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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 .
In response to:
I wrote a piece this morning posted on my blog. One response in particular called up just the right amount of picayune snark to compel a reply. To those who already know all this, you can skip to the next adorable kitty vid.
The flag shown above is not the Confederate flag. This square red flag with crossed blue band and white stars is the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee, he of unsullied reputation, and surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. Also called the Virginia flag, Beauregard’s flag, even though it never historically represented the CSA as a country, was never officially recognized as one of the national flags, it is commonly referred to as “the Confederate Flag” and has become a widely recognized symbol. It is also called the rebel flag, Dixie flag, and Southern Cross.
The first flag flown informally representing the seceded states was “the Bonnie Blue flag” of Gone with the Wind fame.
The so called “Van Dorn” flag, a hideous red orange with a crescent moon and stars strewn about randomly, was used by General Van Dorn and others in the Trans-Mississippi theatre of battle.
In March 1861, the hastily assembled government of the Confederacy took time from fomenting rebellion, treason, anarchy and terrorism to designate an official flag. This flew over the hastily designated capitol in Montgomery, before the Confederate capital was hastily moved to Richmond.
So in 1863, presumably after more thought, a new official flag was adopted, called “the Stainless Banner.”
A white flag, decorated by a canton in the upper left replicating General Lee’s battle flag, many hated this flag because they thought it would appear as a flag of truce or surrender on the battlefield. This remained the official flag until March 1865. The designer, one William T. Thompson, a writer and editor from Savannah, claimed that the white field represented the purity of the white race as well as the purity of the Cause.
For some reason, in March 1865, with only a month left in the war, (though the stubborn willful blindness of the Southern gentlemen who ran the war refused to see how near the end they really were) yet another new design was designated as the official flag. Called the “Blood-Stained Banner” this one served until the end.
To summarize, the rebel flag some want to defend as an historical symbol of their forefathers’ valor and courage was only correctly revered by those whose ancestors actually served with the Army of Northern Virginia.
Now that all that is clear as mud, please stop. Stop talking so reverently about a flag that never flew as the official flag of a country that never really existed, symbolizing grand ideas and un-besmirched honor and courage.
This flag belongs in museums, of course. It belongs in the back windows of pick-up trucks splattered in mud driven by people who don’t really know what they are so proudly displaying. It belongs in private collections, may be displayed on private property, on your body as tattoo art, anywhere at all you want to wave it, raise it, wear it, anywhere you want it to display your undying love for a lost cause.
It does not belong on public government property. It is an historical artifact and should never be presented alongside state flags, the United States flag, or any other real entity.
If your great great great granddaddy fought in the Army of Northern Virginia, then I understand your desire to have and keep this flag.
Otherwise, I fail to see how you cannot make the connection from the rise in popularity of this flag in the 1960’s to the civil rights movement.
I am one of those proud, stubborn Southerners, born and raised in Alabama. I applauded the governor for simply ordering the flag removed from the state capitol grounds. He said he did not have time for discussing, debating, writing and wrangling with legislative bills or constitutional amendments or public referendums. He had a budget to wrangle, bills to pay. In other words, he had some real work to do.
Ya’ll have a nice day, now. Go do something.
Everyone has been celebrating for almost a week now. The Supreme Court decided to include LGBT people in the legal protections under the law as granted by the Fourteenth Amendment. People have changed their Facebook profiles into rainbow shades. This past weekend there was a huge celebration at the Gay Pride events all over the country. It has been especially gratifying to see so many straight people who joined in the celebration. Thank you all.
A woman climbed the flagpole and took down the Confederate flag on the state grounds in South Carolina. Then she was arrested. About a gazillion people offered to post her bail.
The families of the victims spoke at the white supremacist-terrorist’s court appearance and forgave him for his hate and ignorance. President Obama delivered a powerful, beautiful eulogy urging everyone to act as if they are graced by God. Then he sang a hymn about grace written by a slave trader who got converted. By grace we are led. By grace we are saved. By grace we are better, stronger, more loving, more forgiving. Through grace we come together. That white supremacist was welcomed into the Bible study group at the historic AME church, he was included in prayer, and then hate and ignorance of the grace of God made him stand up and start killing people who had just prayed for his soul. The families forgave him.
Then several black churches were burned to the ground.
One step forward, two steps back.
The Supreme Court upheld the right of LGBT couples to marry. Then the state of Alabama refused to issue marriage licenses. Then a federal judge ordered the county probate judges to stop acting silly and comply with the SCOTUS decision. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/probate-judges-opposed-gay-marriage-stand-firm-32146429
It was posted on Facebook by someone close to me. Huh.
Herewith, my response:
So, this weekend I will be flying my American flag, not the rainbow flag, because the Supreme Court just validated me as a full citizen with access to equal protection under the law granted to every other citizen. This weekend, I fly the red, white, and blue, with more pride, honor, and celebration that ever. It’s nice to be included.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
Thus endeth the lesson. And the people said.
Ya’ll stay safe and have fun.
I really have no words of my own to discuss this week.
So many things happened.
The Republican governor of Alabama ordered the Confederate flag unceremoniously removed from state Capitol grounds.
Rarely have I been so proud of news from my home state.
Then, on Thursday, this happened. In a 6-3 decision, the Affordable Care Act was upheld.
Then, on Friday, June 26, 2015, a bunch of things happened.
Then there was this.
Somehow, President Obama made all of these things mesh together with a eulogy about grace.
I admit I never quite grasped the concept of grace. I think I have a much clearer idea of it now.
The Stonewall Inn at 73 Christopher Street in New York seemed to draw people to it to celebrate.
