There is this country music program, syndicated to country FM stations every Sunday morning, called Rise Up. The host plays the song list, and in between takes calls from viewers who tell their stories of how they were changed by the Love of the Lord. Traveling long distances, stuck between FM stations, you hit this show, and it will make you cry like a children’s hospital telethon. (No I don’t have Sirius, are you serious?)
MSNBC used that phrase, rise up, for their ads. Rise up is the cry of the revolution, the call of the oppressed. There hasn’t been much rise in me since the campaign and the election. I’ve been going through the five stages of grief. I have been mentally and spiritually ill. I have been angry and heartbroken. I have been defiant, and I have been tired in my soul. Trump fatigue.
It’s been six months now, and we passed the Fourth of July, celebrating our independence. As a country, we are two hundred and forty one years old. And on Independence Day, many people took their oaths as newly minted American citizens. People like the doctor and the pharmacist who emigrated from Afghanistan thirteen years ago, and proudly claimed their citizenship, even as they remarked that now, they wouldn’t have been able to get visas, under this administration. Even so, despite the oppression, they are still happy to be here. I want to thank them.
Rise up, America. That’s the word we passed, from one to another, in 1775, in 1776, rise up and throw out the tyrant. Let us all hang together, or we shall certainly hang separately. Put your John Hancock on the line, and pledge your lives and your sacred honor. Give me liberty, or give me death.
Still. Even so. Despite everything. This country has always been one of contrasts, of vast differences, but bound indivisible by blood. What about the “liberty and justice for all”? That hasn’t always been the case, and yet it is right there, in our pledge of allegiance: “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” It’s right there in the Declaration of Independence: “. . .that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Rise up, Americans. That’s something we take for granted, that when rising up is needed, someone will answer the call. Contrasts, differences, bound by blood. Yes, we have an ugly history, but also a quite beautiful one. There were indeed the Salem with trials, but we also produced Nathaniel Hawthorne. His great-great grandfather was one of the judges in those Salem witch trials.
Yes, we engaged in the systematic genocide of Native Americans. In WWII, some of those Native Americans became code talkers, calling in artillery and air strikes in their native languages so the Japanese couldn’t intercept and decode.
There was Stonewall, and the Pulse nightclub tragedy. Matthew Shepard and Micheal Sam.
There were Jim Crow laws to keep black Americans from voting, and the opposition to the Civil Rights movement exposed Bull Connor, and Jim Clark, and George Wallace, but that movement also gave us Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, one of the most moving speakers in all our history, and a great writer as well. The movement gave us Fannie Lou Hamer, and Rosa Parks, and John Lewis.
In WWI, when black men were not allowed to vote, they served with distinction in the 369th Regiment, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” who served six months on the front lines under French command. One hundred and seventy one members earned Legions of Merit from the French government.
Women were oppressed, of course. They were thrown in jail, beaten, held without bond, for demanding the right to vote. They persisted, and they won.
Then there was Joe McCarthy, an alcoholic, a mean man with a tiny soul, that led the witch hunt of the 1950’s. But that era also produced Lillian Hellman “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashion.” That era produced Joseph Welch “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
We get all embarrassed by passion. But really, what is love of country? Did the Navajo code-talkers serve the country that slaughtered and suppressed their elders? No, they served the country they loved, were born to, and what they wanted to believe it stood for, freedom, simple human decency, and a stubborn grasp on the promise of what it could and should be.
When NPR tweeted the full text of the Declaration of Independence, some Trump supporters did not recognize it, and took it as an attack on Trump. “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” Trump supporters disavow Declaration of Independence
Why did the Harlem Hellfighters sign up to fight for a country that lynched their fathers and refused them the dignity of full citizenship? Why did the Red Tails do what they did? The same country that produced the massacre at Wounded Knee also gave us also produced Freddie Stowers, the only black soldier awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in action in WWI. The country that beat down Emmitt Till, a fourteen-year-old boy, also gave us Abraham Lincoln and Juneteenth. The country that almost destroyed itself in the Civil War came together to defeat Japan and Germany in WWII. The country that created the nuclear bomb also instigated every treaty to limit the spread of nuclear arms, to reduce our stockpiles.
We blew up a church in Birmingham and killed four little girls, and we landed on the moon. With the help of black, female mathematicians. The country that refused a ship of Jewish refugees liberated Nazi death camps. The country that destroyed much of Europe also, through the Marshall Plan, fed and rebuilt Germany after its defeat.
The men that stormed the Normandy beaches went home and took jobs that women had worked admirably during the war.
