Breaking Down Barriers

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I got a late start with my writing on the morning of January 17, because it was quite cold and I did not want to leave the warmth of my covers to arise, so I slept in just a bit. It was very quiet in my neighborhood due to being the Martin Luther King holiday. There were no children laughing on the corner, no buses shuttling them to school. The cars of the working folk on my street were still parked on the driveways and streets well after ten. I suspect that everyone was enjoying a slower beginning to the day thanks to Dr. King. 

I had decided not to write about my hero worship of Dr. King one more time. I seem to address that theme every single year and it felt as though I had said as much as I needed to express on that topic. Somehow when I finally did awaken and begin my morning routines, I felt compelled to compose a blog centered on Dr. King and the work that still must be done to fulfill his dream. As I read that his family wants us to take action to insure the rights of all Americans rather than just attend parades or run in marathons or post quotes from the great man, I realized that the journey to the Promised Land continues. Like the Israelites wandering in the desert we still have miles to go before the job of ensuring justice and equality for all is done. 

I was a fortunate soul back in the days of Jim Crow. Because I had white skin everything was open to me, including opportunity. While my family suffered economically after my father died, I was able to attend private school through scholarships and ultimately because the religious community there gave my mother a job and free tuition for me and my brothers. With a uniform like those everyone else wore I blended in with no effort. Nobody knew how we lived on the edge of an economic razor and few realized that I came from a single parent home. With hard work I rose to the heights in the ranks of my peers and easily gained admission to virtually any university of my choice. Only finances and troubles at home kept me from launching myself into the high society of the Ivy league, but I nonetheless received an excellent education that led to a wonderful career. 

I was a fighter for the civil rights of the Black citizens that I did not really know because I had been segregated from them for all of my life. I knew where they lived and I had an occasional interaction when I visited the home of my aunt and her maid was busy cleaning her home. Other than that, I only saw that our treatment of Black citizens was wrong even as I understood so little of what was really happening to them. It was only when I entered college and actually had classes with Black students that the veil of ignorance began to fall from my face. 

It was long after the Civil Rights Act of the nineteen sixties had passed that I began to understand even better what life had been like for my Black colleagues at work. It was then that I realized that my belief that we had done all that needed to be done was false. In my teaching career I met brilliant men and women who had spent their childhoods at the back of buses and in homes and schools tucked away from the white population. I learned of their struggles and determination to become an integrated part of American society. They were real and wonderful and I so admired them just as I had Dr. King. 

I taught students of color who had economic struggles that made those of my own family seem trivial. They had no print matter in their homes, no Internet, no computers, no transportation to libraries. Sometimes they had to care for younger siblings while their parents went to second jobs in the evenings. They told me stories of mothers coming home in the early hours of the morning while it was still dark to catch a few hours of sleep before dashing off to their main jobs. Even then their income was so low that it barely covered the basic necessities. 

These parents were unable to to attend open house or teacher conferences. Missing a few hours of work might result in loss of a much needed job. They never came to band or choir performances. Their children accepted academic awards without a cheering section. They were good mothers and fathers trying hard to keep their children fed and under a secure roof. The luxury of holidays and evenings at home were not always available to them. 

I began to see how the sins of slavery and segregation had a compounded effect on generations. I saw that it was going to take time for them to catch up to the rest of us, and that this would only happen if everyone supported them in their efforts to be welcomed into an integrated society. We have certainly come a long way, but we are not there yet. If we are honest we see the racism that still exists both overtly and under cover. We know that our Black friends and neighbors still suffer from many prejudices and ugly beliefs. 

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act addresses some of the problems, but not all. I know that the simple act of voting is exceedingly difficult for many people who work multiple jobs. They do not have the time to stand in long lines or even to get to those lines without endangering their jobs. They do not get holidays on which they might vote. They cannot chase down voter registration offices that are only open from nine to four. They do not deserve to be gerrymandered into districts that dilute their voting power and representation. 

Dr. King’s family is correct. If we sincerely want to honor the great of Martin Luther King we will continue the work that he and others began even before the slaves were freed. Dr. King wanted all men and women to live in a fair and just society. We are still working our way toward that goal.

