Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Birthday U.S.A. and Grandmama

My beloved Grandmama would have celebrated her 95th birthday today. Never was there nor never shall there ever be a dandier Yankee Doodle Gal.

I was practically grown before I realized that not everyone celebrating the 4th of July had my grandmother in mind. I always thought it was grand that her day was marked with cookouts for the extended family, fireworks, badminton and volleyball in the backyard, kids in the wading pool and a big birthday cake for the birthday girl. What a way to spend a birthday! Over the past 4 years, the 4th hasn't seemed quite right. We can go see the fireworks, cook out and all that, but it somehow seems incomplete without the cake and the presents. And these presents always had to include something like a stuffed animal that played "Stars and Stripes Forever" while wearing an Uncle Sam hat and carrying a flag.

My two favorite memories of 4th's with her: 1). We spent the 4th at the cabin one year and my sister and I baked her cake and decorated it. It was gorgeous. We went outside for a couple of hours and everyone came back in for cake. We were greeted by a cake which had inexplicably completely collapsed. Forevermore, that cake will be known as The Earthquake Cake™. 2). In the early 90's, we took my grandparents up through Yellowstone, Glacier and into Banff, Alberta. We had spent many an Independence Day on vacations with them, so we had celebrated the 4th in all kinds of places. That year, we happened to be outside of Calgary on Independence Day. Grandmama was irritated that there wasn't a fireworks display or any kind of 4th of July celebration. When we reminded her that the British were on the opposite side of the war, she replied that she didn't care, they could still celebrate the 4th of July.

That was my Grandmama in a nutshell - everyone was an American, wherever they hailed from; everyone was part of this great experiment. To my grandmother, America wasn't just a geographical place, it was an ideal where the best of humanity came together in pursuit of an ideal of justice, equality and an unquenchable human spirit of generosity, with the hope of that spirit catching on worldwide. My grandmother loved her country mightily, though she recognized its flaws and its quirks. She loved it like a family member that's screwed up royally; she recognized that it had made colossal mistakes, but she still loved the promise it held and the ideals it held sacred. She didn't endorse its mistakes and she didn't act as though they were ok to make, but she realized that the US (like the individuals within) was bigger and better than its worst mistake. She never let her affection for her friends and family be lessened by bad choices; neither would she lessen her affection for her country because of its imperfections.

I think the US has made a number of misteps over the past few years and yes, it makes me angry. It makes me angrier, though, when I hear of people who speak of being ashamed of their country because of errors of judgment or people who state that they want to leave because of turns it has taken in recent years. I saw a sticker on a car the other day that said "These colors don't run" and presumably, it was a conservative person with that sentiment. But shouldn't we who are more moderate and liberal take up the same banner? Why hang heads in shame and wring hands over what are considered to be atrocities toward the constitutional ideals of the U.S.? Why run? Why not take up the banner and run with it ourselves? Moping and talking-headism won't accomplish anything. As long as one side takes action and the other side talks about the action they could take whilst moaning and groaning about the wayward path of our country, the first side is going to come out on top. The forefathers of our country didn't just talk about doing anything; they did it. They took action and chose strong leaders for their ideals. When will we do the same?

There has to be a way to reframe the debate from "We love the U.S. and you don't" from both sides to one where we both acknowledge that both sides love this country, but that we come at the issues from different ways. Both sides of the aisle are equally guilty of painting the other side as "un-American" and both sides are wrong. As long as both sides are loaded for bear with each other in the way they have been, all they'll do is to continue to rip at the fabric that is the U.S. Do we really love our country if we can only say we love it when things are going our way? Do we only love our kids when they're living their lives as we would have them live them?