This country, our country, gave women the right to vote, and decimated the first woman candidate for president. The country that passed the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and on July 30, 1965, passed into law Medicare and Medicaid, steps to insure old, disabled and poor Americans, also tries now to repeal the first attempt since 1965 to insure more Americans, and to deny 32 million people who now have health insurance.
To quote a Joni Mitchell song, “Every pictures has its shadows, and it has some source of light.” That source of light that throughout our history has served as a homing device, a beacon toward doing the right thing, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” That source, that light, bends toward justice, for all.
Take this not as a call to arms, but a call to our better selves. We have done it before, many times. Roosevelt interred Japanese in camps, and he appointed the first female Cabinet member. Time after time, we have risen up and met the challenges that faced this country. We in America know that our vote is sacred, that it is every citizens right and duty. That right has been attacked by an outside force. We can rise up, and join our local town councils, become poll workers, march door to door toplead with people to vote. That is our weapon. Over seventy million registered voters did not participate in the election of 2016. If everyone, every single registered voter, pledged to go to the polls in 2018, do you think Russia, or and other group colluding with Russia’s goals, could stop us? Hell to the no. Stop insulting voters who voted for Trump. They showed up, didn’t they? Grab anyone you know who didn’t vote and look them in the eye like a wild-eyed revolutionary, and demand that they participate in the process before voting becomes an historical artifact, instead of an organic element that keeps democracy alive.
We observed the inauguration, and the next day, watched the Women’s March.
What kind of country do you want to live in? Do you want one where political party affiliation is not so important any more, where serving the country in Washington for a limited time is seen as service, not entitlement. Do you want a country where getting re-elected in not so important as getting something done? Do you want a country that treat refugees with compassion? How about a country that once raced to the moon once again leading the world with renewable, safe energy advancement? How about a country that agrees to do its part in cleaning up the mess we make, like our mothers taught us? Would like to see a country that limits campaign donations, limits the length of time elections take, gives people a paid holiday to vote, retrains its local police forces often, sends elected officials to Congress to get something accomplished, and sends them home when they don’t? Do you wish to spend less money on a faster, meaner, more powerful military, and more on State Department initiatives that save lives and make allies instead of enemies? Do you believe that it is time women step to front to lead? Men have held the majority in power since the beginning of time. Do you really think women would do worse?
What do you really want, America? If you want your vote to mean something, first you have to cast it out there. If you want our elections to be free of outside interference, then vote. They can’t stop us all. Not we, the people. We hold the power. Let’s start using it. You want to clean up Washington? You really think that we can’t do it? Go look at those cliffs on Omaha Beach.
Okay, since the inauguration, I have tried to keep my ranting to myself. Every once in a while, a serious danger-to-himself wingnut says again, “stop being sore losers.” Posted after an article about Rachel Maddow’s news about the 2005 tax return. I totally understand if you are not up for another takedown of the misinformed malingerers who support Trump. If so stop reading now, take some deep breaths. Maybe that will help.
What she did was not illegal. Do some First amendment 101, some freedom of the press study. Publishing documents that were unsolicited is not criminal. Possibly whoever stole them originally should be prosecuted, and as the docs are stamped “client’s copy” I’d start looking close to home, like his tax people, close family, etc. The facts from the return make him look pretty good, so I believe he may have leaked it himself. He has accepted his first 2 paychecks. Says he will donate at the end of the year. Want to bet me that he donates it to the Family “charitable” foundation, from which account he wrote checks to fund campaigns of several state attorneys general, bought expensive sports memorabilia, paid for a life size portrait of himself (who else?) He uses it as his personal slush fund, and hasn’t donated any of his own money to it since 2008, so essentially, he is stealing from honest donors. So you keep thinking he will donate his salary. We are not sore losers. I’ll concede graciously as soon as we find out who won this election, Trump or the Russian government. Trump, or all the Wall Street hacks he appointed to ruin the Cabinet? Who really won, Trump or those among his staff that pull his strings like Steve Bannon, who believes in taking down that entire structure of the government? Who won so far, Trump or the millions who will no longer have health care? Where’s his “massive” infrastructure bill? Rex Tillerson, who negotiated millions of acres in oil leases with Putin, and now has simply gutted the State Department, Betsey at the Department of education, who doesn’t believe in public education, but who donated millions to that “self-funded campaign? Steve Miller, who is little more than a lap dog neo Nazi? Who really won the election? That man who said he likes to grab women by the pussy, because he can get away with it since he’s a celebrity? You mean that guy who cried so hard about Clinton’s private email server (which was never hacked) whose White House staff all use private servers? The man who publicly encouraged Russian interference in our democratic process? You tell me. To whom should I concede, a bunch white Nationalist, money grubbing Wall Street rollovers, a man named Attorney General who does not believe in enforcing voting rights, a wealthy socialite who knows nothing, a former Congressman who made illegal stock trades on inside information? To all the White House staff who are terrified that we elected a mad man, and who have been leaking like a sieve? You seriously want to call me, a gay woman, a sore loser? You want me to accept him as President? Tell you what. I’ll accept him as president just as graciously as everyone accepted President Obama. You go whine about sore losers some more. Maybe you will soon discover that he is out to defraud you too.
