Police: And My Interactions With Them

Police: And My Interactions With Them

Traffic tickets. What did I do wrong? Wanting to immediately defend myself. Not knowing how to act, what to do. I don’t have a weapon; I’m a female driving a car!

I’ve had four encounters with police and none of them felt comfortable. Why? Well it’s the police. Okay. The police make me nervous. But some of you reading this might have fathers, husbands, sisters, brothers who work in law enforcement. So, what’s my point?

Actually, it was made this morning in a column in the Chicago Tribune. Columnist Eric Zorn writes about his encounters with police and how we can improve things. But first let me tell you about mine.

FIRST: It happened on a circular drive in a shopping center in Matteson, Illinois. A policeman pulled me over. I guessed I was going 30 in a 20-mile zone. I immediately dialed my husband on my cell phone; he actually answered. Now the policeman is at my window, yelling at me to get off the phone. So, I did. FIRST ENCOUNTER, not going well.

He told me I had gone 30 in a 20. There was nothing more to say. He wrote out a ticket. I went on my way.

SECOND: I am now an RN, working at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Around noon, before my shift, I drive to pick up my son at grade school. I pull up in my car along the schoolyard fence. Just as I do, a child FALLS of the swing that is at a great height. I leap from my car and go into the school yard to help this child. He is shaken, bruised, but he is okay. While I am caring for him, a policeman pulls up behind me and starts writing me a ticket. WHY?

He’s ticking me for leaving my car running….I am about 10 feet from my car, we are on a leafy street with no traffic. I go out and argue with him. It makes absolutely no difference that I was leaping out of my car to help a child. None at all. It would have been nice to just get a warning. But I don’t appeal the ticket. I’m too damn busy.

THIRD: In this same neighborhood, we have moved, remodeled a very old home from the 1920’s. New roof, windows, doors, newly poured patio. New gardens, not to mention every room in the house has new plumbing and we have a new boiler etc etc. BUT…

While purchasing wallpaper in the community, giving my address….the woman waiting behind me says right out: “Oh, you’re the house with the bush that grows over the sidewalk.” I look at her. Turn back, pay, leave the store. Thinking, what a b…..

We contact the village to pay for new sidewalk squares (it’s a corner house) so that people don’t trip while they are walking near our house.

But then it happens, the same policeman who ticketed me for helping a child, pulls up, rings my bell, writes me a ticket for the bush growing over the sidewalk. AND HE ISN’T EVEN NICE ABOUT IT, when I show him how we have improved THIS house, even redone the public sidewalk.

FOURTH: This last is the least of all three, yet in some ways it might have turned out to be the worst. It all depends on the person you are dealing with. 

Here’s why, and remember, no one has ever told me the rules. I am driving through the streets of Des Moines, on my way to pick up my son from his music lesson. I notice a police car is following me. Well, it’s not me, I tell myself. But when I pull into the parking lot, he does too, it’s me. I pull into a parking space, he pulls into the space behind me. So what do I do?

I do the exact wrong thing that I don’t know is the exact wrong thing, I get out of my car and walk back to him. His window is down—“You need to get back in your car.” I don’t think he yelled, but he’s angry. And it’s me, Beth Havey, who hasn’t done anything wrong. “Officer, what have I done?”

He gives me the same answer, get back in your car. I do. I wait. About five minutes later, he walks up to my open window.

“Your registration is out of date. You don’t have your sticker on your plate.”

“I’m so sorry,” I tell him, “I must have left the notice in a pile of mail. I will take care of this immediately.”

“And he, nods, walks away, so that after I get my son, I drive oh so carefully until I can get home and hide my car. I won’t drive it again until I have my NEW STICKER.

LOOKING BACK and FORWARD 

I’ve been driving for YEARS. For my 3-11 shift at Mercy Hospital in the city of Chicago. Back and forth from Des Moines to Chicago, alone. Many times to Iowa City, alone. Across country to California, with my husband. I’ve navigated the 405, the busiest road in California. BUT I HAVE NEVER BEEN TOLD THE RULES. I learned them through negative experience, and by reading the paper, watching video of others, watching police deal with Black men, Black women, young kids,  etc etc. Don’t get out of the car…Get out of the car!!

NO ONE TOLD ME THE RULES when I first got my license. And not when I renewed. The tests in California are always about SIGNS and more SIGNS. Same in Illinois.

ERIC ZORN writes that a new measure in Illinois, co-sponsored by three African American lawmakers, requires that the RULES OF THE ROAD manual include instructions on “appropriate interaction with law enforcement officers” during a traffic stop. They claim that these instructions are in the booklet. I don’t remember being tested on that point. Signs, all the tests are about signs. 

CONCLUSION: the following should be front and center:

  • If you can’t quickly pull over, activate your hazard lights to signal your intent to comply.
  • Don’t rummage for your license, etc don’t make a quick phone call about anything. These movements can alarm the officer, especially with the prevalence of guns in society. Instead, turn on your dome light if it’s night and put your hands on the wheel at 10 and 2.
  • When the officer asks for documents, tell this person where they are, move slowly.
  • Don’t argue with the officer. That never goes well. If you get a ticket, sign it, avoid arrest. Save your argument for the judge.