And this also happened: http://msmagazine.com/blog/2015/06/26/stonewall-inn-designated-nyc-landmark/
So, so many of the posts on Twitter and Facebook yesterday began with, “I never thought I’d live to see the day.”
I know I didn’t expect it. As my partner and I looked at each other, stunned and thrilled, I knew I should sit down and write about what this week in history means, to me, to the LGBT community, to the country. I should write something sweeping in scope, something moving and profound.
INstead, we cried, and all I could really think about were the thousands and thousands of ordinary people with small and large acts of courage, made my life possible, and made this day possible.
I am so grateful for all those who forged their lives when it was very brave to do so, like my partner Sandy.
These three women helped shape my life, made this life I am living possible. Their writing saved me from another kind of life that would have been stifling and painful, and ultimately no life at all.
I keep thinking about what President Obama called “small acts of courage” by countless ordinary people, and I think of trail blazers like Harvey Milk.
I am also thinking of Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Diane Nash, Fanny Lou Hamer, Optima Clark, Amelia Boynton.
My partner Sandy got married right after high school, raised three boys, built a career in art for herself as she built her sculptures, waited until her sons were grown and living outside the home, she got divorced and came out. Just like that. It takes my breath away to imagine the courage that took. Not a small act at all. It was a life saving act, an act of unbelievable self validation.
For her, for all the many thousands like her and me, I am so grateful. Without them, there would be no appeal to the Supreme Court. Without their earlier footsteps, we would not yet be afforded equal protection under the law, as guaranteed to every citizen in the Fourteenth Amendment.
The last paragraph of the decision will be memorized and recited at weddings for years to come.
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
It is so ordered.
Not my words. But they are mine to claim now. I am protected under the Fourteenth amendment. The Constitution applies to me and mine.
I am not one of those people who think of writing as cathartic or therapeutic. However, my therapist disagrees. Write, she said. Write something every day, until it becomes a habit again, until it becomes a compulsion. Should therapists encourage compulsive behavior? Put a pin in that thought.
So Sandy, my partner, wakes up the other morning and tells me the dream she had. Who knows what makes us dream the things we dream? In this case, she said she heard me talking to the cat as she fell asleep. My conversations with Boo Boo are a bit one-sided, since she only listens to herself, and believes she is always right.
In the dream, we had two cats, identical, adorable, and completely enamored of each other to the exclusion of the rest of the world. They were scared of everything, and stayed close together, inseparable, wide-eyed, ready to run for cover at the least provocation.
Then there entered a dog, a big dog. For some unexplained reason, the cats fell in love, and competed to be this dog’s BFF.
This complete reversal of their shy natures caused us concern. Should we keep them away from the dog? Should we allow the cats to fight it out and establish a winner? Why did their behavior change from frightened and co-dependent to outright jealousy and competition?
We decided to go to a party. It was a lesbian party. Driving along, we still could not work out why the sudden change in temperament and personality f the cats. We were actually worried about it.
Then, as we got closer to the house where the party was to be, we got more and more anxious, both of us switching from worried about cat psychology to focus on our own introverted, stay-at-home, do not ever willingly attend social gatherings personalities. We drove slowly past the house, where couples were gathering, debarking, making their way inside like the red carpet at the Oscars. A few recognized Sandy and called out of her. (Sandy being a well-known artist and sculptor.) Sandy ducked down and begged me to keep driving. I had no choice, because the slow crawl of limos disgorging formally dressed lesbians kept us in line.
Sandy became aware, as it happens in dreams, that the theme or purpose of this party was actually a symposium about everyone’s pets suddenly exhibiting strange behaviors due to the introduction of an outside third party of some kind, just like our two cats.
Caught in a near panic attack, Sandy also sensed that I was to be on stage, presenting a humorous monologue about cats. She also realized that Ellen Degeneres and wife were supposed to attend, but couldn’t, so they sent a charming, breezy, wholesome, and entertaining video, the effect of which was calming, a gentle exhortation to accept our animals as they are. “Bye,” they said in unison. “Remember, love everybody regardless of orientation, and judge them by their pets’ neuroses,” except Ellen and Portia used the words “adorable eccentricities”, but we knew what they meant.
Which is much better than being judged for having dreams about cats, lesbians, and parties.
There, that’s about five hundred words of pure recitation, to the best of my memory, of someone else’s dream. That’s not weird. Maybe it is. I’ll talk about that at my next appointment with the irresolute therapist.
I get a little sad on Mother’s Day, since my mother passed away in 2008. I would like to start a tradition of honoring mothers that I know. This year, I choose to honor my partner, Sandy Moore. She is a proud mother of three boys, all grown men now, all talented.
Sandy has been reminiscing about her boys this week. She taught them how to fish, how to build a fire. From her, they each inherited a love of animals. She showed through her own life as an artist how to dedicate yourself to creativity. all three of her sons today are skilled and creative in everything they do. They are artists, whether they claim that label or not.
Sandy spent time with her children when they were young. She played with them, attended every one of their games and performances. She cooked three meals a day, a daunting task for three boys with enormous appetites.
As they became young men, Sandy took a job with the McFarland theatre in Dallas. Her middle son Cliff joined her there, and they worked together for ten years.
Today, Cliff is a general contractor, and manages large construction projects. He is also an artist in his own right.
The youngest son, Russell, graduated from art school, and today is still a working artist.
First born Brandon, raised two girls all on his own, until marrying and creating a blended family. Sandy is proud of Brandon as a father. He is also talented, sang in a boys; choir when young, played football, and today works as a landscaper whose creations are wonderful to see.
Sandy is a proud mother, grateful for her three children. Sandy said to me the other day, “I was a good mother.” yes, she was, and still is.