On This Day
On November 22, 1963, the president of the United States was assassinated. It was three days after my eighth birthday. The day before, my mother gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. The boy only lived a few minutes. I think there was a drizzly rain as we stood by the tiny grave and watched the burial.
The story of The Liberators of Willow Run begins twenty years earlier, during a time of war and societal upheaval and uncertainty. Able-bodied men were away, women filled factory jobs to support the war effort, and some used the commotion of the times to hide and to begin lives that could never be lived fully, honestly, in settled times. Nona, a black girl from Kentucky, determined to earn and save as much as she can from the high-paying job at the Willow Run bomber plant, has stepped outside the expected life to forge one of her own making. She plans to save every dime and go to college. Audrey has left her home and family wishing only to be free of their expectations and condemnation, to lose herself in the war effort. To forget the tragedy she feels responsible for. And Ruth, who winds up in Ypsilanti almost by accident, after giving a baby up for adoption, determined that she will not go back to a life of marriage and children.
Each of these women, and others, try to figure out how to live more honestly, more freely, than prewar norms. From the moment Audrey and Nona meet, while Ruth serves her time at the Crittendon Home for Unwed Mothers, this is a story of courage and self examination, of second chances and self taught skills used to navigate what seems to be a new world. Or it is the old world, turned upside down, where women go off to the factory jobs with lunch pails, and the absence of men makes friendships between these working women something special, more valued than friendships in peacetime, when of course husbands and boyfriends came first?
Reading this book, at this particular time in this country’s history, brought emotions to the surface that I didn’t realize I felt. Two weeks ago, we elected as president a man whose every policy and pronouncement seems aimed at turning back the clock on hard won achievements for women, for LGBT, for people of color, for immigrants, even for veterans. Many of us have been stunned by this transition to come in January. Many justifiably fear what may come in this new administration. Many are wondering whether we may have to fight the same battles again that we assumed were won and done, the Voting Rights Act, Roe v Wade, marriage equality, don’t ask don’t tell, health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions. Weariness and disillusion sets in, and we begin to feel hopeless.
Just as those thousands of women must have felt when they were forced from their manufacturing jobs to make way for returning servicemen, as Nona and Audrey surely felt. How can they just shove these confident women back into kitchens and parlors? It seems like a terrible waste. Was it all wasted effort? What do Nona and Audrey and the other women like them do with newly acquired skills and confidence in their own capabilities? What a bitter pill that must have been for thousands of women, to be told they are no longer needed, to go back home and raise a family, to make way for the young men returning from war who deserve those jobs.
Forgive me for drawing this parallel, but reading this book is the first time I have felt hopeful since the election. Those thousands of women did go home. The next decade was one of silent, benign conformity for women. The fifties and sixties were the time of the peaceful protests and angry confrontations that achieved the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The sixties was also marked by breaking bonds of convention, of questioning society’s roles, of defying the government. And the next decade? The women’s movement.
Like Audrey and Ruth, like Amelia and Lillian and Mrs. Bailey, we must find the fortitude to tackle questions we believed were settled, to fight again the battles those before us also fought> What does it feel like to be made lesser than we are? A lot like Ruth felt when she left that unwed mothers’ home and struck out on her own. It feels an awful lot like all those women who helped win the war with manufacturing production unseen till then in the world. Stephen Ambrose states that the man who invented the Higgins boats won the war for the Allies. That man may have designed the Higgins boats that delivered six divisions to the beaches of Normandy, but it was women workers who built them, in the quantity and in the time needed. They delivered.
Ruth and Audrey and Nona struggled to be honest with themselves about who they were and about what they wanted. They decided to keep fighting even after the war for things they believed in. This wonderful book, so beautifully written, gives me hope that we too who are disappointed at the end of this election campaign can begin again, fight the fight, reject being thought of as lesser than. If you are as old as I am, and you remember all those marches, boycotts and peaceful protests that changed this country, then you know we can do it all again if we have to. Those of you in a younger generation may not yet realize that some things you take for granted can be, might be, taken from you. But I do believe in your enthusiasm for change. That makes an unbeatable alliance.
Flawed: Or, My Inside Feelings Are Hurt
“The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.”