In wonderfully diverse nation it’s time that we considered the circumstances of everyone, not just those like ourselves. We have to take off our blinders and be willing to finally see that many of our voting laws work against hard-working and honest people. Our goal should not be to make voting more difficult, but to provide the vote to as many of our qualified citizens as possible. It’s our duty to break down the barriers that keep them away. Both Democrats and Republicans need to work together to get this done.

Finding A Routine

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I have to admit that I am someone who enjoys the calmness of routine. I like red beans and rice Mondays and taco Tuesdays. I always thought it was cool that my cousin was able to look forward to hamburgers every Saturday. I suppose that it is boring to some people to always know what is coming next, but I have often found such a situation to be very comforting. Perhaps it is because there is always a good share of uncertainty in all of our lives, so clinging to a routine at home feels nice, even if it is just designating a certain day of the week as a time to eat a particular food. 

My friends Pat and Bill always had a Thursday night date. They regularly scheduled a babysitter to watch their children and took a few hours each week just to celebrate each other. They might go out to dinner or find a movie to watch. Sometimes they just drove around and talked. They were certain that this routine kept their love and affection for one another alive even through difficult times. 

The visits to my grandmother’s house every single Friday night of my childhood kept me going and made me certain that I was never alone. I loved those raucous evenings with my cousins. The sound of my aunts and uncles arguing over poker games in a smoke filled room still make me smile. The vision of my grandmother with her enamel cups of sugary coffee is one of the most wonderful memories that I have. 

My mother saw to it that we went to church every single Sunday. The people in our parish were my extended family as far as I was concerned. Many of them are still very much part of my life. I always understood that they were good folks upon who I would be able to count in even the most horrific times. 

I suppose that we humans enjoy adventure, but most of us need a bit of order as well. It is a kind of safety net, a way of reminding ourselves that ultimately everything is probably going to be okay. I suspect that the lack of fixed way of doing things is part of the reason that so many are confused and depressed these days. Having to constantly switch gears and adapt to new protocols can be daunting, but in reality doing so is a part of life. Nothing ever stays exactly the same. Those who know how and when it is time to change are the healthy and happy ones among us. It really is possible to be adventurous while clinging to beloved ways of doing things.

I saw a post about a famous athlete who was spotted with a phone that had a cracked screen. When asked why he did not just get another one, given that he earns enough to have almost anything he might want, his answer was that he did not desire his fame and fortune to be used for luxuries that he did not really need. He preferred instead to share his wealth with others who are suffering. He insisted that he was going to continue to follow the frugal ways that he had always lived 

I remember reading that Katherine Hepburn lived for most of her adult life in the same small apartment in New York City. She might easily that found a bigger and more modern place, but she saw no reason to do so. She was comfortable and liked her neighbors. Her home was a place of solace for her. She could see no reason to rock the boat just to impress others with her wealth. 

As a teacher I found that my students liked a semblance of order in the classroom. They wanted me to list the date, the objectives for the lesson and the homework in the exact same place every day. They liked that I had a designated area for turning in work. They appreciated that I graded papers quickly and gave them an updated average each Monday. They knew what to expect and it brought them a sense of well being. Given that many of them were living in highly dysfunctional conditions at home, my little corner of the school was a kind of refuge for them. 

Boring can sometimes be very nice. Schedules provide us with a sense of continuity. The world seems to be spinning off of its axis these days and most of us are weary. So maybe it’s time to find little things that bring us a sense of control. What that is will be different for everyone, but always important. Read that book for an hour each day. Have that meal around the table. Have bedtime routines for everyone. Eat ice cream on Sunday. 

We have to take care of ourselves and the people that we love. We may not get what we want, when we want it, for the price we wish to pay, but we might have that little slice of peace. Routine provide us with the patience that we need in these times. Adjust, adapt and then choose something to do regularly that makes you happy.

Stick to the Facts!

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I’ve alway loved to write. As a child I often created little newspapers that I crafted on eight by ten sheets of paper. I didn’t have access to a typewriter so I carefully printed the words and headlines. Sometimes I even drew illustrations to go with the stories. I imagined myself one day being a journalist for one of the major newspapers or magazines, so when I got the opportunity to be on the staff of my high school newspaper I leapt at the chance. 