My grandmother used to be irritated over the flag etiquette that said the flag was to be brought inside in bad weather. Her sentiment was that "The U.S. flag isn't a fair-weather flag". Just like she wasn't a fair-weather fan of the Cardinals, she wasn't a fair-weather fan of the United States. She loved it on its brightest days and its darkest, but no matter what, she loved her country - just as she loved her family. She loved it through a depression that sent her and her family across the U.S. to California to a hopefully better life. She loved it through a World War that took her husband away for 4 years and took her brother to a German P.O.W. camp. She loved it through the Viet Nam conflict which took her nephew's life and through the shame of Watergate. She loved it through its highs and lows. She loved it when her candidate was in office and when he was not. She was a woman who, even when she despised the values of the person in office, referred to the President as The President, not by a nickname, a childish name or by his last name. She taught us that even the most undesireable person in office deserved to be treated with the respect of the office, even when you were trying to get them out of that office.

She was a good old-fashioned God, Mom and Apple-pie Democrat. She loved her country no matter what happened. She wasn't always happy with it and she wasn't always proud of the actions of its officials, but she always fiercely loved her country. As do I. I fiercely love my country, though I recognize it has flaws. This shouldn't be unexpected as it's run by humans who are all too flawed. James Madison said, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary". As surely as we recognize that men are not angels, we must recognize that those who govern are also not angels. I can no more stop loving my country because of its mistakes than I could stop loving my daughter because of her errors. As we tell kids that we learn more from the mistakes than we do the ones we get correct, our country works the same way. We learn more when there are bumps in the road than we do when we're coasting.

Heck, yes, the U.S. has made mistakes. We also have a lot to be proud of . This experiment in representative democracy is 230 years old and has been under the same constitution for 219 years. That's a lot to be proud of. We have paved the way for other democracies and we have been at the forefront of human rights and the recognition of those rights for centuries. Sure, there will be wayward steps and wayward ideologies along the way. We've made mistakes along the way and we've corrected some of them. After all, men are not angels.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Tears of a Memphis Mama

They flow freely this week as the city becomes more deadly by the minute. As we approach the 100th murder of the year, we mourn the lives lost and families shattered. For a moment, I thought of lost innocence, but then realized that children living in such an environment never have the luxury of innocence.

Thirteen-year-old Melissa Robinson was shot in the head and killed Monday in a dispute over which neighborhood was better than the other. The 19 year old woman who shot her brought along her mother, bearing a baseball bat, for the killing. Somehow, I think this is not what proponents of parent-child bonding had in mind. On the same day, five-year-old Jada Perkins riding in her family's van wasshot by a man who approached the vehicle. Interviewed a day later, she wasn't even fazed about the incident. She showed off her seven stitches and said that the gunshot didn't even hurt. What have we as a society allowed to happen when a child isn't even stunned by being shot?

Martez Henderson, an eleven-year-old Memphian, intended to spend last Thursday evening on the playground slide at his sister's apartment complex. He was having a special sleep-over. As he ran to the slide, he was hit by three bullets - twice in the heart, once in the lungs. He died on the way to the hospital. His four-year-old nephew was also shot in the arm. Fortunately, he will be fine physically, though one has to wonder what scars this will leave on the inside. Or have these children seen and experienced so much violece that it doesn't even stand out to them anymore?

Jermaine Young, 17, was killed last week as well, in broad daylight. In a sad commentary on the violence that is engulfing my city, his story barely garnered a story in the newspaper. It's nothing new for a young person to be killed here, particularly if they live in Memphis proper. It's an accepted reality; teenagers are the collateral damage of a deteriorating inner city.

Just two months ago, two-year-old Jakira Lewis was shot in front of her housing complex in downtown Memphis, the victim of a drive-by shooting. Her mother was holding her when the shooting happened. It's impossible to fathom the horror of cradling your child one minute, only to have them gunned down the next. No mother should have to bury her toddler because it's been shot.

Not only do we mourn the losses of these individuals, but we mourn the lingering death of a community. It's been a long time coming. For years, our crime rate has been among the worst in the country. For years, it's been commonly accepted that the top of the news hour will be covered with murders, rapes and other senseless violence. For a long time, we have accepted that the inner-city would be full of such trouble. However, the violence is starting to leave the beltway and enter suburbia. In the community where I worship, shop and take my child to school, twice in the past week people have been robbed at gunpoint, one being pistol-whipped. In broad daylight. Gangs are active in suburban schools, schools where the kids drive brand new cars, wearing the latest fashions bought for them by parents owning McMansions and in-ground swimming pools. This particular group isn't full of kids who can use the excuse of having to do whatever they can to survive. These are kids who have it all already and want more.