Dear friends, (and I know you’re out there) be disappointed but do not despair. Be heartsick but not heartbroken. Fifty nine million Americans voted for us, for each one of us. Okay, that’s as comforting as I can be. You don’t have to read this, but if you continue, just imagine what the Republicans would sound like this morning if they had lost. Try, for a moment, to think of people like Giuliani and Gowdy and Chaffetz and Cruz and Christie and Gingrich glowering, promising endless, pointless investigations, eternal gridlock, you get the picture. Just recall the last eight years of the current administration, and you will agree that however hyperbolic or enraged I may sound, it’s baby squeaks compared.
Imagine the Trumps redecorating the White House. That’s funny, right? Have you seen pictures of their apartment in Trump Towers? More gilt, anyone?
Imagine a State dinner hosting the prime minister of Japan, and Trump explaining he has to cut costs somewhere, so maybe they should just build some nuclear weapons of their own.
Imagine the next NATO meeting, where we explain that while we want to remain in charge of the whole thing, we should start paring away members who don’t pay enough to make this a printable venture for the US.
Imagine how the fight against ISIS will work so much better after Turkey kicks us off their air bases. From that platform, we now intend to launch strikes to deliberately kill women and children. Because that strategy always makes the other side more willing to negotiate and surrender. Imagine our renewed commitment to use torture, just because.
Imagine the US pulling out of the United Nations, because they are weak. While you’re in the world of the next administration, imagine thousands of military service men and women resigning. Imagine top generals and admirals retiring.
Think about how Muslim Americans will feel. How women will feel. Think how Latinos and immigrants of every origin will feel. Think of little kids crying because they are afraid their parents will be deported. Think of a deportation force that roams the country, seizing people and holding thousands in detainment camps. Think of the financial cost to the country.
While you are working on the economic future, do you want a raise? The minimum wage raise is off the table, and increases in Social Security, forget it. Hey, if Daryl on The Walking Dead can eat dog food, so can we.
Speaking of The Walking Dead how does that feel? Not so much a fantasy show based on a comic book, and more like foreshadowing a new reality? Me too. Just like everybody else, we can come to accept that Negan is The Benevolent Leader we so desperately need. And, does that pork taste funny to you?
Worried about your safety? You should be, if you are a black man, a Latino, or anyone who just looks “foreign.” Indians, Basques, Sikhs, Jewish, Catholic, gays, lesbians, trans, queer? Do you feel safe and loved and included? Women out there, do you feel like standing each time Trump enters a room, sitting only after he allows you to? Me neither.
Worried about your job? Yeah.
How about that whole climate change, global warming, ice caps melting, sea levels rising, oxygen disappearing, drought, floods, super storms, Florida underwater, most of Hawaii gone. That land bridge to Asia? Not a good escape route. Moving up to a soggy Alaska won’t save us. Sarah Palin lives up there, and she won’t help at all.
Here’s another trip. Think of Newt Gingrich as Secretary of State. Rudy as Attorney General, that’s if Chris Christie doesn’t get that job. Pray that Ruth Ginsberg can hold out for four more years.
Don’t think about how Hillary Clinton must feel right now. She’s tough, and she’s got other things to do. Think about President Obama this morning. And forgive yourself for ever doubting him, tiring of his endless soaring rhetoric, and his constant chant of hope. Forgive yourself for feeling guilty when he said, in his last pitch for Hillary, that he believed in us, he trusted us, he bet on us, one more time. Think instead of the dignity, strength, and grace with which he handled the constant opposition of the last eight years, all the insults, threats, and obstruction. Think of all that he accomplished despite all that. And think of it all being dismantled gleefully by those who refused to admit his legitimacy, refused to respect him, refused to allow him the stature of his office. That “you salute the rank, not the man” thing. Think not of your own loss, but of his. “He saved General Motors and killed bin Laden.” That’s what Joe Biden said.
Oh, that’s right, Joe. The man who served in the Senate for three decades, on the Foreign Relations committee, the man who spoke bluntly, who laughed, who would have run for the presidency if not for, well, you know the story.
Think of Bill Weld, who did a courageous thing, and on TV said that his ticket had no chance to win, and therefore he wanted to vouch for Hillary Clinton, for her honesty and integrity, for her work ethic and her experience. He said he wanted to stand up for her.
More advice: don’t think of the Khans, or of John McCain, or of all those vets with PTSD. Don’t think about it. Or about how Meghan Kelly and Katie Tur and lots of other reporters had to endure taunts and threats and insults. Don’t think about all the videos and recordings of Trump insulting, demeaning, and assaulting women. Do not consider that this man once gave permission for his own daughter to be called “a piece of ass,” that he said she had nice breasts, and if she wasn’t his daughter he’d like to date her. Don’t waste time thinking about all the women who came forward and called him a liar, because he had assaulted them. Don’t think about the civil suit accusing him of raping a thirteen-year-old girl, due for court on December 16th, because that suit was dropped.
