gotten every problem correct, so she’d assumed someone had worked them for me and that I’d simply copied them over to my paper (I remember thinking: sorry Mom, you really were smart!)

The only reason I made that leap to understanding was because one day, years later in high school, I was sitting in a geometry class, wishing I was anywhere else, and noticed a classmate was copying off someone’s paper (Heh, no, not mine, somebody a whole better at it than I was), and it was as if a circuit closed in my brain, and I knew what had happened all those years ago.  No, it didn’t make me suddenly fall in love with math, but I knew with certainty why I didn’t like it (and, I still don’t).

Not liking it doesn’t mean I didn’t learn.  What it meant was that I never learned any more of it than what I had to in order to pass a class, and promptly forgot it as soon as I didn’t need it anymore.

And, who knows, if it hadn’t been for my fourth grade teacher, I might’ve been a great mathematician, or scientist, or…nah.  Who am I kidding?…I like to write science fiction and fantasy too much for that.  Besides, after seventh grade, I hated school.

But that’s another story.

A Good Man Named Brodie

brodiepic2

Born: 3/31/1945

Died: 12/18/2014

My brother died on December 18th, 2014, nearly nine months ago.  You’d think I would’ve written something specific about him then, but at the time, I found myself only capable of generalizing words about him without having a meltdown, so I didn’t.  You might think I’d wait until the anniversary of his death, and perhaps I should.  However, now is when words have come – so here it is.

Brodie was a good man.

A good man…Exactly what does that phrase mean?

Well, he was a son, a husband, a father, an uncle, a grandfather, and a brother.  He loved his mother a great deal and was good to her, and he loved his brothers and sisters.  At his death, he had a significant other, a woman he’d lived with for years, about whom he cared an enormous amount.

For most of his working life he was a truck driver and a professional mover; but he also had other talents, some of which were perhaps not well known to others, such as the fact that in high school, he was quite a good athlete (he was quite popular, I wasn’t.  Heh, in fact, I was known around school as “Brodie’s sister” – which I didn’t mind).  He could draw and paint, and he loved to dance.  And, he sang: he was a fine baritone and tenor (these were things we had in common, except, of course, I didn’t sing baritone or tenor.  I sang second soprano and alto).

He was sometimes found to be not exactly angelic – to put it gently.  He drank too much, which, of course, often got him into trouble.  He was frequently stubborn, sometimes grumpy, and upon occasion, he didn’t behave the way folk thought he should.  He made mistakes, and in general, bumbled along as we all do.  And that was all right; humans aren’t perfect and Brodie was very much a product of the human condition.

He was the proverbial gentle giant of a man at six and a half feet tall, and children were crazy about him.  He was a “people person” and as such got along well with everybody; folk tended to like him – even when they were mad at him.   That was because he was a warm, loving, caring, sensitive man, one who’d go out of his way to help others, and it showed.  It showed in his eyes, in his demeanor, in the way he carried himself, in the way he interacted with people, and, it showed in the way people responded to him.

He lived his life the way he wanted, with a sense of humor leavened with great compassion, and in the end, his life was complete.  He was a good man.

He was my brother, and my friend, and I miss him.

The subject of the Confederate flag is one that’s full of controversy, and I don’t ordinarily expound on such topics, but there’s something I’ve always wondered: why does the battle flag of the losers of a war have such a hold on so many people?

What I’m going to say here won’t answer that question because I don’t know the answer.  I could speculate, but I won’t.  What I am going to do right now is to digress for a minute, just so I can tell you a little about myself.

I try to stay away from controversy because I’m not good at contending with it.  I tend to want to stay in my little niche, my own little corner of the world, and live my life as best I can.  I’m a “live and let live” kind of person.  My daughters sometimes accuse me of being a hermit, but I disagree with that particular assessment because I do, upon occasion, interact with other people.  I simply spend a lot of time by myself because of what I enjoy doing: my joy in life is writing.

I write because I can’t not do it so I guess you could say I am compelled to do it, and I’m black, so a lot of my characters are, also.  Having said that, I have to add that a lot of my characters are also white,  and some are other ethnicities.  After all, I live in a country made up of all sorts of folk so it would be kind of ridiculous to use only one brand of people in my writing. Then too, because I write fantasy and science fiction, some of my characters are silver, or some other color or shape altogether, because they’re not human.  Basically, my characters are whatever comes to my mind as I dream them up, and I’m an equal opportunity dreamer.