I wish I could feel surprised at this turn of events, but all I can muster is outrage and frustration. Memphians have become complacent because other than raising our own children to be responsible, life-respecting individuals, there's little we can do as citizens. I can raise my child to be a good person who values the life and property of others. I can't make other people raise theirs to be such. I need other people to do their share in making sure that the kids for whom they're responsible turn out to be decent people who respect others and themselves. All I can do is pray - for my community, for other parents, for the adults in their lives and for the kids out there - both those who'll take the wrong path and those who'll be their victims.

Is it any wonder that people are leaving Memphis in droves? Most leave for adjacent states and out into rural areas, coming into Memphis to earn a paycheck and then spend it in their home community. Then there are others, like me, who are about to decide we're fed up with all of it and considering moving completely away from all of it. Away to cities where the top stories today were of councilmen pointing their fingers at each other and fussing in a coffee shop in Cheyenne. The Billings newspaper with the headline story of whether the fireworks sold in Walmart are legal or not looks pretty appealing as well.

The city is full of tears now - for fallen children, for kids who've taken the wrong, irreversible turn and for our city itself. It's a sad certainty that many of those tears will be shed while seeing Memphis in our rear-view mirrors, but better the tears over my city, than over my girl.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Brush with communal disaster.

I went to church this morning. Normally, this isn't cause for alarm or celebration. It just is something that is. Today, though, held the promise of disaster as certain as that of a volcanic eruption in Yellowstone. No, the pastor didn't step on my toes. However, The Tall™ family did sit in front of me. I swear, I don't care where I sit in church, Mr. and Mrs. Tall and the Tall children sit right in front of me. Consequently, I'm known as The Lady Who Tilts Her Head To See™.

So, today, there I sit with my head on my right shoulder so I can see something besides Mrs. Tall's beautifully highlighted hair. All's fine. In fact, I think I have quite the break when people put on a skit. Hurray! I can sit up for a while! (Skits in church bug me!). Eventually, the songs have been sung, the sermon preached (why isn't that"praught" if the past tense of "teach" is taught?) and we're almost cleared for the exit. Then there's the reminder that it's Communion Sunday. Ok, that's fine - nothing to ruin my day there.

Then the minister says we'll be doing Communion differently today. Instead of taking it by intinction at stations, we'll be taking it at our seat and passing the bread and the juice to the next person. I begin to tremble a bit as I see that there are approximately 10 seats between me and the next person. The cleaning people have inexplicably put all the rows close together, so there's no way to actually walk down the aisle between the rows. Rather, this will require some sort of sideways scoot to make the way down there to the next person. Immediately, I am filled with terror! Why? It's a dark, dark secret that's poorly kept in the "real world". One that could spell disaster during a Holy sacrament.

I'm a klutz, a bona fide klutz. As I realize I'll have to do a sideways scoot handling a crystal plate holding communion wafers as well as a half-full goblet of grape juice, I'm struck with fear. It doubles when I realize that Tall™ Son in front of me is wearing a white shirt. I'm immediately confronted with images of a heavily starched white Polo shirt covered in grape juice stains. I sense a Lucy Ricardo moment coming on. I begin to wonder if it's too late for me to convert to some non-communion taking faith. My confidence is not helped when Mr. Blue looks at me with fear, knowing that the likelihood of a spill is greater than the likelihood of Britney Spears doing something stupid again. I give The Look™ to Mr. Blue. I then catch myself counting how many rows back we are (and, not coincidentally, my quickest escape route). I determine we're about 9 rows back, so the odds are that a good bit of the juice will be gone before it gets to me. I start to feel better knowing that the less juice there is, the less likely I am to soak poor Tall Son in juice.

