My Hero

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I grew up in a time when television was in its infancy and comic books were so popular that even grocery stores featured shelves of them. My mother was rather selective in what she allowed me and my brothers to watch and read. She limited the number of hours that we could sit in front of the t.v. and took us regularly to the library to borrow educational books. We mostly sated our taste for adventurous programing on Saturday mornings when when we watched the programs that we preferred while our mother slept longer than on the other days of the week. 

We became familiar with all of the fictional heroes of the era and marveled at characters like Tarzan and Superman and the Lone Ranger. We mostly surreptitiously learned about the superheroes of comic books from our cousins and friends because Mama thought it was a waste of time and money to purchase the pulpy magazines designed for lovers of imagined adventures and prowess. Surprisingly my grandmother kept a stock of comics on a bookshelf in her home. I would sneak into the room where they were stored and devour them each time I visited. Even though I never told her what I was doing she somehow knew to regularly purchase the latest editions and set them out in view so that I would find them. In retrospect I wonder if she liked the comics because of their illustrations that allowed her to “read” them even though she was illiterate or perhaps it was a habit that she developed for my father who was quite a fan of comic book humor and stories of fantastic worlds. 

I had a cousin who collected comic books like some people collect stamps or coins. There were stacks and stacks of them in his home and I have to admit to being somewhat envious that he had so much exciting reading matter at his fingertips. I too enjoyed the adventures of the great superheroes, bu it was not a well known comic book superhero who caught my fancy when I was young, but a silly cartoon squirrel named Rocky and his sidekick, Bullwinkle. 

In 1959, Rocky and Bullwinkle premiered on television. I would have been around ten years old when I first saw the show and I was immediately taken by its satirical stories that poked fun at the world of spies and Cold War intrigue. Rocky, aka Rocket J. Squirrel, was a flying squirrel who always wore World War I type flight goggles and seemed to have more common sense than most humans. His best friend was Bullwinkle J. Moose who always appeared to be confused by whatever he encountered in the world, but he was a loyal and affable sidekick who did his best to help with the cause. Together they fought the evil spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale who had infiltrated their once peaceful town of Frostbite Falls. Week after week they foiled the nefarious plots of this often frustrated couple who seemed overwhelmed by the superior intellect of Rocky.

The show began each episode with a little ditty that seemed to sum up the both ridiculousness and delightfulness of the plot,

“A thunder of jets and an open sky,

A streak of gray and a cheerful “Hi!”

A loop, a whirl, a vertical climb

And once again you know it’s time

For the adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends”

Whenever I heard that silly rhyme I knew that I would be transported to an hilarious world that would leave me laughing and wondering if everyone else understood the jokes that tumbled out so quickly that it was difficult to keep up with them. I so loved the stories and the characters that I would continue following them long after I was grown whenever I found them being rerun on some channel that featured old programs from my youth. 

The best thing about Rocky and Bullwinkle was that my mother liked it as well. She somehow viewed it as being a cut above ordinary cartoons and she shared our delight in the stories. Rocky became our family favorite and we still marvel at how intelligently creative it was. I suppose that I was even impressed when I found out that my husband was a fan as well. Sometimes we would laugh about our favorite moments on the cartoon and even fake accents to become silly versions of Boris and Natasha. We would both laugh at the very adult jokes that we heard on the program and wonder if our mothers had thought that we had been too young and inexperienced to understand the double entendres that slipped into the script. It was a closely guarded secret among kids that Rocky and Bullwinkle introduced us to a very intellectual and daring kind of humor. 

My father loved comedy and he even had a number of books in his collection that featured illustrated comic strips. If he had lived long enough I suspect that he would have been guffawing at Rocky and Bullwinkle along with me and the rest of my family. While I’m a huge fan of Batman and I really enjoy Iron Man, Rocket J. Squirrel will always be my favorite superhero. Who wouldn’t love a flying squirrel who constantly saved the world from horrible fates in a time when we were still climbing under our tasks to practice duck and cover lest the Soviet Union bomb or nation? Somehow Rocky seems as relevant now as he was back then.  

Shine Little Glow Worm

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In early June (if all goes well) we will be heading to Arkansas near the little town of Caddo Gap where my grandparents once lived. It’s a beautiful slice of our country that I have loved since I was a child sharing adventures with my Grandma and Grandpa. The fun that I had was homespun and quiet, but it will forever have a special place in my heart. 