Zorn then says: But we as drivers should also know our rights. Such as:

  • The right not to answer questions about where you’re going, where you live or your immigration status as well as the right not to respond to accusations or insinuations of wrongdoing.
  • The right to deny consent to a search of your person or of your vehicle (though officers may conduct such a search anyway, if they claim probable cause.) This happened to a person I dearly love and he was arrested.
  • The right to learn the officer’s name and badge number.
  • The right to refuse to take a blood, urine or breath test if you are suspected of impaired driving (though such a refusal is almost certain to result in a one-year license suspension.)

My final thoughts are like Eric Zorn’s: courtesy and respect during a traffic stops can be and should be a two-way street. Lawmakers ought to put that in their guidelines as well.  

Also, I’ve been damn lucky! I was in a bad accident years ago. I made a bad turn. My daughters were injured. They are fine now, but it took me months to forgive myself. But that’s another blog post. https://boomerhighway.org/reclaiming-motherhood/

Please share your interactions with the police and how you handled them. 

THANKS to ERIC ZORN Chicago Tribune

photo  I Stock

 

BACK IN CHICAGO…

BACK IN CHICAGO...

The ability to love everyone starts with children. We are blank slates. We see the world bathed in equality—until, as we grow, we begin to become aware of differences. Or they are pointed out to us. Regardless, there is always hope.

In a world where we are truly now a global nation, where we could look like the United Nations, differences should not be an issue.

But there is something in an individual’s DNA that makes them cling to those first times when we see differences or feel different or are taught to claim a difference. Why? I don’t have an answer. 

EVERYONE HAS SOME PREJUDICE 

There are people on this earth who claim that they have no prejudices. That everything in their purview is equal. I say, that’s impossible. Maybe you are or have always been comfortable with the differences that exist in humanity regarding skin color. Awesome. Wonderful. But I proport there isn’t a person walking this earth that isn’t prejudiced in some way. And it may be as simple as food choices.

Because life is about choice and within each of us is some small voice telling us that THIS is better than THIS. It just depends on what we are talking about. But we must be honest.

HOW PREJUDICE BEGINS 

As a child, I lived on the southside of Chicago. But—in a neighborhood that was all white. The people of color I knew were few. There was Jenny, the Sioux Native American who cared for us when we were very young. (read here). And there were the two Black women who cleaned and ironed for us. (read: here.)

OPENING MY EYES

But what did I notice as I grew up in Chicago? (I am doing my best to be honest.)

  • That all our neighbors, the people who worked in stores, the kids in school, the people in church, our doctors—they were all white.
  • That when my mother drove me through neighborhoods to downtown Chicago (before the city built the Dan Ryan Expressway, which was geographically laid out to separate many Black neighborhoods from white ones) that the sidewalks were crowded with people walking; that there were people missing limbs, people in wheel chairs, maybe even people who had lost hope. READ: people who had to rely on public transportation; people without good healthcare. People who lived in food deserts and healthcare deserts. Please note that in certain decades THE CAR was everything. This was before we began to look on public transportation as a positive way to travel. I did live three blocks from the Rock Island train that zipped my mother into Chicago for her job. From that train, I could look out upon housing, old apartments, yards bare of grass, sometimes filled with trash… Okay—poverty.

What did I notice during my years of education?

  • Well, I’m certain I would never have looked around for a Black child in my grade school. That possibility wasn’t even on our radar. There were two girls in my class whose skin was actually tan all year long: read, darker than mine. Damn, that I noticed that. Is there something in our DNA that points that out?
  • But after high school, working in the city every summer in downtown Chicago, the variety of people along the sidewalks was fascinating.

What did I notice off and on just living and working in Chicago and its suburbs?

  • That even though I was white, there were sales women in high-end stores that were not interested in helping me return a blouse or search for a size. Because prejudice can move through all tribes—I obviously wasn’t dressed in a way that indicated my buying power. That memory still stings. But GET OVER IT, You Privileged White Woman.
  • That working in an integrated high school in Chicago Heights, Illinois and then much later working as an RN at Mercy Hospital in the Bronzeville area of Chicago, were some of the best years of my life. If there was some ignorant, leery, unsure person hidden inside me—those career choices made me push her aside.

MY FIRST JOB INTERVIEW 

“Some of our students have knives,” the Superintendent of the high school where I was interviewing told me. I needed the job. I said that was okay. I spoke out of ignorance. What did I know about dealing with a student who might be carrying a knife? I learned to be open and caring of all my students. Was I lucky? Yes. But there were so many students throughout my teaching years that showed me their humanity.

It was the same at Mercy Hospital when I first started working in maternity. I might be nervous walking into a room to help a stranger deliver her child. But the bond of the female species, of motherhood, of helping someone in pain—damn, humanity was flowing through those rooms and continued to do so.

NOTE: It is 2021, and thank God, Mercy Hospital, that will always serve minority families, was saved from the wrecking ball. But close by in Bronzeville, Michael Reese Hospital did not survive. (read: Life and Death in Englewood by Linda Villarosa, New York Times.) 

WHEN THINGS CAME TOGETHER–FOR ME

“Gresham went over night.” You would have to live in Chicago (or maybe a different urban city) to know what THE HELL that means. Translation: the white folks moved out and the Black folks moved in. THIS IS OUR HISTORY. It’s Chicago’s history and it is the history of many cities in this country. It is wrong. 

Other terms are contained in one blistering sentence (a friend said this): “Yes, for sure there is gentrification going on in that neighborhood, cause they are getting rid of the slum.”

Definition of Slum: a densely populated usually urban area marked by crowding, run-down housing, poverty, and social disorganization. 