As I’ve said a few times to a few folk I know, “I ain’t deep.”  I’m not trying to influence anyone, or make them think, or change the world with what I write.  I leave that to the passionate people who feel that’s what they want to do, who feel that’s what they’re supposed to do, that have the temperament to get involved in that sort of thing.  All I try to do is tell a good story, and hope somebody reads it and is thereby entertained.

Okay.  I said all of that to say this: as a black woman who was born in the late forties, and grew up during the fifties and sixties, who lived through “Jim Crow” – segregated schools, buses, bathrooms, drinking fountains, restaurants, etc, and witnessed my share of racism and discrimination, I must say that the Confederate flag should, at long last, be permanently retired.

I don’t mean that it should be hidden away and forgotten, never to be seen or discussed again.  No, that’s not what should happen.  I heard a guy on TV say, in protest to the people that want to remove it from flying over the capital in South Carolina, that it is a part of Southern heritage, a part that shouldn’t be denied.

Yes, it is a part of the heritage of the South, all right, even of the United States of America’s since the South is a part of this country, and I’m not one to think heritage should be denied at all, but I wonder if he’s stopped to think about exactly what that heritage is.  He spoke as if he thinks that flag deserves a place of honor, as if it represents some sacred act that the South performed, something wonderful in the history of our country.

Now, I’m not a historian, and I was born eighty-two years after the end of the Civil War, so I only know the things I’ve heard about that era from stories told by the old folk in my family when I was a child, most of them second-hand from people whose parents or grandparents were slaves.  And of course, I learned things about that era in the history books at school (which tended to sort of white-wash it, so to speak, so I had to read between the lines and go reading on my own).  There was only one thing I learned that was really wonderful about the Civil War: the South didn’t win, which meant my parents weren’t born slaves and therefore, neither was I.

The man on the TV probably thinks the flag represents the fact that the South was fighting for state’s rights, and I suppose that technically, he’s right, but, the biggest right those states most wanted to retain was the one that allowed them to own other people.  They wanted to continue to do that, so they went to war.  I find nothing honorable about that.  The Confederate flag represents an era in the history of our country of which a big part was slavery and hate.  I’m sure he doesn’t think that’s what this flag is about, but it is.

Now, what a private citizen wants to do with the flag is his or her own business, but it should not be flying over public buildings – anywhere.  However, the flag shouldn’t be stuck somewhere and forgotten, either.

No, I think that the flag should be put in a museum, and displayed along with the manacles, the shackles, and the chains that represent some of the things the enslaved had to contend with.  The history of its place in the Civil War as a banner of encouragement for the folk who wanted to keep the manacles, shackles, and chains, should be written on a placard and placed in front of it so that it will show the exact heritage of that flag.

The image of it in all the history books should always contain the notation that it was the battle flag of the states that lost the war that they fought to retain people as slaves.

What this flag represents should never be forgotten.  Lest it be repeated.

Reflections

Well, a new year is here, and as I do every year at this time, I tend to get a little introspective.  I suppose everyone looks back over the past year remembering the good, the not-so-good, the neutral, making excuses for reneging on those resolutions made the year before, and goals met or unmet.  And I suppose that’s normal.

Among other things, I’ve been reflecting on my health.  One thing that has made me do this is the fact that on December eighteenth, my two-years-older-than-me brother died.  Yeah.  He was sixty-nine years old, and he died suddenly of a massive heart attack.  He’s already terribly missed.  This worked to put a real damper on the holidays.

Still, while it was a shock, I guess it shouldn’t have been totally unexpected since he was on blood thinners, which I understand he sometimes missed taking.  But, that’s life.  We are here for a while, then one day something comes along and takes us out.  It’s the natural order of things.

Makes me think, though.  My mother lived to be eighty-six before she died of liver cancer.  I had another brother to die in two thousand and two at the age of fifty-nine, of colon cancer, and after thinking about it, I realized a lot of my relatives die of either some sort of cancer, or of heart disease.  Another thing that’s making me think about health is that I managed to get the flu in spite of having gotten the shot back in October, so have been feeling pretty rotten.  Just points out that, sometimes, even when you do the right thing, it doesn’t work out.

So.  I had my first colonoscopy at the age of fifty, and because they always find polyps, and because my brother died of colon cancer, I have to get one every five years.  I am also a diabetic, which so far I’ve been able to control with diet and exercise, and I have high cholesterol, my blood pressure is creeping up, and lately I’ve been plagued with a “frozen shoulder” – which may not be fatal but is surely painful, especially the exercises my therapist has me doing, and let us not forget my shingles that keep recurring.  My eye doctor tells me I have cataracts – nothing has to be done about it, yet – and dry eye, for which I have drops.