My grandparents decided to live out their last days on this earth at a farm. They chose a spot not far from where my grandmother’s parents had lived and eventually died. I’m sure that residing and farming there had a very special meaning for her so she was happier in that place than she had ever been. Every single day was filled with maintaining the livestock and nurturing the crops that she and Grandpa had planted. When the evening came they sat delightedly and with gratitude on their front porch surveying the land and their good fortune.

Whenever we came to visit my grandparents would arise long before dawn to get all of their work done so that they might dedicate their time to being with us. Grandma would make special meals and take us on hikes in the hills behind their property while Grandpa showed us how to milk cows, harvest peaches and fish. Sometimes we even visited some of the neighbors who were sweet folk who seemed to have spent their entire lives isolated from the rest of the world. They entertained us with homespun yarns while chewing on tobacco and smiling with toothless grins. Grandma would treat them as though she was in the presence of the Queen of England and she expected us to show them the same regard. 

We always had to travel to the farm in the summer because of school. It was brutally hot during the daytime hours and nobody had air conditioning in their homes. Few even had running water. My grandparents were considered the most well off in the area because of their modern conveniences like running water, indoor toilets and electricity. Neighbors would come to watch television or to borrow magazines and newspapers or just to sit in front of Grandpa’s big box fan. Mostly the people who live there enjoyed my grandmothers cooking and her generosity in sending jars of canned vegetables home with them. 

After dinner when darkness came we always moved to the front porch where we listened to the nighttime calls of the animals and watched thousands of lightning bugs glowing in the dark. It was one of the most glorious sights I have ever seen. It was as though thousands of little diamonds were glittering right in front of us and above them was a heavenly vision of so many stars that there was hardly a space that was not radiating with light. It was a wondrous and beautiful thing to witness and difficult to describe in today’s world of electric lights that cloud our vision and hide the creatures who were once there in profusion. 

I think about how glorious it was on those summer evenings and feel a deep tug of sadness that there are not as many fireflies as there once were. It seems that we have eradicated many of them, thinning their numbers by moving into areas where they once lived or using insecticides that killed them in great numbers. Ironically our own lights have also chased them away. Sadly this is happening all over the world, and while they are not yet an endangered species, they are trending in that direction unless we do something to guarantee that they keep living on our planet. 

I suppose that most people would think that fireflies have little use and that there is no real reason to worry much about them, but the truth is that they feed on other insects like snails that harm crops and do great agricultural damage. When there are enough lightning bugs they keep the insect population in a healthy balance. They are way more than just lovely creatures of the night and they are warning us that we have real problems on this earth that we are avoiding at our own peril. 

When the creatures of this earth begin to die, it should be a sign to us that we are in trouble as well. Violent weather events are becoming more and more commonplace. Drought is a worldwide problem that is way bigger than rising gasoline prices . Our most necessary natural resources are becoming more and more scarce as we continue to tear down forests and encroach on habitats that were once the domain of creatures that lived side by side with us in harmony. Just as we killed too many whales and buffalo, so too have we upset the balance of nature with even the smallest of creatures. We seem to have an insatiable desire for consuming  too many of the natural elements of our planet without thought to what the consequences of our actions will be. We scoff and even laugh at the scientists and protestors who warn us that if we do not take very serious actions to save our earth we will face dire and life threatening situations. It won’t just be lightening bugs whose numbers will dwindle for our lack of foresight. It will be humans who will suffer irreparable harm. 

We can celebrate earth day and plant a tree or a few flowers, but we must act as responsible stewards for this great gift that we have. We must protect and preserve enough of the land and the creatures that we do not continue to create a mass extinction of animals or plants like we have already done with so many species. It is our duty to take care of what we have and to take measures to conserve however we can. It will take all of us to ensure a future for all living things, including humans. 

We can’t ignore the warnings whether they come from creatures or other humans. It’s time we watched and listened. It’s time we recreate an environment where those little glow worms will shine and light up the sky with hope. It’s time that we dedicate ourselves to making our earth well once again.  

The Magnificence of a Renaissance

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I have always been fascinated by the European Renaissance, a time when there were seemingly great leaps of discovery and knowledge in science, medicine, philosophy and the arts. Life indeed became better for many of the people, but those who toiled in the fields and did the hard labor may not have enjoyed the explosion of progress that developed between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries as much as those in the upper class and those who had begun to carve out a kind of middle class. There was still much ignorance and lack of equality. The ground gained in that period of time mostly belonged to men, while women still remained creatures of the kitchen and maternal duties. Still, the wondrous developments of the era catapulted humankind forward in such a dramatic way that it is often seen as the European flowering of scientific endeavors, medical progress, literature, painting and sculpture. 