Moments later, I began to fear I had somehow made God mad. The minister was approaching the other end of our row with a new goblet and new plate of wafers to make the communion serving go more quickly. I am paralyzed with fear. There is no half goblet of juice for me to spill. Oh no, I'll have a whole one. The lady who is the person to pass it to me never leaves her seat. She sits there and waits for me to walk the length of the row in a sideways scoot to get the goblet and wafers. I have prayed many a time at the altar during Holy Communion, but let me tell you, I have never prayed as hard as I did today. With every sideways step, the juice sloshed back and forth. The ten seats became ten miles. Finally, I made it to my destination without a spill and Tall Son managed to maintain a beautiful white shirt. Most fantastically, somehow nobody other than Mr. Blue recognized my panic. Never before have I been so happy for the row behind me to take their Communion.

Afterwards, Mr. Blue looked at me and said "I just knew today was going to go down in history as the second time Christ's blood was spilt".

It's a good thing I love the twerp; otherwise, I'd have to deck him.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Where can I buy a set of wings?

The other day I was doing my usual - thinking deep thoughts while mowing the yard. Don't laugh. What else am I to do while mowing the yard? Practice quadratic equations? This is what I do while mowing - ponder my life, solve my problems and pretend the blades are going over the head of someone who has really hacked me off. So on this hot day, to the loud rumble of the mower mixed with the melodious sounds of my sneezes, I pondered deep things.

Other than a few weeks per year on vacation, I've been here in this city since the day I was born. That's almost 39 years of familiarity starting to breed contempt. My family settled this city about 200 years ago. Had they not been so generous giving away land in the 1800's, I might well have been a rich person owning the most valuable land in town,but I'll try to let go of that grudge against my ancestors. The point is that my family doesn't move. Ever. Our feet might as well be super-glued to the Memphis soil. There have been a few adventurers in my family. My grandmother, her parents and her 6 siblings drove to California and moved there for a few years, but they came back. The important thing though is that they had the gumption to go somewhere else. My granddad spent several years in Europe and Africa, but that trip was courtesy of the United States Navy. Anyway, as I mowed and sneezed, I pondered that we were just well-rooted here. This is where we belong, no matter how much we may despise it, no matter how much our dreams would move us elsewhere, we're just rooted here like an old oak tree.

Mr. Blue is another matter altogether. His 10 years here amount to the longest he's ever been anywhere. All of his life, he's moved around from place to place. He gets itchy when he sits in one place to long. In short, Mr. Blue has not only a nice set of wings, he has twitchy wings. They can't be rested without his getting antsy. Mr. Blue has been looking around for other jobs in other places lately because he wants to get out. He has good reason. The crime here is horrible; the schools are worse and corruption is rampant. And he doesn't only want to get away from these things, he wants to go toward better things. He wants to chase dreams and follow his heart. How can I catch some of this?

So as I finish up the front yard and head to the back yard to mow, I'm struck with two thoughts: 1. We have to do something about that sweet gum tree before the sweet gum balls kill me; 2. Which do we give our little lady Blue? Roots or Wings? Do we stay here to be around family and all that she loves? Do we move elsewhere so she can learn to be free and learn to follow her spirit? Do we do what our hearts tell us and hope that our hearts agree and that they lead us to what is best for her? How do we choose?

I wish I had wings myself. My parents, God love them, were never particularly good at helping us grow wings, though they gave us wonderfully deep roots and all the love and stability that includes. How do I give my little ladybug wings when I'm not comfortable using mine?

As I continued to be assaulted by sweet gum balls flung at me, I noticed something about that tree. It has very deep roots, but those roots are killing out everything around it. The roots have taken over everything. I couldn't help but think that I've been so well-rooted all of my life that I'm having a hard time being able to get up off the ground now. I know in my heart and my head that I won't have one regret in not being in this town anymore, but if we don't give this dream-following business a shot, we'll regret it the rest of our lives.

