Posted in Seeing Race and Racism

Seeing Race and Racism #2 “A Fiery Night in Georgia”

A blog category looking at a topic we white folks usually don’t like to talk about.

I SO wish all my childhood memories were fond and happy. They should be, right? Some of mine, many of mine, maybe most of mine are joyful. Going into the woods to pick out and chop down our Christmas tree. Such fun. Summer vacations at a tiny, inexpensive motel at Jacksonville Beach. Neighborhood fish fries after softball games. I could go on.

But, if truth be told, not all of my early childhood memories are so happy.

I remember cowering under my bed, after watching The Wizard of Oz, thinking that those flying monkeys were absolutely horrendous. And might be up in the skies outside my window.

I remember purposefully and loudly falling off my bed as a little kid when I would hear my parents fighting in their nearby bedroom. I sometimes pretended to sleepwalk for the same reason.

But one of my most harrowing early memories is an uglier, impossible-to-understand one, a darker one, even though it involves such unforgettable hot and fiery light.

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I am a skinny, freckled, awkwardly sensitive little kid in hand-me-down shorts. My parents, four brothers and I live in a crowded small house in the Peach Orchard section of Cochran Field on the outskirts of Macon, Georgia.

It is summer, a sweltering night in the South. It is probably 1957 or 58.

I’m in the backseat of our ancient station wagon, dad driving, mom directly in front of me, at least one brother also in the back.

No air conditioning, of course. No seat belts. Windows down. Warm night air blowing my hair and keeping my outstretched hand standing up as we make our way down the road. Incredibly, I can occasionally hear the tires make sticky, sucky sounds as they roll over tar-patched cracks, still oozing from the day’s unmerciful Macon sun.

It’s a sultry night in Georgia.

“Something’s on fire,” one of my folks say.

We get closer. The fire appears on my side of the car. I can feel the heat before I can see what’s burning. I quickly pull my hand inside the window.

I am mesmerized. A cross, unbelievably tall, is on fire! I have to crane my neck up to see the top of the flames. I hear dogs barking. I see people in white Halloween costumes mulling around the cross. I smell gas. And see smoke around the flames. People are yelling. A weird party.

The cross is just SO big. Way too big for Jesus to carry up a hill. And the cross was’t on fire in the Bible, I’m sure of that. It is summer, and I go to Vacation Bible School.

“Neal, roll your window up!”

I’m scared. But I don’t know why I’m scared.

“NEAL, ROLL YOUR WINDOW UP NOW!”

I obey. But it’s like the heater is on full blast.

My father starts to speed past. But why? I’ve never seen anything like this. Why can’t we watch? I have to turn around quickly to see the cross get smaller and smaller. It finally morphs into a tiny lighted dot behind me.

It’s hotter than it’s ever been in the car. The heater MUST be on. It’s sizzling. Suffocating.

And it’s quieter than it’s ever been. Our car is usually loud with rambunctious boys yelling to be heard over one another.

Finally, I feel slightly cooler air begin to blow in from my mother’s window.

“Neal, roll your window down.”

We ride in silence till my father turns on the radio. I hear quiet music.

“What WAS that?” I ask.

“That was bad people doing something bad.”

I don’t understand.

************

Over six decades later, I look upon that night as one of those loss-of-innocence junctures. I can’t remember exactly how my parents explained what was really happening at that “weird party.” But I did find out, at some point, that the cross was being burned in a white couple’s front yard to warn them about being sympathetic to the struggles of black people. Vigilante hatred. Burning on the cross.

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I wish I could say that the temperature has gotten so very much cooler in the South—or elsewhere in our nation. That the tar doesn’t still melt and stick to our tires. That air conditioning has decreased the scorch. That there are no more “weird parties.” But I cannot.

Just look at yesterday’s “Real Feel”:

Another “weird party” just down the road that stretches from my Savannah to Brunswick. You probably know the horrific story of that hot day in Georgia when vigilante hatred burned anew …

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May we somehow as a people learn how to live.

Posted in Encouragement

Are We Living in a Post Decorum World? A Call for Kindness

A new blog category examining how our lack of civility today is causing horrendous harm. And perhaps what we can do in our own tiny worlds to make our big world more kind.

My mother and father, decades ago, taught me, more by example than word, to be polite, to say “Thank you” and “I’m sorry.” To give others the benefit of the doubt. To be KIND. I most definitely HAVE NOT always lived up to their instructions, but I always harbored them (instructions and parents) in my mind and heart.