While you’re at it, don’t think about the hundreds of time this man has been sued for breach of contract, or for divorce, or subjected to penalties and fine by the IRS. Because his so-called charitable foundation to which he has given no money since 2008, wrote checks for campaign contributions to several state attorneys general who were planning to investigate him. Or how about the checks written on the foundation’s account that paid for a life size portrait of himself and for signed sports memorabilia.
In fact, it’s better not to think at all about that ugly stuff. It worked for us during the campaign, right? So much easier for us to worry about emails. So much more important and distracting, and it worked. It kept us from thinking. And we made it through the election, and now it’s over. What a relief, right?
We’ll see each other again in four years, and until then, let’s not think, or talk, about “politics” because that has nothing to do with our real lives. And the mess is not our fault anyway. It’s those damn people in Washington. You know, the do-nothing, gridlock, vote-no-on-everything, bastards who keep getting re-elected? We are so mad at them. Who on earth voted for those clowns, anyway? Let’s just hope and pray, shall we, that Trump charges in there and gets rid of all of them, like he said he would fire all the generals and get rid of the lobbyists, and make America great again.
Sticks and stones
May break my bones
But words will never hurt me
In William Gibson’s play The Miracle Worker, Annie Sullivan despairs of ever reaching the blind and deaf little girl, Helen Keller. Annie makes a speech in Act Three about the importance of words and language. made all the more poignant because Helen is sitting there, playing, unaware of the anguish Annie reveals. “. . .words, why, you can see five thousand years in a light of words, everything we feel, think, know– and share, in words, so not a soul is in darkness, or done with, even in the grave.”
Harper Lee died Feb 19, 2016. She was eighty nine years old. My mother was also born in 1926, just about forty miles down the road from Monroeville, Alabama, where Nelle Harper Lee grew up. I always liked that synchronicity. Of course, I was also born just down the road from Harper Lee’s home town. I can’t remember the first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird. I know that my first, oldest copy is a 1962 paperback that is falling apart. As an adult, I bought a hardback copy, the fortieth anniversary edition. I also have a first edition, twentieth printing.
I can quote lines and even paragraphs from this book, as many who count this among their favorite books can. “The Truth is not in the Delafields.” “Don’t you say ‘hey’ to me, you ugly girl. You say ‘good afternoon, Miss Dubose’.” “He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.” “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.”
And there is this paragraph, the one that makes us see and smell the setting of the story. “Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”
And the introduction to one of the most unique and beloved characters in literature, Dill.
“Sitting down, he wasn’t much taller than the collards. We stared at him until he spoke.
‘Hey yourself,’ said Jem pleasantly.
‘I’m Charles Baker Harris,’ he said. ‘I can read.'”
And the voice, the point of view, one that came from an adult distance but sounded pitch perfect true to every note of childhood, that voice shaped the entire novel, telescoping from a little girl named Scout back to the grown up who retells with great fondness a story we all relate to, because there is so much in the telling that is similar, even universal, about the play and the ideas and the outlooks of small children.
Well, that voice, that telescope, is gone now. Nelle was buried quickly on February 20, quietly, privately, surrounded by only a few relatives and friends, just as she lived.
To Kill a Mockingbird became an instant classic, on the bestseller list for eighty eight weeks, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and became a classic movie as well, with a luminous screenplay written by Horton Foote, who managed to get the tone exactly right. The book has sold well over thirty million copies worldwide, is the novel that is taught in school more than any other, and served as inspiration for a generation of lawyers who wanted to be like Atticus, and a generation of feminists who emulated the spunk feistiness of Scout. The American Library Association lists it as one of the one hundred best books of the twentieth century. I find those parameters to be narrow.
Surely, this novel has influenced and shaped me as much as any religion. In a way, To Kill a Mockingbird served as a Bible for me. I can quote passages from the Bible, of course. But Scout and Jem, Atticus, Calpurnia, Uncle Jack and Aunt Alexandra, Miss Maudie and Miss Rachel Haverford. And of course, the Radley family. The spooky, sinister stories told by the children of the town turned Boo Radley into a ghost, a legend, and a source of endless speculation and entertainment.
Miss Lee has herself become a legend, a literary icon, one with a spooky history of reclusiveness, friend and help mate of Truman Capote, her childhood friend, the writer who wrote one book and never another.