I guess I have a lot of the creaks and complaints that come with aging, including the fact that my knees and fingers sometimes don’t work that well due to arthritis.  All things that indicate that I’m into the slide everyone does when going downhill.

Now, mostly, I can’t complain.  I have a lot to be thankful for.  Other than the aforementioned troubles, I’m otherwise healthy,  I have health insurance, a house in which to live, a car to drive (yeah, it’s ten years old but it runs!), clothes to wear, food to eat, and best of all, I have a family who loves me.  I just take whatever pill I need to take, or do the assigned exercises and try to eat as right as I can.

After all, nobody lives forever and this is a thought that doesn’t bother me.  It’s the way things are, and anyway, what would happen if the old didn’t move out the way for new people?  Think about the mess that would make.

But what all this says to me is that I need to type faster.  I have Word 2010 and a whole lot of stories still in my head. I want to get as many of them written down as I can before I go.

 

Almost

Almost

Did you ever think about the word, “almost”? My daughter and I were sitting out on the deck, shooting the breeze and vaping.  What’s vaping?  It’s a term used by smokers who’ve switched to e-cigarettes, which uses a process of vaporizing liquids containing a nicotine extract, instead of actual tobacco.  So it’s “vaping” instead of “smoking”.

Don’t ask me if it’s better for you; I don’t know.  I’ve only been doing it for about a month.  I have to admit, though, that I breathe a bit easier, so I guess that’s something.  I hope to be able to quit smoking or vaping one day, but, I digress; that’s another whole post, and not what this one is about.

My daughter and I got to talking about the word “almost”, and thinking of some of the “almosts” that sometimes happen.  I have to give it to my daughter – she thought of some I never would have.  Our thoughts on it were set off by the phrase “almost won” which I think she’d just heard in reference to a basketball game.

Almost won?” she scoffed.  “Doesn’t that mean they lost?  That’s like saying “I almost got away from the cops after robbing that bank”!

Hmm, thought I, she does have a point.  “Give me some more examples of situations that didn’t quite cut it, that almost got there but didn’t.” She was happy to oblige.  And throwing reasons in with some of them, too.

Almost passed – as in, “Well, I almost passed that geometry class.  Would’ve, too, if I’d bothered to study.”

Almost missed the bus – “I would’ve missed it, if it hadn’t stopped short right in front of me!  Darn thing made me crush my front bumper.  Just because I was answering a text message and didn’t see it right off…”

Almost got the job – “I would’ve had that job but I was a little bit late for the interview, and then my phone rang right in the middle of it, so I had to answer it, right?”

Hmm, those are a bit negative, huh?  Let’s look at a few that have more positive connotations.

Almost dated him – “Hey! That guy in the mug shot on the news for holding up the convenience store? I almost went out with him but I couldn’t get my car to start so I had to call and cancel, and he never called me again!  Thank God!”

Almost fell – “Whoops! Whew! I almost fell! It’s a good thing you had my hand! That sure was a huge pile of dog s***!  I would’ve landed face first!”

Almost had  – “Wow!  Look at that report on E. coli in the salad at that restaurant I ate at the other day, I almost had that for lunch!”

And, of course, there are many, many more: almost lost it, almost as good, almost persuaded, almost cried, almost laughed, almost ready, almost shot him (don’t ask), almost left, almost took a trip, almost wrote a book (my favorite!) just to name a few.  There were some we came up with that aren’t fit to post here – well, I almost posted some but changed my mind.

If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, and hoping I’m finally getting to the point, okay, here it is: Some things you’ll be happy that only “almost” happened (see above for “almost dated” – or shot!).  However, there are going to be at least a few that you don’t want to reach the end of your life and look back and say “If only” about.

The past can’t be changed, so some of those “almosts” are gone, but for others, it’s not too late, and new ones will crop up, so go ahead, check into that new job you’ve been thinking about (but make sure you’re on time for the interview, and for goodness sakes, turn off that cell phone!),  take that trip you almost went on fifteen years ago (but got talked out of by your friend who couldn’t go with you at the time so you kept putting it off and one day your friend went – without you!), or write that book you’ve had in your head but you were too busy (or too afraid) to get started on.  Whatever it was you almost did, but for some reason didn’t, get going.   Can’t hurt, might work.

Now, when I’m gone, hope I don’t find I’ve almost hit Heaven…

 

Hummingbirds…

Today I finally managed to get my hummingbird feeders refilled. I haven’t been feeling well for a few weeks and the daughter who helps with keeping the feeders filled is in Massachusetts visiting her brother at the moment. But, I felt pretty good today so I made up a batch of nectar and filled the containers which have been empty for about a week.