My folks have passed away now.

I am beginning to fear that maybe common civility and etiquette (two of kindness’s offspring) have passed away as well.

Recently watching Ketanji Brown Jackson garnering enough votes in the Senate to become the first black woman ever to become a justice on the Supreme Court in its nearly 250 year history, I was shocked, embarrassed, appalled to see the Republican side of the aisle get up and walk stoically, rudely out of the chamber after the tally had been announced.

Political and ideological side-ings aside, what has happened to common courtesy? Jackson won enough votes to be seated. Why not at least applaud (even if with gritted teeth) the historic First Time Ever?

At this year’s supposedly celebratory Oscars, Chris Rock and Will Smith … well, you know.

At nearly every red light (at least here in Savannah), you DO NOT start to drive forward when the light turns green. Even though, as I learned in kindergarten, green means go. Why not, for heaven’s sake? Because folks now keep speeding, barreling through the red light for five, ten seconds after the light changes. That early greenness at traffic lights has now become Guillotine Green.

Controversial House of Representatives member Marjorie Taylor Greene (from my Georgia) insanely screeches for Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and husband Chasten to stay out of girls’ bathrooms! What? Huh?

President Biden hot-mike-ly refers to a Fox News correspondent as a “stupid SOB.”

Trump …. Don’t get me started.

The other day, Yankees fans throw debris at Cleveland Guardians outfielders at game’s end.

WHAT IS GOING ON?

Are we so politically, culturally, ideologically separated that common courtesy, simple kindness, and for-the-good-of-all common sense have left the room?

Are we in such a hurry to “Get There!” that we will risk our lives and the lives of others (even our babies in child seats as I saw recently) to risk it through the Green Guillotine?

Is Simple Kindness sliding down the hierarchy of Best Human Practices?

I hope not. But I just don’t know. This blog category examines those questions.

Suggestion For This Moment: I encourage you to set forth a little INTENTION to simply pay more ATTENTION to how you treat other people in your life TODAY. Family at home. Coworkers. Folks on the street, in nearby cars, at the checkout line, etc. Just try to bring AWARENESS to the dynamics of your human connections for the rest of this day. I will too.

Posted in Life Experiences

Cannot Touch

Yesterday after our weekly luncheon date, HR (Husband Robert), ex-wife Donna and I were walking along the Wilmington River in beautiful park-like Greenwich Cemetery here in Savannah.

We came upon a recent burial.

Which broke our hearts.

A newborn who didn’t live much past being born.

Posted in Humor

Medical Mirrors

Yesterday I had an appointment with my dermatologist. I checked in and had to wait. And wait.

Quick run to the bathroom.

“What a pretty mirror,” I thought. (Who else even thinks to take a pic of the mirror in your doc’s bathroom?! Anybody? Anywhere?)

Then I was called back to Exam Room #3. “Take everything off except your underwear and mask,” I was instructed. I quickly obeyed. Then had to wait.

From the now chilly exam table, I spotted another mirror. “Hello,” I waved (to whom I’m not sure).

Still waiting, I sort of drifted off. (It was early morn, after all.) Woke up to yet another mirror.

Wouldn’t you think there would be fewer mirrors in a dermatologist’s office instead of more? We know we have skin issues. That’s why we came! Why throw it in our face (or other body part)?

Do normal people simply wait patiently until the doc knocks on the exam room door to announce her arrival?

But what fun would that be?

{Reminder Note: At next therapy session, ask Rubi if Mirror Obsession Disorder is a thing.}

Posted in Five Friday Happy Bringers

Five Friday Happy Bringers 4/15/22

1. An incredible lunch: Chicken pot pie at Pie Society, Ellis Square, Historic District Savannah. With HR and ex-wife Donna.

See the little chicks on the crust?

2. A washing machine. And a dryer! Do you have that incredible pair? If so, I invite you to pause, take a moment and thank God (or whoever/whatever) for such a Glorious Blessing. What would your life be like without them?

Ours is small, stacked, not top of the line, but what a blessing!

3. My husband HR …

… who gets on my LAST nerve sometimes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

4. Ridiculous jokes I share with grandchildren.

5. Hope.

I HOPE your weekend is peaceful.

Posted in Uncategorized

Neal’s Post from the Past: “The Viewing & The Circle of Life”

Here’s a post from a decade ago dealing with the death of my father-in-law and my young grandson Daniel’s struggle to understand.