Actual Definition: an area of a city where people unable to find good-paying jobs are forced to live. And regarding history, people of color are forced to live there, a place where houses are abandoned because of job loss; stores and hospitals close. When I grew up, the hospital where I was born was a quick drive away. I took that for granted. Again, from a recent article in the New York Times: Now you drive through communities like Englewood and see empty lot after empty lot…  And I recently learned that the south suburbs of Chicago do NOT have a trauma center. They have hospitals, but not a trauma center. The trauma center is   Christ Advocate Trauma Center which is three miles from me, within the city limits. 

EDUCATING MYSELF BY READING…

There was James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker. But now there is Ta-Nehisi Coates. Thanks to my daughter-in-law, I read BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME. Then I read WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER, which wasn’t just about the Obama era, but about Reconstruction, the freedoms initially given to freed people of color and then taken away. The continuation of brutality, of lynching and home burning. The device of red-lining which is to refuse (a loan or insurance) to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk. Short version, because they are Black. 

When Black folks left the South, looking for employment and better lives for their families, white men devised ways to isolate them in run-down neighborhoods, to prevent the breadwinner of the family from getting ahead. White people have always been able to get ahead by buying a home for their family, which provides them with shelter, but also the possibility of increasing their initial investment.

Getting ahead is the key to everything, for everyone. In America, each one of us should have that chance.

But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?              

From Kitchenette Building by Chicago Black poet, Gwendolyn Brooks

PS Fighting prejudice must be an ongoing but oh so worthy effort. 

Photo: Monument in Bronzeville, Chicago, Illinois. Honoring the World War I 8th Regiment of the Illinois National Guard.

Hearing Voices on Mother’s Day

Hearing Voices on Mother's DayI will be able to hear my mother’s voice on Mother’s Day, even though she died in 2013. And no, I’m not hallucinating, but I did receive an early Mother’s Day gift from my brother Bill. The gift: being able in 2021 to hear the voices of my mother and father which were recorded when I was only two.

My father loved new inventions and taught himself how to “cut a record”. These recordings were later preserved on tape and eventually digitized. My younger brother, a musician and music producer, knew how to do this magic. Thus the gift of hearing my mother’s lovely voice.

I am wishing for all of you this Mother’s Day, some meaningful connection with family. It might be talking with your mother, grandmother, daughter. It might be carving out those quiet moments for yourself that include a favorite tea, a glass of wine or some chocolate. It might include a walk to enjoy the bounty of spring or even a nap!

Whatever your choice today, I wish you connection with those voices in your life that give you joy.

Adolescence: a Theme in Powerful Novels

Adolescence: a Theme in Powerful Novels

What does a book published in 2002 by Alice McDermott have to do with a new release by Margot Livesey? The answer: they reveal the strong and vivid seeds of adulthood in their adolescent characters.

Alice McDermott captured my attention with her short but amazing novel, THAT NIGHT. Published in 1987, McDermott explores suburbia of post WWII where life should be perfect, where parents have created families and a culture that cannot be challenged. But when it is, when a “guy” who doesn’t meet the picture of a future husband is determined to have a family’s daughter, we read this:

That night when he came to claim her, he stood on the short lawn before her house, his knees bent, his fists driven into his thighs, and bellowed her name with such passion that even the friends who surrounded him, who had come to support him, to drag her from the house, to murder her family if they had to, let the chains they carried get limp in their hands.”  We can picture that era, the leather jackets, the sideburns. But the passion translates into any age.

In a CHILD OF MY HEART, published in 2000, McDermott’s the main character, Theresa, is on the cusp of change, wavering between the security of childhood and the lure of the life that adults lead, and of course, sex. The novel begins with Theresa’s voice:

“I had in my care that summer four dogs, three cats, the Moran kids, Daisy, my eight-year-old cousin, and Flora, the toddler child of a local artist. There was also, for a while, a litter of wild rabbits…They were wet and blind,…so small it was difficult to know if their bodies moved with the beating of their hearts or the rise of their breaths.”

And maybe it was difficult for Theresa to know where her developing body, her own beating heart’s growth might take her. She watched these children on the seashore in summer. People bare their skin. Children do too, and she is there to protect them. Because later in the novel, when Theresa finds herself enthrall to an older man, she tells us: “You could reimagine, rename things all you wanted, but it was flesh somehow, that would not relent.”

Adolescence is definitely that period in life where you are torn between the rubric of home and the lure of any place, activity, person—who is not a metaphor for family, rules and order. It’s a vivid, surprising time. No wonder talented authors take advantage of it.

Thus, I fell in love with the writing of Margot Livesey when first reading EVA MOVES THE FURNITURE. The tale begins on the day of Eva’s birth, which is also the day of her mother’s death. But over time, some companions that Eva cannot see, arrive to protect and guide her. Eva reflects: “…but my loneliness was like the slow gas bubbling up from the pond in the woods, poisoning even the sweetest of days. How could I turn away those two who wanted to be my friends when no one else did?’‘ The novel is the story of the choices Eva makes and how the “companions” guide her in those choices. It is a beautiful story. 

Livesey’s latest novel, THE BOY IN THE FIELD, once again probes the whims, fevers and worries of adolescence. It also casts a darker cloud over what can be a tempestuous time in life.