By the time I was a senior I was a seasoned reporter. More than anything I wanted to be the editor-in-chief of our student publication. To my dismay that honor was given to a young man. In retrospect it was probably a wise move on the part of our sponsor because at that point in my life I was still lacking in the confidence needed to lead a staff of students with varied personalities, talents and work ethics. It would be later when I learned how to diplomatically get things done. Nonetheless, I had firm opinions about things even then. I had so desperately wanted to write the editorial pieces that were the favorites of the students. Instead I became the news editor, an honor only in that I was in charge of the front page.

I was filled with visions of becoming the next best-selling author of fiction back then. I saw myself more as a poet laureate than a newsie, but there I was. My creative bent was hemmed in by the realization that news should only contain facts, not opinions. It all seemed so sterile, but I kept the pledge to keep editorials out of the stories that I featured. 

In today’s world of journalism there are outlets that call themselves providers of news when they sprinkle opinions throughout their stories without noting that they are simply editorials. I have to say that I prefer the old days when news and opinion pieces were clearly delineated. I want to read or hear the who, what, when, where and why of a news story. Viewpoints belong on another page or in another venue and should always be presented as such. 

Back when I was a cub reporter Walter Cronkite was the master of reporting. I can only think of a few times when he lost his cool and uttered his personal opinions. Usually he simply used the old school rules of keeping the public informed of what had happened without any kind of prejudice. We never really knew what he actually thought about anything until his voice cracked and he shed a few tears on the occasion of President John Kennedy’s death. 

I doubt that I am alone in thinking that all of the talk, talk, talk on virtually every single channel purporting to deliver the news is tinged with bias of one kind or another. I don’t mind shows that advertise themselves as a haven for differing viewpoints, but when those things tinge the reporting of various events I grow angry. I think that many of the problems plague the world today derive from the propaganda that is flooding our airwaves and printed information. We used to be more forthright about what was news and what was nothing more than a personal way of looking at things. This blurring of reality is literally confusing people and making our world sick. People have a general distrust of the media because stories are so often presented in ways designed to skew them toward one belief or another. 

A perfect example is the reporting of a disaster. The news should simply give the pertinent details of what happened, where it happened and to whom it happened. Any theories about blame or negligence and so forth needs to be clearly labeled as opinion. This was once the way we did things and it worked out well. Firing Line was created to provide a venue for debates from the various sides of an issue. The Sunday morning shows provided the same kind of discussions, but in an earlier time the hosts of the programs did not interrupt or debate the guests who spoke. If there was bias it was miniscule. 

Today editorials and opinion pieces dominate the airwaves and creep into printed matter. I don’t mind such things when they are clearly described as what they are.The PBS Newshour has a feature each Friday evening that allows David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart to discuss their political beliefs on different topics. It is clearly identified as an editorial part of the programming. This, to me, is the way it should always be done. Instead we hear about totally slanted news outlets as being “fair and balanced” when the reporting all day long is filled with editorials. Little wonder that we hear so many complaining about fake news. Unless a person takes the time to do extended research it’s often difficult to determine what is fact and what is opinion.

The voices of newspapers, magazines, television and radio that used to be our source of information have all too often become megaphones for political ideologies and even hoaxes and conspiracy theories. Little wonder that we the people are at odds with one another even when it comes to our safety and health. When a renowned medical doctor is accused of being part of some deep state darkness, we have to know that our reporting systems have jumped the shark. Too much of what we read and hear is little more than a tool for some particular point of view. Thus we politicize even the diagnoses and treatments of our healthcare community. We demonize our teachers and our schools without taking the time to actually know and understand what is happening in them. We distort the meaning of a democratic republic and the definition of liberty. 

I ultimately enjoyed my time as the news editor of my high school newspaper. Sometimes my creative side felt a bit constrained by just reporting the facts, so I played with the fonts of the headlines and the overall look of the front page. What I never did was allow the editorials to creep onto that page. I understood the importance of knowing the difference between reporting and inserting opinions. Today’s media would do well to get that straight as well. They might want to study Walter Cronkite to see how much better news is when it just sticks to the facts.   