The so called Dark Ages probably were not as void of light as we sometimes think, but they were marked by pandemics, war and conflict. Gutenberg had not yet invented the printing press, so only priests who created manuscripts and the most wealthy had access to books and educations.   Life was mostly about lots of hard work and very short lives. 

I always enjoy the Renaissance Festivals that travel across the country. They are exceptionally entertaining with their turkey legs, and jousting and music, but what I would most like to see from the Renaissance are the products of the great minds who changed the world in that time. It would be fun to have someone create a play in which Galileo tells his story to an audience and then takes questions from the crowd. Having an old time Shakespearean play would be delightful, especially if it was totally authentic. I’d like to see people dressed as characters from the Canterbury Tales and be able to go to a studio filled with works from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. I’d like to sit with someone playing Descartes and find out how he came up with his mathematical processes and what led him to his philosophies. A real Renaissance Festival would be enlightening and educational. 

It is no accident that many of the founders of our country were well versed in the work of the great thinkers and artists of the Renaissance. They valued books and science. Ben Franklin was considered one of the great scientists and engineers of his time as well as being a writer and printer. He was a learned man who had no doubt studied Copernicus and understood that the earth was not the center of the universe. Thomas Jefferson devoured books and ideas, many of which had been developed during the Renaissance, and he was in the Americas because of the explorations of adventurers from across Europe. 

As I noted, not everyone benefited immediately from the progress of the Renaissance. I can tell by studying my family tree that my ancestors mostly remained poor and ignorant, especially the women. Neither of my grandmothers were educated beyond elementary school as late in as at the end of the nineteenth century. My grandfathers were farmers and laborers who knew how to read but mostly self-educated themselves. They never rose into the middle class in spite of all of their hard work. It would be left to my mother and father to become the first in each of their families to earn a college degree, although a somewhat distant branch of my father’s family tree indeed boasts a doctor. Nonetheless I know that some of my ancestors benefited from the Renaissance because some of them found their way to the new world in the earliest days of colonization. They brought what they knew across the ocean and then learned from the native people who were already here. Sadly, mistakes were made by them and others who had the bad assumptions that they were doing the original tenants of this land a favor by changing their ways. This was an arrogant attitude that was widely accepted as gospel when Europeans conquered people in the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Their seemingly well meaning ways did not always work out so well for the people who were already living where they went or those that they used as slaves to work the land.

I suppose that calling me a progressive is accurate because I firmly believe that discovering new and better ways of living and thinking are what make humans great. I even think that God gave us our minds as a gift for improving the world for its people and for preserving this great planet. I have always felt that it is our duty to use our minds for the betterment of humanity, not just for enriching ourselves. The great minds of the Renaissance often understood this by performing great deeds and demonstrating great courage in search of truths. I am certain that each of us possess a certain level of greatness of our own and when we use share our talents to help make all people better we are developing our intellects the way we were meant to do. 

We are at a watershed moment right now. Our world is threatened with pandemics, wars, climate change, violence and ignorance just as it was in the Dark Ages. We can look away and move backward into another dark age of our own or we can do as the geniuses of the Renaissance did and bring light, beauty and innovation into the world. Our future is depending on science and great thoughts. We must be certain to cherish and support the new Renaissance men and women among us whose breakthroughs will catapult our world into a future that is bright. We should not be afraid for we now know that the world is not flat and that all humans are linked together in our hopes and dreams. Opportunity beckons us, but only if we listen to its call.

A World Without Tunnel Vision

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My entire life I have done my best to keep calm and carry on. I have fought bouts of sadness by studying, working, reaching out to other people with random acts of kindness. I have totally believed in the innate goodness of people and I have been optimistic about our human inclinations and willingness to work together, compromise, sacrifice for the greater good of all humanity. I have wondered how evil enters our world and takes hold of individuals and sometimes entire nations to spread its poison. I have considered such perversions as anomalies that always seem to ultimately be beaten back by the preponderance of good people in the world. Optimism has been my guide through every challenge of my lifetime and believing in the best of humankind has been a potent motivator for me along with the comfort that my faith in God brings me. I’m not boasting because by my own admission I have failed and become cynical many times over, but somehow I manage to pull myself out of the doldrums and return to the better half of myself time and again.

To say it has been tough for me to deal with the ugliness in the present day condition of the world is an understatement, but I am determined to believe that good people across the globe will ultimately prevail. We have to identify our common problems and then agree on crafting potential solutions, realizing that our first efforts may or may not work. We will need patience to make progress with the global issues that ultimately affect us all. If we simply ignore our common problems, we do so at our own peril.