Reviews promise: (thanks to Jenny Rosenstrach in the NYT)   In the broadest sense, Margot Livesey’s …“The Boy in the Field” is a whodunit. Who attacked this boy in the middle of the day and left him for dead in a field? What would have happened if three unsuspecting siblings walking home from school hadn’t caught a glimpse of his red sock from the road? Why this boy?

Three sibling, Mathew, Zoe and Duncan come upon the above scene. They do what they can: one stays with the boy, one waves down a car on the road to call for help. One wanders the scene. Their gestures are open and fearless. Their gestures are the seeds to their growing. But what they do not know, and what Livesey probes in this fascinating story, is that seeing the “boy in the field” will change all of their lives. That change will even spread to their parents, the mother a solicitor (this is England) and their father who works a forge.

“You’re going to be all right,” Zoe said.

The boy gave a small sigh. His lips moved. The sigh became a word.

Each of them caught it. No more words followed.

But that was all it took for these three children’s lives to become attached to change. 

Ava DuVernay Talks to Barack Obama about A PROMISED LAND

Ava DuVernay Talks to Barack Obama about A PROMISED LAND

Our 44th president, Barack Obama, recently spoke with Ava DuVernay about the publication of his book A PROMISED LAND. The first of two volumes.

This event was part of the Virtual Community Book Club sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

Ava DuVernay grew up in Long Beach, CA. Her production of the film A Wrinkle in Time highlighted her being the first Black woman to direct a live-action film. She created the Netflix drama series WHEN THEY SEE US, based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case, when five young black men were accused of rape. The series was nominated for an Emmy and won the Critics’ Choice TV award for best series.

When the discussion began, DuVernay mentioned that she had always appreciated Barack Obama using his honest response I don’t know, when he didn’t have a definitive answer to a question from a news person or anyone interviewing him. This was a great start to their discussion.

DuVernay: What is the most important best step in overcoming our current problems? (note I have shortened some of Obama’s answers, but have not changed his message.)

Obama: In the book, I was tracing the deep-rooted divisions in our society, which came to the fore and maybe were even exacerbated by my election: the fault line of race and the fault line around equal opportunity and class. To me, as a writer and a human, you don’t completely overcome our differences. We are a complicated democracy, there are always going to be clashes of idea, notions of what comprises the good life and how we should organize ourselves in government.

But we can work to see each other’s humanity, understand that we are all deserving of dignity and respect. We can try to resolve those differences.

When I ran in Iowa, there were few Black people, but still we were able to bring together young Black followers, Jews, Asians and whites. We listened to them, eager to know what they needed. We formed bonds and trust in Iowa. It is all part of listening, understanding others.

DuVernay: Tell us about your loss when your first ran for a position in Illinois.

Obama: I can still feel the disappointment, and I asked myself: Why am I doing this? I might have to put aside this dream for something else. A valuable lesson is what you have control over, WHAT YOU DO. But of course, there are lots of variables. I try to be tough on myself if I’ve been lazy or inconsiderate. Things that I can control. And you learn. The sun still comes up. Then I ran for US Senate and it helped when I told myself not to be concerned if I didn’t win. The cause is larger than my success.

DuVernay: Any thoughts on marriage, leadership?

Obama: (laughs) Clean up after yourself. Leadership. How do we learn? Challenge your own assumptions. Understand what your mission is. Reflect on what this is about. Because your decisions are about what your first principles are.

DuVernay: When you were president, how did you deal with difficult problems on your desk:

  1. Know your first principles. 
  2. Have people smarter than you working for you. Remember that you don’t have to be seen as the most important person. 
  3. Your junior staff know a great deal; you are the facilitator. TAKE YOUR EGO OUT OF IT.
  4. And yes, be accountable. Get rid of people who don’t follow those rules, who take ideas of others as their own. There are those who often do that to women.

What would you like to be remembered for?  

Obama: The Paris Climate Accord. To fight Climate change. (then he offered some opinions on this process) Getting elected. Is this about doing what I think is best and long term for the country? Is my goal to get activists off my back or try to solve problems? KNOW YOU FIRST PRINCIPLES. You are going to make decisions that are sub-optimal. Nothing arrives on your desk with the perfect answer.

Then later, a young woman named Grace, calls in, asks Obama specifics about the Paris Accords. 

Obama: Legacy in the context of the presidency–its hard to get distance or perspective. How will this all play out? It might take 20 years. The Paris Accords. You had to take specific actions to reduce Greenhouse gases. It was a big lift, a big achievement. We got China to partner. Then India, even though they stressed that they didn’t cause the problem of greenhouse gases. But we were able to set up the structure. Then my successor pulls out. We are the one county…but it didn’t fall apart. Cities and states continued to adhere to the goals. Car companies followed the rules.

DuVernay: What is something else you would like to be remembered for? 

Obama: It’s hard to gauge. I modeled our leadership that whatever mistakes we made, we showed it was possible for someone elected president to do so without scandal and with a message of inclusion–a government that operates with integrity. Because so many of our problems occur when we don’t have trust in the people in power.

Think about what happened on January 6th, the riots that threatened Congress. We have gone outside the process entirely of whoever gets the most votes. If we set aside those norms, that my tribe will do whatever it takes to overcome the norms, then we will have a hard time coming together, a hard time learning how to listen to each other’s stories.

THANKs to Ava DuVernay and President Obama 

My Comment: I do want to read A PROMISED LAND. I applaud DuVernay for her questions and President Obama for his answers. They give us a look into the book’s content. And President Obama is already working on a second book, continuing this important discussion of his years as POTUS. 