As I framed similarities between my mother’s childhood and Harper Lee’s, I also shaped parallels between their later lives. My mother gradually lost her sight to macular degeneration. So did Miss Lee, who lost her hearing as well. I became a writer as much to please my mother, to make her proud of me, as I did to emulate Harper Lee, who was my literary hero. When my first novel was published, I sent a copy to Miss Lee, through her agent. I received a handwritten note in reply, encouraging me to continue with my writing endeavors, and informing me that sadly, she could no longer read books with normal font, because of her worsening eyesight. I treasure that letter.
I once snuck into the famous courthouse, long before it became a museum. I climbed to the top of the clock tower and looked out over Miss Lee’s town. It looked pretty much like my own hometown, and besides paved streets, not so different from that time when Nelle ran and played, read, and made up stories.
I don’t know why I feel as sad and lost today as I did when my mother died. I never met Harper Lee, never even saw her despite many trips to Monroeville. Her book, the one that I reread and memorized, the one I count as a better friend to me than most people, the book that compelled so many children to become lawyers and encouraged little girls to retain their spunkiness, the one that remarkably, said everything there was to say about small towns, race, courage, and being kind, just on the cusp of the civil rights movement of the nineteen sixties, that book, those words, still light my way, as from the first time I read them, lying on my bed beside an open window. Words can enlighten us. sure. They can live with us, in us, and they can shape and inspire and entertain. Miss Lee’s words did all of that for me.
Addendum: Here is the eulogy read at Miss Lee’s funeral service on Saturday, Feb 20, 2016, delivered by Dr. Wayne Flynt, historian, Alabama native, and lifelong friend of Miss Lee.
Today is my cousin Tina’s birthday. We were best friends all through our preteen years. I loved going to visit her, cried to stay over night. We played together. We had names for each other. She called me Bett, and I called her Teen. Nobody else in my family calls me Bett. As an adult, when I left home for college and jobs, I introduced myself as Bett.
When Uncle Ray bought the piece of land in Sand Flat where Aunt Duck lives still, I remember Tina and I digging all day to get a huge tree stump out of the yard. My daddy was there to build a fireplace and chimney for them, and he and Uncle Ray set us to digging out that obstruction. We dug all day long, down to huge roots and under them, until the thing looked like a giant spider. I can’t recall, but I imagine the men pulled it out with a truck.
I admired my cousin, only a month and a half older than I. Tina was smarter, taller, faster, more athletic. I believe it is always good to play against someone better than you in sports, and to have friends who are better than you. It improves your game and the person you are to hang around with smart people.
Tina influenced me to be better than I was.
As we grew up, we grew apart, both of us more involved in school and activities, in my case band. Tina ran track.
When I was in ninth grade, I won a state competition. The winners all came together during spring break at the University of Alabama for three days of rehearsals, topped by a concert. Since I was the only girl chosen from my band, I got to pick someone to go with me to Tuscaloosa and share a motel room. I picked Tina, because we both wanted to attend the University, and three days of exploring the campus was the thrill of our lives.
We had a great time. I know I wouldn’t have seen as much or been bold enough to venture out if Tina had not been with me. Her self assurance made me more so.
The night of the big concert, I was sick. I ran a high fever, but the show had to go on. My parents were supposed to be in the audience and drive Tina and me home afterward. They didn’t show up. I was worried, but still sick and feverish. We rode home with my band director and his wife.
When we got home, I can’t remember anything very clearly. I don’t know if Tina and I went to sleep, or whether we arrived early the next morning. In any case, I do remember Uncle Ray showing up to take Tina home, and my asking him where everybody was. He is the one who told me that my parents had been in a bad car accident, and that both were in the hospital. He drove me to the local hospital where Mama was. I burst out crying when I saw her. Her face was swollen to twice its size, and it was blue from bruising. She had a broken ankle and a broken arm. my stepfather had been taken to Mobile to another hospital because of his condition. He had two broken legs, a broken jaw, a lot of lacerations. He would require surgery and a long recovery time.
My mother insisted on checking herself out of the hospital to go to Mobile and be with my stepfather. She was in a wheelchair, but we took her to his room, where he lay with his jaw wired shut. It was a scary time.
That happened in March, and I recall my stepfather still in a wheelchair at my older sister’s graduation in May.
That’s the last time I remember being with my cousin Tina for any length of time. She left her family and moved to Birmingham to live with other relatives while she finished high school. We may have written letters to each other, but if so, I don’t recall any contact after that until we were both grown, both of us with our college degrees, Tina married. She and husband Bill had two beautiful daughters, grown up now with kids of their own.
Happy birthday, Tina. Thanks for all the good memories, and for inspiring me to be better.