So, I suppose I know the answer to this conundrum. I want my Ladybug to live in a place where she can play outside without the constant fear that she'll be taken; I want her to be able to go to her neighborhood school; I want her to grow up with wide open spaces all around her. None of that can be found if we push those roots any deeper.

So now I have two things to find: 1. A pair of functional wings and 2. A yard-guy who can protect me from all this thinking.

Return from automated hell.

I am alive and breathing. Everyone can take a deep breath and relax now. Feel free to go back to your daily life which was neglected as you wondered where I've been.

I've been to automated hell and back. I have enjoyed the warmth of approximately 87,000 emails back and forth trying to get my password and such straightened out. Finally, I think it is. I hope. Dealing with automated email replies instead of actual humans frustrates the hayell out of me. Is it too much to ask for an actual person to actually be there?

This has been almost as infuriating as automated sales calls that ask me to hold while a salesperson comes to the line. They called me; Why would I hold for them? Do they think it's the highlight of my life to wait for them to get on the line and try to sell me aluminum siding? The "Do not call" list sounded like a dandy idea in the beginning. Unfortunately, the exception to that list came into play - the one that says that if you've ever done business with them, they can continue to call you. So because I bought a storm door from these people in 2001, they can call me and irritate me for the rest of my life. My biggest question is why do people want to waste the time trying to sell you something you've already told them umpteen times that you won't buy?

Finally, what is with the do-it-yourself grocery checkouts? Supposedly they are faster. I'm not sure how this is, though, when every other item brings up on the screen the dreaded words - "Please wait for cashier assistance." You can count on your highlights growing out exposing your gray hairs as you wait. The store hires fewer cashiers, fewer baggers and saves loads of money but do they offer you a discount for checking out and bagging your own groceries? Of course not. If I'm going to have to give a fatted calf to buy my groceries, I can guarantee you I'm going to let them do the work. If they start giving out free Oreos, then I'll reconsider.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Vocabulary lesson #1

The money you receive from the IRS at this time of the year is not your return. It is your refund. If you receive a return in the mail, it means you have either filled out your forms and mailed them to yourself instead of the IRS or someone else has mailed you your paperwork. Either way, you have a problem as that return will not help you pay for your vacation to the Bahamas. You fill out your tax return. You cash your refund.

The War on Terror. Oh please, for the love of Pete. The word is terrorism. Terrorism. Not terror. Not Tara. If we have a war on terror, that means that we are fighting a war on scary roller coasters, horror flicks, bad hot wings, mean mothers-in-law and bad haircolor jobs. Now if the powers that be are actually wishing to fight a war against these things, then by all means, get on with it. Also, there is some reference to what sounds like a war on Tara. Newflash: The Yankees already tried to fight a war on Tara. Tara made it through just fine. It might also be helpful to them to know that Tara was a fictional house and therefore that could explain their problems in eradicating it. However, if the powers that be are fighting a war against those who use force or violence to try to advance a cause which is ideological, religious or political in nature outside of the accepted norms of warfare, then they are indeed fighting a war on terrorism. Terrorism. It's a perfectly legitimate word. Embrace it; be one with the language you supposedly hold as your native tongue. It's only one more syllable. Surely, you can get the whole word out. It's pitiful enough that the administration uses this terminology, but the fact that the national media have been rendered inarticulate as evidenced by their using the wrong word is just atrocious.

And don't even get me started on imply and infer.

I'm it!

I've been tagged by the Space Age Housewife.

Four jobs I've had:

  • Political Science instructor
  • Educational Psychology researcher
  • Substitute teacher
  • Freelance technical writer

Four movies I could watch over and over:

  • Gone With The Wind
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Breakfast Club

Four places I've lived (now this one is difficult for me):

  • Memphis, TN
  • Memphis, TN
  • Cordova, TN
  • Bartlett, TN

Four TV shows I love:

  • M*A*S*H
  • Northern Exposure
  • American Idol
  • The Amazing Race
Four places I've vacationed:
  • Yellowstone and vicinity
  • Banff, Alberta
  • The Outer Banks
  • Estes Park and vicinity

My four favorite dishes:

  • My homemade lasagna
  • My grandmother's fried chicken
  • My mom's tomato gravy round steak with onions and bell peppers
  • Grilled shrimp

Four Websites I visit daily:

Four Places I'd rather be:

People I'm tagging:

Thursday, February 02, 2006

For now .........the end of it.