FINAL NOTE: In this first book, he talks about Pastor Moss, an older Black pastor who encouraged Obama when people were saying he couldn’t win. He was being told that he should drop out. The cause belonged to the Clintons. It was likely someone would shoot him. But Pastor Moss lined it up this way: the beginning struggle for Black people in America was the Moses stage. Obama was now leading the Joshua stage. He was bringing all of us closer to A PROMISED LAND. 

 

A VERY Early Encounter with Diversity

 

An VERY Early Encounter with Diversity

The Rosebud Landscape with Horses

While raising my children, I found time to write. No longer working OUTSIDE my home, I would get up early, write before my beauties had arisen. During that time, I started a memoir of my own life. Though my age did not require that decision, my mother was a treasure of memory, information. I needed to mine that knowledge sooner than later. Below is an excerpt from 10055 Wood Street, my memoir. It emphasizes how isolated we were from diversity, from people of color. How singular life was. Thank God for my mother’s open heart, for books, and for travel to the crowded streets of downtown Chicago where the real and true world was growing.

NOTE: In the memoir, SHE is my mother, who became a widow with three children in her early 30’s.

*   *   *

She needs help and so weeks after my father dies, there are borders. Our first is Jenny Mae, a Sioux Indian from South Dakota, who we first meet when she comes out of my bedroom wearing a terrycloth bathrobe. My brothers and I are in the upstairs hallway, the oldest, John, who at his young age knows a little about much, reveals right away that he is disappointed. He was expecting Jenny Mae to appear in feathers and he tells her so. She smiles, a beautiful quiet smile. He explains that he reads, that he has seen Indians on television, and doesn’t she at least have a headdress?

Jenny will live with us for about four years, her major duty being to help take care of the youngest, Bill. He is only three months. 

It was not uncommon in our neighborhood for families to have young Indian women from the Pine Ridge and Rose Bud Reservations working for them. I only learn much later that it’s a mixed blessing for these women, because in that time period, they are paid very little. Sadly, even rather “enlightened” families are eager to take advantage. As she becomes more comfortable with us, Jenny tells my mother that the family she previously worked for had her doing laundry, cooking and cleaning their entire home. And for this she was paid only fifteen dollars a month. Deciding she was done, Jenny packed her things, boarded a train to Ohio to visit her brother, a doctor with a wife and eight children.

But when my father dies, a good friend of our family, Jay Adler, arranges for Jenny to come back to Chicago and work for us. Jay has promised better wages. Yes, my mother will pay Jenny $15.00 a week.

Jenny folds Bill’s laundry, changes him, gives him a bottle, walks him in his buggy. Bill is as blonde as a shot of sunshine, Jenny as dusky as twilight. When people stop, admire her baby, they can’t help but remark that the baby’s father must be blonde. Jenny only smiles and says yes, he is.

But still angry at losing my father, and still very shy—it takes me a while. But when I am more comfortable, I let her hold me, and she talks to me about my dreams. We imagine. We build towers, castles and rose gardens. We make the princes come riding on their horses. Jenny is in her early twenties. Later, I will learn more about Indian reservations, her large family, their poverty, her eagerness to help herself, help her family.

The castles Jenny creates are real to me. The sound of her quivering voice forces these towers to break through piles of clouds. And though I am child and would not know—Jenny’s own dreams are rocky, like the hills of South Dakota.

Lovely and kind Jenny Mae is also intelligent and capable. Later she will leave us, use her long, graceful fingers to become a skilled dental hygienist. She will move to San Diego where she believes her dusky skin will be more accepted. There she will marry a man, Ken from Kentucky. They will have two children, a boy and a girl. But he will drink, call her names, leave her. Jenny will work hard to support her two children, take a bus and a train to come back and visit us, later die in her early fifties.

Back in Chicago, we will get this news, and my mother, always considerate and loving, will try to hold on to the threads of Jenny’s life, keeping in touch with her son and her daughter.

Post Script: We lived in a small community south of Chicago. It was through an acquaintance of my mother’s, a restaurant owner who had lots of “business dealings” going on, that we were able to invite Jenny into our home. Looking back, I smile. The restaurant business can be a tough one. His restaurant was bombed in the 60’s. But during all of this questionable stuff, this man had a large heart. He did much to help Native Americans.

Background Information from the Internet: About the Sicangu Sioux. Rosebud Reservation is home to Sicangu Sioux, one of the seven tribes of the Lakota nation. The Lakota were traditionally the ultimate representative of the Plains Indian culture, with organized bands, dependence on the buffalo for food, clothing, etc. and emphasis on warring and raiding.

Lakota, Dakota and Nakota speakers make up the Siouan language family, which inhabited over 100 million acres of what is now Minnesota, parts of Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century…The Lakota acquired horses around 1740 and shortly thereafter crossed the Missouri River. They arrived in the Black Hills area around 1775, and at about the same time they divided into seven tribes, one of which was the Sicangu. 

History of the Reservation. Under terms of the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Lakota were placed on one large reservation that encompassed parts of North and South Dakota and four other states. After defeating the Indian tribes in the Plains Wars of the 1870s, the United States confiscated 7.7 million acres of the Sioux’s sacred Black Hills and created several smaller reservations. The Sicangu were assigned to live on the Rosebud Reservation.