The Lost Secrets

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Family meals and the food served at them were extremely important to my mother. She was a child of the Great Depression who often proudly noted that she and her siblings never went without a meal. She boasted us that her mother would eat whatever was left after everyone else in the family had a share of the fare on the family menu. She told us of the many times the my grandmother would eat the head of a fish, the neck of a chicken or just suck on the bones of a roast. For my mom, providing food for the family was one of the most important things a good parent might do. 

After my father died Mama had a very small food budget with which to create breakfast, lunch and dinner. She strictly forbade us to eat anything without permission because often the ingredients that we might choose for a snack were intended for one of our meals. She was a wonderfully creative cook who eked every drop out of the food that she purchased. Even bones became the foundation of broth that he used for delicious soups. 

My mom often bragged that she had taken a Home Economics class while she was in high school and that it was probably the most important and useful learning of her lifetime. She credited her teacher with showing her how to create vitamin rich and healthy meals with very little money. She was quite proud of noting that we always had nourishing and tasty meals. 

My friends often commented on the uniqueness of her culinary creations. Best of all they were wonderfully delicious. At bake sales and potluck dinners people would flock to her offerings first because her of her reputation of being a gifted cook. I have to admit that she was masterful in the kitchen without ever having expensive cuts of meat or fish. Somehow she knew exactly what to do to bring out flavors that melded perfectly together. 

The only cookbook that my mother ever used was an old World War II era Good Housekeeping treasure that is unique for its recipes that required very few ingredients that were rationed. There is so little sugar even in the instructions of sweets, that it might almost be designated safe for diabetics. The same is true of eggs. I often felt that the book was a godsend to my mom who was always attempting to find ways of saving money at the grocery store. Nonetheless, she mostly invented recipes of her own, some of which have gone down in the annals of our family lore. 

It was only as Mama grew older and her health began to fail that her cooking lost some of its luster. She’d forget that something was on the stove and it would burn. She would put a bit too much spice or salt and ruin the taste. She’d accidentally leave some important ingredient out. Nonetheless, she was the gravy making queen for thanksgiving and her baked beans were legendary all the way to the end of her life. She holds those titles to this day.

I suppose that I should be a much better cook than I am. Not only was my mother worthy of being a five star chef, but my grandmother Minnie was known far and wide for her cooking. It’s amazing to me that neither lady depended on printed recipes for their dishes. Collectively if they had published a book with the best of their recipes it would have been a sensational success. They actually complemented each other with the favorites from their repertoire.

My grandmother made fluffy biscuits, incredible pies, the best strawberry shortcake ever, melt in your mouth fried chicken, yummy fish, and a variety of vegetables to die for. My mother was a cake and cookie baker extraordinaire. She made delicious soups out of anything that she had. Her meat dishes were always unique and tasty. She created wonderful sauces and gravies and knew how to open a can of something and transform it into a gourmet meal. Sadly neither of them left recipes for posterity. In my grandmother’s case it was because she was illiterate. As for my mother, I suppose that she was so busy creating that she never had time to write things down. 

I tend to repeat the same recipes again and again. I don’t have the same natural feel for cooking and in truth I don’t enjoy it as much as those who came before me. I just want to quickly dash something together and eat mostly to stay alive. The cooking gene appears to have skipped over me somehow but of late, my grandson has shown the same kind of interest in preparing fine meals that his great great grandmother and great grandmother had. In fact, his favorite gifts are cooking tools and certificates to take cooking classes. Perhaps the kitchen genius is still alive and well in him.

If I have one regret it is that I never wrote down the recipes of the best dishes from either my mother or grandmother. It would have been an easy thing to do. We all wish that we knew how to make her famous fudge. I’d give anything to be able to reproduce my grandmother’s biscuits. It’s sad how we don’t seem to think of those things until it is too late. 

My husband’s Aunt Elsie made a flaky Christmas pastry that she called whiskey cakes. None of the recipes we have found are anything like what she made. Nowhere in all of her things did anyone ever find her recipe. The deliciousness of those wonderful delights is gone forever. On cold days we think of her because she had to have a certain cool temperature to create the layers of pastry. It took her hours and hours of rolling paper thin dough and lovingly putting the little cakes together. Sadly she never wrote down exactly how to do it.. 