All of humankind continues to endure the ravages of Covid 19 in every corner of the globe. A million Americans have died. Cases are on the rise again with a new variant and it is time that all of us acknowledge that we may want to ignore the virus, but it will not ignore us. We should be willing to follow the science and continue to be cautious until it burns itself out completely or becomes as mild and common as a cold. We owe it to each other to get tested if we develop symptoms and let people know that we are sick. Common sense means that we don’t ignore signs that we might have Covid even if those indicators are mild. If we truly respect each other we must still be careful not to spread the virus.

Climate change is real. The proof is registered on our thermometers and in the increase and magnitude of natural disasters. Fires are already burning in the west and will likely intensify in the summer months. Drought is devastating waterways and threatening to leave areas of the country without the liquid that our bodies must have. We have to face the reality that it is past time to conserve resources and change the ways that we operate daily. This may mean driving less, changing to electric cars, becoming accustomed to raising our thermostats in the summer and lowering them in the winter. We may even start opening windows in the cooler parts of the summer days and putting on extra layers of clothing whenever it is cold outside. It’s time for all of us to educate ourselves in what we need to do to turn the tide of global warming around. Most surely it will require sacrifice but surely we are willing to change for the good of future generations.

There is a major food shortage around the world, particularly in third world countries. The distribution of food has been yet another victim of both Covid and the subsequent production and supply chain issues that are impacting every single country. The war in Ukraine has removed the source of much of the grain that world’s people rely on. It is our duty as fellow humans to resist the inclination to isolate ourselves and hoard our food resources with an America First attitude. We have always been our best when we have helped to feed other people in the world and striven to make them safe and healthy. If doing so now means that we have to make sacrifices at the grocery store, then that is what we must do. 

Immigrants are not invaders. Most of them are people who simply want better lives for themselves and their children. Almost everyone, save for Native Americans, is descended from someone who left another nation and came to our shores seeking economic, religious, or political freedom. Immigrants have built this nation and continue to do so. Instead of building walls and adhering to ugly theories like a plot to replace white Americans with foreigners, we should be earnestly working together for true immigration reform that will encourage and allow good people from all over the world to join us as long as they are willing to work within our laws. We can no longer afford to create monsters out of people who have the same need and desires as our ancestors once had.

Violence and crime are daily routines. We need to honestly find out why this is happening. The challenge is to avoid a blame game and cooperate with one another to find both the source of this situation and viable solutions for controlling it. We need to be willing to try all kinds of measures including both preventive and punitive ideas. We must determine the roles that education, social programs, ownership of guns, broken families, hate groups and portrayals of violence are playing in creating the caustic environment. Instead of accepting soundbites and accusations from our leaders we need to seek people who are willing to cross the aisle and repair our cities and towns without asking for credit. We don’t need talk. We need solutions that are just and fair for all and they must not focus only on punishment.

We finally have to ask ourselves why we are so angry with those whose ideas are different from our own. In the history of mankind it has been diversity that has produced the very best ideas. We need a balance of viewpoints. We must hear all voices, not just the loudest ones. We need to stop the attempts to force particular beliefs on everyone. In truth each side of the aisle thinks it has the answer to making our country and our world great. Such will not happen if the best we can do is impede any form of progress by making the running of our government a zero sum game in which vast swathes of people are regularly doomed to lose. 

We hear talk that compromise is a sign of weakness. We boast about tough people who are steadfast in their refusal to even consider any kind of thoughts other than their own. Therein lies the biggest problem that we face. Imposing our personal wills on others is only going to impede the process that we need. Fear, isolation and authoritarian philosophies have been the source of human misery for millennia. Surely we know this and surely we must be willing to withdraw our support from those who would dominate us rather than represent us all. The rhetoric is exhausting and it is even killing us. It’s time we take a deep breath and bring optimism and sacrifice and cooperation back into the world to defy the despots and evil doers who seem to think that we are too busy fighting to notice the damage they are doing to our beautiful world. Tunnel vision is our enemy, not each other. Let’s agree to build a world without it.

Blooming

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Growing up is often a painful process both physically and mentally. I was the quintessential late bloomer which was compounded by the fact that my parents enrolled me in first grade a year earlier than what is generally deemed as normal. I was a tiny little girl who had held her own with confidence until I was suddenly sent off to school with little warning just after my youngest brother was born. I was unable to feel as confident as I always had in the loving bubble of my family. As a five year old sitting in a classroom with kids who were mostly a full year older than I was, I felt terrified. By age I should have been in kindergarten, but my parents mistook my pluck at home for enough maturity to fake it with a group of peers who’d had an extra year to prepare for the shock of beginning the educational journey in earnest. 