For the rest of her life, my mother did what she could to fund organizations that supported our Native American Communities.

 

Consider History: Yours and that of Others

 

Consider History: Yours and that of Others

As we grow our bodies change. And that reference is not just to our getting to adulthood. We are constantly growing and changing until we aren’t. Until we are dust.

Every day people die. Reading the news, we become complacent, change and often death becoming too familiar.

On the brighter side, moments in our lives present us with the ability to reach out to others, learn about the wider world we live in. The pandemic has accentuated the cocoon, though it also provided a time for us to read widely, talk to people we didn’t previously make time for, look deeper into our own lives, our own health and find gratitude. “Smell the roses” I guess.

OPENING UP is a familiar phrase in the political world we live in. BUT TRULY, it should often apply to us. We need to find ways to OPEN UP to the other: people, ideas, places, vocations, to name only a few.

HISTORY, THE WORD

Looking at the word it truly is    HIS STORY.  Or HER STORY. When you first see a medical professional, that person takes your HX–an abbreviation for HISTORY. A doctor, a nurse, cannot know how to treat you without a history. So it’s not just a word that students often groan and moan about when teachers move on to that subject.

Every day, all of our actions contribute to our own history. We are living it, creating it. And what is happening in the wider world has a profound effect on our lives, whether we consider that or not. RIGHT THIS MOMENT, people are being born who could possibly change the course of our very lives. Or become part of our lives. Truly, the future is a mystery. But our own history is not.

MY INTRODUCTION TO APPRECIATING HISTORY

It wasn’t a teacher putting a book down on my desk. It wasn’t memorizing dates. I became interested in the history of the world outside my home, neighborhood, when a photo of Queen Elizabeth appeared on the cover of LIFE MAGAZINE. I started asking questions about other places, other people. That brought me to the library where I checked out books, taught myself things about English, Spanish and Russian history.

For others, the world with all of its power and frightening change, might have been a sudden death, an accident, a fire, even the loss of a friend who moves away. WHY AM I LISTING THESE THINGS: because they Shake Up the circumstances within which we live. They are CHANGE AGENTS. They force us to look beyond the bedroom, the backyard, the TV set, the public school classroom.

MAKING CHANGE

Each of us is our own history maker. Who knows who will discover another element on the periodic table, or travel to another planet, or discover a medication that will eliminate surgery as the main tool to cure certain cancers.

The world is a wide and wonder–full place. Each of us is our own combination of walking histories. With the power of communication, we have shortened the time needed to educate ourselves about opportunities and advances. That is history IN THE MAKING.

FINAL THOUGHT

I decided to write about this topic when I saw people disregarding the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, people degrading him, taking one or two mistakes in his life and deciding that was his SUM TOTAL. No. It’s not. 99 years is complex. We make mistakes and we do what we can to make up for them. No one of us reading this can incapsulate the 99 years of Prince Philip’s life. We can’t even do that about our aging parent or grandparent. What we can do is read about the span of a life to see how that person responded to change. How that person rose to do good things, better things.

WE ALL HOPE TO BE THE PERSON who uses the gift of life to become a better person, to change, to reach out and be thankful for the opportunity to do so.

WHAT IN YOUR LIFE made you realize that we are only here for a while, that we need to do good things during our lifetime. 

 

Easter/Spring: Remembering Innocence, Beginnings

Easter/Spring: Remembering Innocence, Beginnings

Open your life to spring possibilities…

Life is about movement, change. Spring is certainly about change, though often subtle, little by little change, green shoots beginning to flower. Time-lapse photography lets us see what is really going on, but truly, our lives are just like that. You bring your baby home from the hospital, and because you see your child every day, you accept the rapid changes that are happening right before you.

All of life is like that. I finally got my Covid19 hair cut—did it thrill me, kinda—but now I can see more clearly the changes in my face, my skin. Time works on us. But I’m still here.

CHANGES 

SPRING is awesome. Sometimes it breaks out overnight, it shouts out look at me! Any pause in the movement of our lives can spring change on us—the pause of going away; of not seeing your grandchildren. Then you come back, see them again, older, taller; you too are older, maybe shorter. The home you left behind looks at you from its front windows, whines in the wind, “You shouldn’t have left me. I have aged. The people here don’t love me like you did.”

BIRTH

In my years of raising my family, I have been a mom of the proper age, a mature mom, an older mom, every pregnancy wanted, yearned for. 

I knew our first child was a girl when I turned on the radio after dropping off my urine specimen at the lab; “Warm, touching warm, reaching out, touching you touching me, Sweet Caroline…” Caroline, our chosen name. YES!

She was a little late, but arrived healthy, eager to become our child. And though she had colic and I got little sleep, each morning I pushed myself out of bed, eager to bring this sweet child into the light. Each day I became more intoxicated with the experience of parenting, Caroline’s body movements changing, moving from unsure to agile—and her voice, her desire to talk and communicate—swift, delightful.   

NUMBER TWO

Four years later, Christine was born. We had moved into a charming older home, my husband had finished his Master’s Degree, Caroline was thriving–it was the perfect time. There were trips to the zoo, the park, Papa and Mama, each responsible for a child. Each watching as they grew.  

When Christine was six or seven, she said, “When I was three, I couldn’t ride a bike or catch a ball or turn on the lights. I thought you were magical because you could.”

We had a rather heavy discussion concerning her observations, we talked about life, the possibilities that for her would be endless, that she should embrace new beginnings wherever she found them, and that more and more the world would be opening up for her and her sister.