I have a few recipes that my children and grandchildren enjoy. They’ve already wisely asked me for the recipes. I do a mean seafood gumbo and my arroz con pollo is a winner. I use my mother-in-laws instructions for creating yellow split pea soup and I’m rather well known as the bean queen. Beyond that anything that I cook is easily found in one of my dozens of cookbooks. Still, we’d love to find the secrets of the real chefs who once tantalized our family with their food. Alas the secrets are gone.

It Was A Wonderful Time

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Someone posted a photo of a band playing at one of the Saturday night dances took place at my high school back in the day when I was still a young girl filled with so much energy and idealistic optimism about the future. I faithfully attended those dances every weekend even though I learned the meaning of the term “wallflower” on those long ago nights. I was shy and gawky and a late bloomer, so I probably looked like somebody’s little sister sneaking in to an event where I did not quite belong. Somehow I still managed to have so much fun because I enjoyed the music and the conversations with my fellow wallflowers and some of the boys in my class who were not yet quite ready to commit to asking someone to dance. 

Now and again some young fellow from another school would show up not knowing anyone. They’d see me sitting on the sidelines and ask me to hit the dance floor with them. I rarely even knew any of their names. I simply enjoyed moving to the music  and being freed from my perch on the sidelines for a time. It also provided me with a bit of victory as I glanced at the reluctant warriors from my school who seemed amazed that I actually knew how to dance. Thus it went week after week for four years and my memories of those times are all so very good. 

I was a teen of the sixties when the music was dominated by groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Back then the radio was a conduit to the world with new songs and new artists coming out continually. It was all so wonderful. I liked the bands with innovative styles of playing and creating intricate and meaningful lyrics. Some of those experimenting with music actually played at those Saturday night dances, which was yet another reason that I showed up each week even if I had to sit out the entire night on a metal chairs near the wall. I was entranced with the music of my era. 

I remember going to one of our school football games one fall evening with a group of my girlfriends. We traveled to the stadium in the big Volkswagen bus that my friend Eileen had borrowed from her parents for the occasion. We crowded inside and turned on the radio full blast to accompany our raucous conversation that was filled with the laughter and silliness of teenage girls. All of a sudden the DJ played The House of the Rising Sun by the Animals and we were stunned into total silence. We all thought that it was one of the best songs that we had ever heard and evidently we were not alone because the DJ announced that the telephone lines were lighting up with requests to play it again and again. We sat in the VW bus listening unit a commercial finally broke the trance that had overtaken us. 

That photo of the Saturday night dances at my school stirred my memories of the wonderful moments of my youth, most of which were influenced by music. I remembered seeing Roy Orbison perform live at a fundraiser for our school and going to see the Beach Boys with the same group of friends who discovered The House of the Rising Sun with me on that memorable football night. It felt as though every facet of those days was influenced by the artists of the era. There were so many who touched my very soul and changed me just as the books that I read had also done. 

I never had a great deal of extra change for purchasing records and buying LPs was totally out of my economic reach. When my best friend, Claudia, gave me Revolver by the Beatles for a Christmas gift one year it felt as though I had won the lottery. I must have played that album over and over and over. Luckily my mother liked it as much as I did and my brothers who were younger began to adopt an interest in music as well. Later Claudia would gift me with the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and once again I wore the album out from overplaying it. 

I was a sophomore in college when I met my husband. Our relationship really clicked when I learned that he enjoyed music as much as I did. We had the same taste in artists and he was also rather clever in bringing the sounds to us when we went out on dates. Long before tape decks, CD players or streaming was available in cars he carried a tape deck in the backseat that played his favorite songs. Sometimes he actually created themes for the evening with his playlists. 

We launched our longstanding love affair to the sounds of the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Donovan, the Dave Clark Five, Peter Paul and Mary, the Association and of course the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. We’ve been listening to music ever since and once even saw Donovan live in a venue so intimate that we might have been able to reach out and touch him from our table. 

Our tastes have evolved with the times but the classics from the sixties will always be our favorites. They are the songs of our youth, songs that inspired us to be better versions of ourselves. That was the music that pushed us to leave the isolated safety of our childhood homes and go forth in the world to hopefully do good work. Somehow it doesn’t even seem so long ago. When I hear those sounds I’m still that skinny fresh-faced girl whose baby fine hair refused to stay put in a big bouffant. It was a wonderful time.