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My father-in-law passed away earlier this week. Death, of course, is difficult for anyone to cope with, but perhaps especially so for young children. Because they are still so close to birth, little beings of the morning, and because their life experience has been with newness and fresh discovery, with joy and giggles, death must seem unfathomable, foreign, outside of understanding.

But like most kids, my four-year-old grandson Daniel likes to understand: “Abu, why can’t I sit on top of your car? I could see a whole lot better.” “Abu, my teacher won’t let me bring my sword to school and fight like the blue Power Ranger. Why not?” “Why can’t I say potty words?” “Why do we have to wear clothes when it’s hot?” “Why?” “Why?” “Why?”

When his parents arrived at the funeral home north of Atlanta the other evening, they told me that Daniel had, as usual, been plying them with questions about the current subject which went beyond his grasp–his great-grandfather’s death. “But if Papa is in heaven, why will everyone be sad?” “Where IS Papa?”

I played with Daniel and his little brother Gabriel in the large kitchen area of the funeral home, where friends had brought mounds of food. Their mom and dad, Amy and Orte, walked through large white windowed doors and down a narrow hall that eventually led to a sitting room where the family received guests who came to pay their respect and offer condolences. Papa looked pre-cancerous in a striking gray suit, snow-white shirt, and brown and gray tie patterned with tiny crosses. He had been a Methodist minister in the North Georgia Conference. A large United States flag, achingly resplendent in red, white and blue liveliness, lay across the unopened lower half of the coffin. Papa was retired Air Force.

Every few minutes, Daniel ran over to tiptoe and peer through the windows of the white doors, gazing down that long hallway which twisted and turned but allowed no view of Papa. “Where are Mama and Daddy? I want to go too.” A few minutes later: “Why can’t I go in?” “Is Papa in there? Where?” “Let’s go in there, Abu.”

A while later, when we were eating lasagna in the kitchen, Daniel was still asking, asking. I made a decision, a decision you may not have made. I asked Daniel’s mom and dad if I could take him in to see Papa. They agreed, mainly (I think) because they trust me, and they know how much I love D.

I picked Daniel up and asked him if he knew what had happened to Papa. “He died,” came the quick answer. I told him that yes Papa had died. “And he’s in heaven,” Daniel added. His confusion centered on who or what was down that hall that everyone kept traversing. He wanted understanding, answers. He wanted to walk down that hall.

So we did.

The kitchen had been noisy with visitors loudly talking, eating, reminiscing, and occasionally laughing at the past. Its tiled floor amplified the clicks of my boot heels as we walked, Daniel in my arms, toward those doors, dividing doors which in my grandson’s mind led to answers. As we passed through them, my heels, like everything and everyone on that other side, grew quieter on the deep carpet.

We entered the viewing room, and walked past adults talking in hushed tones. Daniel kissed his Nana (Donna is the oldest of the four daughters of Papa), then his Great-Grandma, who sat regally next to the coffin. But his eyes were looking, searching.

Not expecting Papa to be lying down (why didn’t I think to tell him that detail?), Daniel finally found his great-grandfather.

He looked for a while, and finally asked quietly (Daniel doesn’t usually do “quiet” very well), “Is Papa sleeping?”

“No, not really sleeping. He died, remember?”

We stood there for about a minute, Daniel growing heavy in my arms.

“Are you ready to go, baby?”

“No.”

Other folks waited patiently for their turn behind us. Daniel started to lean over toward the coffin, paused and looked at me for permission (and like “quiet,” D doesn’t always do “permission” well). I nodded, and Daniel touched the white satin edges of the liner and then Papa’s right arm.

Giggling just a bit, Daniel said, “It tickles.” I smiled.

“You ready now?”

“Yes.”

We walked back through the hall, toward the kitchen. When we got to the doors, I saw through the windows my daughter Amy and Orte, waiting. I put Daniel down, and he pushed open the door. His dad asked him, “Are you okay, Daniel?”

But he was already off, running on the noisy tile, chasing his little brother. Doing “loud” once again.

***************

With Daniel back in 2012
And now. (Seriously?)
Posted in Humor

This Is What

So this is what I have to put up with when Robert and I go out for a morning walk.

“Just a second, let me snap a quick picture or two.”

I can either put my Apple Watch fitness thingy on Pause and just stand there, or shake my arm to confuse the watch into thinking I’m still walking. Which causes great exhaustion after one long minute.

HR finding beauty in a retaining pool

Or throw together a quick blog post.