For both daughters, I wanted, needed to be a symbol of change, embracing the new: so I did aerobics at the local gym (different for me as I was like Janis Ian, no one chose me for basketball); then I went back to school, had even more homework than they did as I worked to become an RN. But looking back, those were all right choices not only for me, but for my daughters.

NEW HORIZONS CHANGE THE PICTURE

Certainly as you age, the broad horizon of possibilities shrinks, and you find yourself clinging to memories: when Caroline would surprise me almost every day with a new word that she not only understood, but most times pronounced correctly. When Christine would bulldoze her head into my belly, then laugh and giggle, filling all of us with joy. So of course, they grew and I would find myself kneeling between their beds as they slept, tears wetting my face. They were disappearing, growing up and growing away right before me. I didn’t know how to get on with it.

So in spring, a few years later, I gave birth to our son, to Andrew, a longed for and planned for chid. He changed the dynamic of our family, his new life awakening once again our family ties. We all wanted to care for him, teach him, but also to relive past moments while dreaming about the future. Before Andrew we were amazing loving, grateful—Andrew just made it more so.

FINAL THOUGHTS 

Time moves us all forward. But despite Covid and our move back to Chicago, our family remains close, blessed, healthy, breathing.

Wishing you a Blessed Easter, a Holy Passover. And of course, a Happy Spring, the time for New Beginnings.

PS What are dreaming about today? What plans do you have for new beginnings?  

Photo Credit,  Wayfair

Some of The Amazing People I Have Met

Some of The Amazing People I Have Met

We meet many people during our lives. There is often the iconic story of the teacher, doctor, employer who teaches, employs and cares for a young man or woman who goes on to become known in the world: the scientist who creates the polio vaccine; the political activist who becomes a state senator and then president of the United States; the gardener who loves plants and then becomes known for his gardening advice. The writer who wins the Pulitzer.

Every one of you has someone you worked with, met or taught—someone who has gone on to do great things. Maybe that person is you!

Today I’m sharing some of the amazing people I have met who still inspire me to this day.

THE BEGINNING

Born, raised, and completing my education in Chicago—there are hundreds of people during that time in my life who had great influence on me, who loved and encouraged me. Certainly, every member of my loving family. 

BUT WHAT PATHWAY TO TAKE

My biology teacher at Mundelein College saw something in me, called me into her office to underline that I should NOT major in English, become a teacher. I should immediately switch to the sciences, go into medicine. I didn’t listen.

But after teaching high school English at BLOOM TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL (I loved my students) and having my children, I became fascinated with medicine and followed her advice, became a nurse. I worked in the maternity unit at MERCY HOSPITAL in Chicago, assisting pregnant women of all ages and backgrounds. Like teaching, this position opened my vision of life, stressed the importance of understanding all persons in our society.

LIVING IN IOWA EQUALS POLITICS

Then a few years later my husband accepted employment in Des Moines, Iowa—another adventure. Des Moines is the state capital, and because of Iowa’s first in the nation caucus, it is always the center of political activity. My husband and I couldn’t help but become more involved in politics. When HILLARY CLINTON ran, we were sitting in the Drake Dinner at 5:00 in the morning, watching her prepare for interviews on all major stations. We were friends with DR. ANDY McGUIRE, who ran for governor of Iowa, who has been head of the Iowa Democratic party and will always have political blood running in her veins. Through Andy, we met Hillary that morning, and I asked her how she did it all. She teared up. And for those reading who remember a similar episode, this was way before New Hampshire.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA won the caucuses and I was able to shake his hand during a meet and greet in Des Moines. That’s a huge memory for me. But that event was also fortuitous, as the woman standing next to me was an RN at the Polk County Health Department in Des Moines. I had recently lost the amazing work I had done for Meredith Corporation in Des Moines—(think Better Homes & Gardens, Midwest Living, Country Home and many other amazing magazines), because the Meredith Books group had shut down. (Thanks to Terri Fredrickson who guided me through the years I proofread for her.) So I interviewed at the health department and was hired JUST AT THE TIME, — H1N1 was surging.

But because of my work at MEREDITH BOOKS, I had met JAMES WAGENVROOD, a writer from New York City, who became my mentor and dear friend. We actually wrote a book together that you would not think would be in my wheelhouse, MIANI INK, MARKED FOR GREATNESS. 

I also met and toured the garden of ELVIN McDONALD, gardener, writer, and lovely person. You might be familiar with his: A GARDEN MAKES A HOUSE A HOME. 

BOOK SIGNINGS 

The Des Moines Library (newly built in the re-emerging city center with a roof that originally was covered in grass, a salute to the green movement) hosted authors and there I met ELIZABETH BERG. She shook my hand and said I needed to get my novels out of the drawers where they were sitting. I’m still working on that project. She was charming, of course.  

THE IOWA WRTERS’ WORKSHOP

And speaking of writing, Iowa is the home of the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, famous for its creative writing program: The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. An easy drive down Route 80 and you’re there!

So get jealous now: I and twenty other writers spent a weekend with Pulitzer Prize winning ELIZABETH STROUT, known for her novels OLIVE KITTERIDGE, OLIVE AGAIN, AMY And ISABELLE, MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON (and more). I’ve read ALL her work and encourage you to do so.

There were more wonderful teachers at Iowa: my friend and helpmate SUSAN CHEHAK who helped and encouraged me to publish my collection of short stories: A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE.