Hold of the Bone
I have read all the books in the Lt Franco series, all of them dark and gritty. This latest in the series, Hold of the Bone, is perhaps the finest example of author Clare Baxter Trautman’s writing. Vivid descriptions create a sense of awe and wonder in the natural surroundings, and dialogue and characterizations are just as finely drawn.<br>Lt Franco, an LAPD homicide detective, is contemplating retirement, and rolls on a case of a body unearthed at a construction site. She takes on this decades-old case, and becomes intrigued.by the witnesses and possible suspects. Tracing the deceased’s roots back to a small community in the Santa Lucia Mountains called Celadores.<br>The case is old. The trail is old, and Frank takes her visit to the mountains as a free vacation out of the city. Mountains, fresh air, no calls. Just ask a few questions of the surviving daughter of the victim, and this case might easily go into the cold case file.<br>The elusive and deliberately vague daughter, Diana Saladino. keeps deflecting the questions, and Frank keeps returning to the canyon in the mountains, staying overnight with Sal, even knowing that she might be a suspect, knowing she is not answering fully or truthfully.<br>Beautiful writing, Shot through with Frank’s growing alarm at visions she has, the sense that she has been to this place before, and her unexplained connection to the mountains are disturbing. Diana Saladino encourages Frank to trust her feelings of deja vu and to open herself to more.<br>How many more times can Franco return to the mountains that speak to her, to the woman who intrigues her? How long can she put off wrapping up the case?<br>I never read such beautiful writing in a police procedural. Let’s all hope for another in the Franco series.
Today is my Aunt Duck’s birthday. She is the oldest of Mama’s remaining siblings. She is the sweetest soul in the world.
Today is also my younger sister Debbie’s birthday. Haven’t seen or spoken to her in many years.
Bear with me now. Yesterday was my grandmother’s birthday. We called her GraMo or MoMo.
Yesterday, July 28, was also my youngest sister Teresa’s birthday. She was born when I was a senior in high school. When she came to visit me at the University of Alabama with my parents, some people thought she was my child!
Dog Days are here. There is not a person who grew up in the south who does not know what that means. Long, hot, sultry days, air thick as molasses, dogs hiding under the porch, everything moving only when necessary, and only at a crawling pace. Heat waves shimmer off road tops, car tops, tin roofs. You long and pray for rain that never comes. You watch clouds darken, even hear thunder, and hope rises for a breeze, for a downpour. Too hot to breathe. Shower in the morning, at noon, at night. Nothing seems to defeat the heat.
The only good thing about dog days is that football practice starts, and that means soon school will start, and the first game of the season, marked in red, inches closer. The other good thing about dog days is that you really appreciate the subtle change in autumn, the air is drier, less humid, if no less hot. The sky seems brighter somehow. The best thing about dog days is getting through them without mayhem, that could range from the petty to the murderous. For anyone caught committing a crime during dog days, the heat is considered a mitigating factor. It won’t help you get acquitted, but it sure will reduce your sentence. Nobody would lock up a person for long in that kind of mushy, can’t-breathe, wish-to-God-it-would-rain heat. Rest assured, the sheriff, the judge, the jury, all long for a break in the heat just as much as the accused. No one has the energy for true vindictive punishment, and for sure, no one wants a hanging. Too hot to dig graves makes it too hot to shoot anybody, even if they deserve it. So there’s that.
I got my print copy of Go Set a Watchman yesterday.
Most people who read To Kill a Mockingbird identify with Scout. The character I most identify with is Mayella Ewell. She famously said, “I got somethin’ to say,” I’m going to say what I have to say.
Yes, I read the New York Times review. So what? I have been writing book reviews for years. Here are my bona fides:
I was born and raised in south Alabama, less than forty miles from where Harper Lee grew up, a few decades before me. I attended and received a degree from the University of Alabama. I wrote my first published novel about love and racial tension in a small southern town, set a couple of decades later than To Kill a Mockingbird. My second novel continued the story, set in the same place, with the same characters, in time a decade or two after the civil rights movement of the sixties. I still loved those characters and that place. It’s where I am from.
I sent Harper Lee a copy of my first book, and received a lovely hand-written reply from Alice Lee. Nelle can’t see well enough to read fine print any more, she said, but wishes me well in my writing endeavors.
My mother was my Atticus, my hero, my touchstone. She was born the same year as Harper Lee, and so grew up, poor white but not trash, in the same time period, in the same place, south Alabama.
Mama occasionally used the n-word, but she meant no offense by it. Some black people are crazy, mean, and lazy, just like some white people, but some black people are good, Christian, decent people despite all the incentives to be otherwise. They are sometimes better than good, Christian, decent white people who know no better than to read their Bibles too literally and examine their own family history not closely enough.