I’m not a “birder” so I don’t know much about hummingbirds (though I have looked up information about them: see this article and this one about making nectar) Heck, I never even saw many of them when I lived in the center of the city.

When we moved here to a suburban neighborhood seven years ago, we planted hibiscuses in large pots and put them on the deck. I was thrilled to see a whole bunch of hummingbirds show up to feed when the plants bloomed (I found out the ones around here are called ruby-throats). I was absolutely astonished to see one land on a flower stem one day. Heh, it hadn’t occurred to me that they ever landed. Then we planted the hibiscuses at the bottom of the yard, and I could no longer see the wonderful creatures feed, so I went down to the local hardware/gardening store and bought a feeder and a bottle of nectar (I no longer buy nectar as it’s very easy to make).

At that time, I learned the tiny birds have to eat more than their weight each day to survive so I went back a few days later and bought another one, and have always kept them filled since then, starting in the spring when the first ones show up until the fall when the last one leaves.

It has been a real pleasure to watch the little things feed, so I was bummed when I was too sick to refill the feeders. They still had the flowers around the yard but at those distances, I couldn’t see them.  Besides, the feeders are a easy source of food for them.

But, today, I’m happy. As soon as I got the feeders filled and back out hanging over the edges of the deck, my little friends started showing up, and, as usual, engaging in little hummingbird wars. They jockey for position at the feeders, running each other off, facing off while hovering in the air twittering excitedly at each other. They do this at both feeders as they strive to hog both. Every once in a while, one would zip across the deck, and hover in front of me with what I could have sworn was an indignant look its eyes, as if to ask why was I there.

I was wishing I could find my little digital camera to get a snap-shot or two, or at least knew how to work the one on my cell ‘phone, but alas, I didn’t feel like trying to remember what I did with it or hunt for the camera, and I’ve never learned to work the one on the cell (haven’t wanted to.  I feel that it’s a ‘phone, darn it, and why should I have to take pictures with it?). After a while, I got out of their way and went into the kitchen to watch them through the door.  I didn’t want to keep interrupting their feeding – or their battles.

I did a watercolor of a hummingbird a while back for my daughter, and as soon as I get around to it, I’ll scan it into my computer so I can post it on here. But for now, I’m just glad to be able to, once again, provide food for them, and to watch them going about living their fast little lives. They always brighten up my day.

Ramblings on Being Profiled…

I’m sure that just about anyone who is black has had the experience of being followed around a department store while shopping, and/or being ignored when trying to find something or trying to get a price.  This has happened not only to males, but to females, too. Of course, nowadays, it doesn’t seem to happen as often as it did when I was a child.

I was a child during the nineteen fifties (back when we were “colored”), and sometimes my mother would take me with her when going out to shop or pay bills.  We were always watched when going into stores, and I remember the time we went out to pay utility bills one day (yeah, in those days we walked to do this because she had to pay in cash or money orders, and by the time she’d gotten to somewhere that sold money orders, she figured she might as well go the few extra blocks to the water department and power building.  Saved on those two or three cent stamps).  On the way back from taking care of those, we stopped at a dress shop where she had some clothes on lay-a-way, to make a payment. The year was about nineteen fifty-three and I was around six years old.

She made her payment at the service desk, grabbed my hand to leave the store, and we headed for the door. On the way, something caught her eye on a rack, and she paused for moment to look, then we continued on our way.  Or we tried to.

We’d gotten a few steps when we were accosted by a big, burly white man who, very roughly, asked my mother what had she put into her purse.  I’m sure that she was surprised by this but my mother, who was a very meek person, answered in her soft voice that she’d put nothing in her purse and she clasped my hand, tightly.

Well, this man didn’t believe her and refused to let us pass, demanding that she open her purse so he could check. He insisted he’d seen her take something off the rack and was extremely loud with his accusation.  By now, a female salesperson had walked up and was listening. This white lady, who’d seen my mother come into the shop for years, watched her go to the service desk numerous times to pay on her lay-a-ways, and knew my mother’s name, grabbed my mother’s purse and opened it up, of course finding nothing that shouldn’t have been there.

Since there was nothing in her purse that belonged to the store, the man insisted the woman take my mother to the dressing room and have her remove her clothing since “she must have stuck it under her dress”.  My mother went with the woman, but she was humiliated.  She was an honest, hardworking, church-going woman who taught her children not to steal, cheat, or lie, and tears began to roll down her cheeks. This frightened me as I’d never seen my mother cry, so I began to sniffle, and I tried to follow her but was not allowed.  She told me to wait and be quiet.  The man pulled me back and held me by gathering the material in the back of my dress and holding on to me that way (I guess he couldn’t hold my hand because the black might have come off and soiled his hand).