ONE FINAL and FUN STORY

Through Andy McGuire we met many people in Democratic politics: Governor Vilsack, former Vice President Mondale, Governor of Vermont Howard Dean—but the most memorable was meeting NANCY PELOSI.     

We were in Andy’s inviting house for a fundraiser for a House Representative. I was sitting in the back of the room. I have often found myself in the back of rooms, but when someone is speaking, I go back to my grade-school days—I look right at the speaker, focus on what she or he is saying. When Nancy finished, she became surrounded by people. My husband and I got up quietly and walked into the dining room. I was sure I had seen some chocolate cupcakes along with other goodies set out on Andy’s dining room table.

But then someone was tapping me on the back. I turned. It was Nancy Pelosi. She said, “I came over to meet you.”

Okay! Why? I guess Andy had suggested that she do so. As we chatted, John asked her, as only John would, “What is the most important thing in your life going on right now?” He was waiting for a political response, but Nancy answered: “My grandchildren.” We loved that.

The bottom line in sharing all of this with you is that I have been blessed. The people I have met in person and the people I continue to meet online and now in my new but old home of Chicago, are all important to me in so many ways. So thank you….AND, ANYONE READING THIS–YOU ARE ALL AMAZING, Beth 

Photo Credit   Citizenship Creations Stock.

Folktales, Real and Imagined

Folktales, Real and Imagined

I loved fairy tales when I was growing up. We had a collection that my mother read to us, though she was careful to choose the ones that wouldn’t scare us. But the true fairy tales were scary and I am sure each one of us can look back and find various tropes or events in these often wild tales that might have made it hard to fall asleep after one was read to us.

Of course there was Little Red Riding Hood, which research has pointed out has elements of a rape story, the red cape, the nasty wolf, the deep dark forest–and that the young girl went off the path to pick flowers. But why did her mother send her alone to Grandma’s house?

In Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller supports the idea that this fairy tale is a description of rape.  However, many revisionist retellings choose to focus on empowerment, and depict Little Red Riding Hood or the grandmother successfully defending herself against the wolf. Which version did you encounter while growing up?

Maybe it was comforting to think that a thicket of roses could surround a castle and thus protect Sleeping Beauty. But I never wanted to be her, and I was sure I would never have touched that spindle, let alone hung out with the old crone up in the tower. (Fairly tales are always hard on women. Witches, crones. Evil queens. Sex again. The heroines are all virgins.)

I did have a favorite–I was in love with Snow White–her Disney-dark hair, her cape, and the elves were pretty cool. My mother was far from wicked, so the  Wicked Queen didn’t bother me much. AND I WAS ALWAYS INTO PRINCE CHARMING.

In an older post, I wrote about trying on Snow White’s costume as an adult, at Disneyland:

But as I stood looking at myself in the mirror, I wasn’t Snow White. The really powerful part was the memory, …that kid buried inside me would have leapt for joy if such a costume had been offered to her. But she did okay without it. I wore a white cotton dishtowel tied around my neck. It fell not so gracefully over my corduroys, tee-shirt, and saddle shoes. And in my mind I was dealing with the Wicked Queen and hanging out with the Seven Dwarfs. The image in the mirror was different then. The image was filtered through my amazing childhood imagination.

EXPOSURE TO READING: THINKING THINGS THROUGH  

But forgive me, okay, if I spent some time immersed in fairy tales. At least there were books in my house and I was reading, using my imagination. There have been comedy routines about fairy tales, that the women were passive, that all they needed was to snare the prince and spend all his money. IF YOU REMEMBER THE ROUTINE, please let me know. I can’t find it. But I did find this: THE PASSIVE LADIES OF DISNEY. 

HOW TO STOP A TORNADO  Folk tales??? This is a must read…

Maybe it’s only me, but I grew up hearing some things that were basically unbelievable. Not that I was a know-it-all, but my mother was real in her approach to life and danger.

But what about an approaching tornado in Chicago? The sky turning green, the trees bending? That did happen, though we were not carried away like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. But how do you deal with these frightening things?

A kind African American woman once told me she had a cure for tornadoes. “You just run outside with a butcher knife and slice at that old tornado.” Wow.

And that stayed with me for years. Especially living through some scares in Iowa. But when Google came along, I looked it up. More than once. NOTHING, until this past week, there it was:  

The cloud my father saw was enough to get his attention. It was what we would call today a “wall” cloud. It easily could have spawned tornadoes.

My father yelled to my grandma through the kitchen window where she was washing dishes. She looked up at the cloud from the window, then turned off the water, dried her hands and calmly walked to the door.

She was carrying the biggest butcher knife she owned.

Grandma moved to an open space and got down on her knees. It was beginning to rain at this point. She pointed that butcher knife straight up to the sky and said some words. My father said they sounded like they were from a different language, and perhaps they were.

Then, in an instant, she brought the knife slashing to the ground.

My father looked down at her then he looked up at the cloud where the most astonishing thing was happening.

The cloud was splitting right over them and not just a tiny amount, either, but a full-blown cut. No tornadoes came at them that day; they didn’t even get more than a few sprinkles of rain.

Until the day he died, my father insisted my grandma used that butcher knife to “cut” the clouds.

Thanks for reading. And please share any family “tales” or “myths” — they define us. We are story tellers. 

Nada Meeks   FINE ART AMERICA.