Go Set a Watchman is what it is, a rough draft of a book submitted but not accepted for publication. Yes, there are sentences, some paragraphs, that are identical to To Kill a Mockingbird. No one should be surprised by that. This draft was set aside, and completely reworked, through an intense and prolonged editing process, and emerged as the finely crafted novel so many cherish today.
Nor should any fan of the classic work be surprised that the characters in Go Set a Watchman are different. The original Atticus was an old man, trying to stem the fast pace of change in his little town, and says some things that are racist. Scout is shocked and disillusioned to find out that her father is a member of the local Citizens’ Council, a more refined version of the KKK, with membership culled from civic leaders and businessmen. supposedly to curtail the violent excesses of the KKK and to promote a slower turn toward desegregation and enfranchisement, sort of a benevolent attempt to influence events without bombs, burning crosses, white robes, and lynching.
Jean Louise did not accept this camouflage any more than anyone would. Horrified to find that the father she idealized is an old man with fear in his heart, if not hatred, she must come to terms with the thought that her entire belief system, predicated on what she thought were her father’s beliefs, must stand on its own and not depend on the bolster of Atticus, who was not perfect, not a hero, just an old man with a crippling disease, and with a dis-ease about the changes that were happening too fast for the pace of life he lived.
I cried as I read the ending, bogged down in didactic pedantry, most especially in chapter fourteen, when Jean Louise turns to her Uncle Jack to explain and make everything better, just as he did when she was a child. This didacticism continues when Jean Louise faces Atticus in his office. It is hard to swallow, but underneath, and more to the point, there is Scout’s feeling of betrayal, the yearning of a child for reassurance that the father of her idyllic worship is not a coward, as she calls Atticus, among many other names. Jean Louise rants, nearly hysterical with the dissonance. Uncle Jack asks, “Jean Louise, have you ever met your father?”
Lest some of you who also worshiped Atticus and put him on a pedestal resort to the same hysteria, let me assure you that it is safe for you to read this book. While the racism of Atticus is not fully redeemed or reconciled, Uncle Jack does give us this hope: “The law is what he lives by. . .he’ll always do it by the letter and by the spirit of the law. That’s the way he lives.”
So this is what I have to say. If you look for another classic morality tale, if you look for heroes of perfection, you won’t find it here. Jean Louise, all grown up, is smart and smart-mouthed, and her mouth gets her in trouble. Jem is not present in Go Set a Watchman. Calpurnia is seen very little, Dill not at all, except in flashbacks to Scout’s childhood that are just as wonderful and funny as such scenes were in To Kill a Mockingbird. One thing this rough draft, now published for the world to criticize, proves is that Nelle Harper Lee could write. The editors at Lippincott saw that, back in 1957, and that’s why they took her on.
Miss Lee was asked if she wanted to go through the editing process with this manuscript, and she said no. She is too old to care what people think any more, not that she ever did, much. If people are crazy enough to pay to read an old dusty manuscript, let them. If they want to see her feet of clay, then it’s about damn time. She is eighty nine years old, deaf, nearly blind, and resides in an assisted living facility, but she is still sharp as a tack and just as smart-mouthed as Scout or grown-up Jean Louise ever thought of being. She lives, still, in Monroeville, Alabama, that place she once loved so passionately that she wrote an American classic, a paean to small town life, to fathers we once thought of as heroes, to children.
Miss Lee was asked to write an introduction to the fortieth anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. She refused, so the publishers instead posted a short note she wrote in 1993: :”Mockingbird still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive the years without preamble.”
Probably against what Miss Lee would advise, I have written here a long preamble to encourage those millions who read and loved To Kill a Mockingbird that it is okay. You can read this without shredding illusions you may have held about fictional characters.
To the grown-up and confused Jean Louise, I say this: If Nelle Harper Lee can go home again, so can you.
Go Set a Watchman, 2015, Harper Collins.
I posted all I had to say on the subject yesterday. Then I read this piece by Rachel Spangler, much more thoughtful than I was. Like her, I grew up in the south (Alabama), ran around barefoot, drank tea so sweet it hurt your teeth, loved (still) Crimson Tide football, ate fried okra, fried catfish, fried anything with gravy.
I love the south. That’s why I still live here. I love my heritage, but I am not blind to the great injustices that existed, and still exist in some ways. That’s why you won’t see me raise a rebel flag in honor of the past, the glory days of the antebellum South, or for any other reason. Doing so involves hurting other people. Showing the same flag that appears at Klan rallies, that misrepresents so much of our history, that is something I can’t do.
Yes, I love the south, and I love my roots. I always will. I don’t have to love a flag to prove my bona fides .