While I quickly proved my academic mettle, I was not ready to be with my six year old classmates. I still looked more like a preschooler than someone with enough moxie to blend easily with my new set of peers. My personality quickly changed from chatty and outgoing to shy and reserved as I attempted to find my place in my new environment. If not for my incredibly kind teacher and a sweet girl who took me under her wing I might become irrevocably withdrawn. Instead I was feeling much better about the situation by the time I had completed my first school year. Being able to read and spell words and do math was wonderful.

I might have been well on my way to a return to my more natural bubbly self but for my parents deciding to move, which meant starting second grade in a brand new school. To make matters worse, my name was not on any roster when my mother and I arrived on the first day. After a great deal of brokering on my mother’s part an administrator accompanied me to a classroom and confronted the teacher with the news that she would have an additional student. Unfortunately, an argument ensued in front of me that dampened my spirit for the rest of the academic year. The beleaguered teacher insisted that she did not want me to join her already overcrowded group of students. While the two adults argued I began to feel smaller and smaller. I wanted nothing more than to just run away. 

The administrator got her way and I quietly became more withdrawn as I endured one of the most miserable years of my young life. The teacher made little effort to hide her resentment toward me with little insults about me all year long in spite of my efforts to please her. Nonetheless, I made a number of friends who have stuck by me since that time. The joy of knowing them made the unbearable more bearable. 

Things might have continued in an upward trend had my father not decided to move us all again only weeks after I began third grade. We embarked on an adventure that took us all the way to California where my father’s failed dreams kept us moving four more times before the end of my third year of school. By then I was shell shocked from having to continually adjust to new environments, new schools, new teachers, new classmates. I reached the point of not even bothering to get to know anyone and became less and less congenial. When my daddy died at the end of that year I felt so devastated and wary that my true outgoing talkative personality seemed to die with him. 

My fourth grade teacher did little to help me because she was literally as mean as a skunk. Somehow I carried on by throwing myself into studying and then having fun at home in my neighborhood and on weekends with my dozens of cousins. I advanced from one grade to another from the same house in the same neighborhood. The routine was my saving grace. I felt secure in the repetitiveness of putting down roots in a place where the people around me were kind and helpful. I began to heal. 

I might have regained my confidence totally but for the fact that I did not grow. I began high school with a mind that was equal to my classmates, but the body of a child rather than a teen. I would be heading for my junior year before I began the process of changing physically and psychologically. My physical development was two years behind and that fact caused me to feel even more uncomfortable and less certain about who I was. I struggled to relate to my peers who were dating and becoming visibly more mature. I hid my unease with jokes and an even greater attention to growing academically which I had the power to control.

By the time I graduated from high school at the age of seventeen I had finally developed as I should have and I was armed with a great education that gave great promise for my future. I loved my friends and would keep them for the rest of my life. I could hardly wait to launch my college career and then move on to being an adult. My growing pains were gone and I was excited about going to a new environment in which I might demonstrate the more outgoing personality that I had hidden away for so long. 

I did not go far from home for college. Moving out of town and staying in a dorm was economically out of the question, but my city had several excellent universities. I purposely chose the largest of them all because I felt that it was time for me the emerge from the bubble that had nurtured me after my father’s death. I met the challenges of being in a large public institution with eagerness because finally the course of my life was being driven by my own desires rather than fate. I was able to choose my major, select my classes and my professors. It was such a freeing experience and along the way I knew that I was rapidly becoming the person that I had always wanted to be. 

In the second semester of my freshman year I met my husband to be. Our relationship was special from our very first date. Somehow I knew that I had met my soulmate because I had no trouble just being myself whenever I was around him. He boosted my confidence even more than it had already become. When he asked me to marry him when I was only nineteen years old I did not hesitate to accept his proposal. The world was on fire with war, assassinations, and unrest so it seemed imperative to grab happiness when I found it. 

The rest of my story is one of feeling good in my own skin. I learned to really like myself and when that happened I was able to shift my concerns to the people around me. My focus was on making them feel good as well. All in all things worked out thanks to the wisdom of my mother in providing me with security and love. The friends that I met in my youth have sustained me for decades along with new people who widened my horizons and enriched my experiences. I became a teacher who understood the angst of being a student. I taught my kids with love. I understood the value of people and relationships because of my own struggles. With my life partner I created an adventure that has been filled with rich experiences. I am a survivor of my own misgivings and in an odd kind of way I believe that even my most difficult challenges helped to make me a better person that I might otherwise have been. I learned how to adapt and ride the wave life’s storms. I took a bit longer to bloom than most but when I finally did it was beautiful and I think I appreciated it even more.