Of course, as my mother disappeared into the room with the woman, being the (dis)obedient child I was, I squirmed like crazy to get away from the man and began to bawl at the top of my lungs, which caused the man to curse and call me some very bad names (I didn’t know what his words meant at the time, but he was loud enough for my mother to hear, and though she told me later when I asked what they meant that they didn’t mean anything, years later when I was much older, I still remembered the words and knew what they meant).  Fortunately for me and my mother, all this noise attracted the attention of the foot cop who was passing by the shop at the time and he came in to see who was killing a kid.

There were no black policemen in my (southern) city at that time and, unless you were committing a crime (or construed as committing one), and you were black and a kid, you were generally ignored.  This cop, however, upon learning that I was screaming because I’d been separated from my mother who had been taken to another room to be searched, immediately demanded that the man turn me loose, and insisted my mother be brought back and released.  By then, the search was over anyway – with nothing having been found, of course. At least the cop was an honest and fair one.  As I recall, he had harsh words for the man (I never knew who he was; could have been some kind of security guard, I suppose, or maybe he owned the shop.  Don’t know) and the saleslady.  Needless to say, my mother never went into that shop again. I learned later that she sent my aunt in to get her things out of lay-a-way.  Back then, law-suit never entered most blacks’ heads so that was the end of it.

You might say that for the times and the place, what happened was not unusual since that was still in the days of Jim Crow.  Except, of course, at the time I did not understand. Took some time before I did and even then I never actually understood  until I was grown, and I never accepted it.  Over the years, I’ve been followed in stores, watched but ignored when it came to finding what I needed, and asked constantly if I “need help” with something, even after I’ve smiled and said “no” numerous times.  Now, I can’t say all of it is because I’m black, and truthfully, such incidents have become much less in recent years (or less obvious), but still, they happen.  Even to an old(er) black woman.

When I was raising my children during the seventies and eighties, it was still quite common to be tailed in a store when all you were doing was trying to find the aisle where they kept the socks so you could replace the tatty ones your kids’ toes ate.  Very annoying, but even then you just seethed and kept going.  Once, during the nineties, I went to buy a car and was ignored so badly, I left and went somewhere else.  Guess I didn’t look as if I could afford one to those particular people, though why the heck else would I be standing in a dealer’s showroom looking at sticker prices?  Must admit that particular one hasn’t happened again.

Still, during the nineties,  I did have to leave a computer store when I went shopping for my first desk-top, due to a lack of interest in my questions – and, apparently, my money.  I had finally gotten the reluctant attention of one of the numerous salesmen on the floor when a (white) guy walked up and the salesman immediately dropped me like a hot rock to go wait on him.   Bought one somewhere else where they didn’t seem to mind my color, answered all my questions and didn’t leave me to go wait on someone else.   They seemed to like me and ever after that, would always help me with questions or buying computer accessories when I went back.  Or, it could have been the fifteen hundred dollars I left with them in exchange for the computer.   But they were nice and helpful.  At any rate, haven’t had that kind of problem since, either.

When he was a teenager, my son got a job and bought a car.  Nothing fancy, a Ford Escort, but he got stopped by cops with great regularity and asked to assume the position while they searched him and his car and any male passengers he had with him when all he’d been doing was driving down the street at the correct speed.  The explanation was that there was some thugs going around committing crimes who had a preference for that type of car, so every black male seen driving one was pulled over. There was no explanation of why he got pulled over when driving my car which was not a Ford Escort.

Since I wore my hair very short at that time (as I’ve recently gone back to doing), I was even pulled over a few time while driving his car, though once I was seen to be an older black female, they never asked me to lie down in the street with my arms and legs spread or searched the car.  And, my daughter, who’d bought a Mustang, got pulled over, too, for no obvious reason that we were ever able to see.

I warned my son – and his cousins who rode with him from time to time – to always be cooperative so as not to get shot.  Warned my daughters, too, just in case.  In fact, I gave them all kinds of what might be taken to be odd warnings, to try to keep them safe, such as certain clothing not to wear, cultivating a neutral but pleasant expression, not getting into an elevator alone with a white person especially a female (that one was mostly for my son), and various other such items.   Sad that I had to do that but I didn’t want them in jail for no reason – or dead.  After all, I couldn’t tell them not to be black.

It’s a pity that even now, you have to be careful if walking, driving, shopping, or doing just about anything, while black.  But I am not surprised.

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