Well, it happened. My parents accepted an offer on my grandparents' house today. I'm happy for them. Truly, I am. After a year of settling the estate of my grandparents, they can finally see the end of all of it.

The end of all of it. And that, my friends, is the hardest pill to swallow. There are 38 years of memories wrapped up in that house for me. A little freckle-faced girl picking the buttercups out of the front flower-bed to take to my grandmother. Standing behind my granddad's recliner playing "beauty shop" and washing his hair with "strawberry" shampoo to be followed by "chocolate" conditioner. Walking in to smells of the world's best fried chicken, fried fish, fudge. Oh heck, whatever she cooked, it was the best ever made and will never be beaten. Sleepovers every weekend in my own room - the one with the window unit air conditioner blaring even though the central air worked just fine. Just because I loved it that way. Just because. Sleeping on a pallet beside my grandparents' bed and kicking the handles on the dresser all night just to hear them clink. The attic full of treasures and history. The smell of old cedar on 50 year old newspapers. Watching The Guiding Light in the den with Grandmama. First day of school pictures on the front porch after going over to show them our new outfits. Cutting roses off the bush outside the kitchen window to take to teachers. The first camellia of the year. The end of school parties. Learning to roller-skate down their long drive. A teenager talking for hours to my grandmother because she was the one who "got" me. Sitting down over breakfast arguing with my granddad because he was my best sparring partner. Solving the world's problems over a coke and some french fries with him. Backyard bbq's on my grandmother's birthday - the fourth of July. Decorating the Christmas tree under the most loving guidance. My safe place I could always go to when things got to crazy for my adolescent angst-filled world. My second-home. The only home I still have that's been mine all of my life. For years, I've come and gone as I pleased, letting myself in. Bringing my baby girl in that wonderful house for the first time. Watching her run across the yard, excited to be seeing Double Gran and Gran-Gran. Christmases. New Years. Family birthdays. Best of all - the "no occasion for being here" occasions. The last time I saw and kissed Granddaddy a year ago. The last time I saw and kissed my Grandmama goodbye over 3 years ago. The last time.

In a month, I'll go in there for the last time. In a month, those memories will no longer have a home. Someone else will park their memories there. Someone else will run through that yard. Someone else will fill the kitchen with (hopefully wonderful) smells. Someone else will have their own set of firsts and lasts in that house.

But for now, it's still mine. For now, they're still here. For a while, I can still call it "Grandmama and Granddaddy's" house.

For now. And in a month, that'll be the end of it. It's where their story will end.

For now, I'll let myself cry and mope. But when that door is closed that one last time, that'll be the end of it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What's a girl like me doing in a place like this?

Now, what in the heck am I doing with a blog? Beats me! I visited a friend's blog and was ready to wish her little boy birthday greetings when I was presented with the choice of signing up to have a blog just to do this. Now, I could have emailed her. I could have called her. I could have sent a heart-felt note on actual paper. (I think there are still a few people that still do this!) But I was sucked in. I'd say sucked in kicking and screaming, but why lie? My muse has taken a bit of a sabbatical and maybe this will lure her back. Maybe it'll give Mr Blue a break from my ramblings. Maybe it'll make me realize I should do something to which I'm more suited - like nuclear physics.

But at least I'm putting pen to paper, so to speak, so that can't be wrong. And again, the same friend that led my thoughts to paper two years ago has done it with no way of knowing she had.

Maybe those are the best kinds of friends to have - the ones who can influence you without even knowing they have.

And before I ramble away and miss the whole point of all of this - Happy Birthday sweet spaceage boy!