childhood, Uncategorized

The Letters

Recently I came upon some letters while looking for the right sized box to mail a package to my son at college in. The letters were not written to me, most of them were addressed to my mother. Quite a few of them were “Aerogrammes” received from Ireland in the early ’70s after my grandparents had suddenly passed away within hours of each other. There are also some from South Africa where her cousin has lived for most of his life. I must have tucked it in the basement cabinet after my mother died, with the intention of looking at them “some day”. My mother passed when my eldest was in her first week of middle-school and my senior in college was still an elementary student. “Some day” ended up being last week.

The box not only contained letters to my mother from friends, there was a copy of my father’s autopsy and a thank you letter regarding him being an organ and tissue donor. There was a letter on camp Ihduhapi letterhead postmarked from the summer of ’43 that my father had written to his parents. A letter that pretty much was a template for “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh. Here I am at Camp Granada.”  a song that was not released until twenty years later. There was a very formal letter from my grandfather, clearly in grief over the death of his own father that thanked my mother for her kind words to him in a previous letter. There was also a telegram telling her that her grandmother had passed and instructing her to share the news with family. I discovered a war bond book with carefully placed stamps from my mother’s youth.

The biggest gem in the box was physically the smallest. A tiny leather bound journal, a calendar from 1924, with space for a couple of lines to be recorded each day. A Belfast Ireland address is in the front cover, and also a Minneapolis address. I passed the treasure along to my daughter, who intends to write out the contents of it. It appears to chronicle the year my Grandfather immigrated, with details of dancing and “police raids” and a notation that reads “lost this book for a while – Found on road”. My grandfather lived in over thirty homes in his less than 70-year lifespan. How this small book survived the multiple moves around the US and back and forth across the ocean is somewhat miraculous.

Taking the time to look at these items caused me to do some reflection. How will a great grand-child “know” their deceased family members from this era some day, down the road? So little it actually recorded in a manner that will be preserved. Social media has taken on the role of a journal to document the highlights of life and Tweets, posts, text messages and rare emails are the efficient method of sharing our thoughts with others.

I feel like there is something different and introspective that occurs when a person takes the time to write a letter or compose a journal entry. There is a sense of permanence and thoughtfulness that is used when choosing the words or attempting to convey a sentiment. A person is required to stop, think and actually feel the emotions that a situation, event or person evokes in them. Without that catalyst, are people unintentionally less thoughtful as the result of those muscles not being flexed?

In my garage is a box that contains correspondence from friends and letters written on graph paper by my brother, that closed with stick figure drawings and “fill in the blank” lines for me to solve with a phrase reminiscent of our childhood. There are also letters from my husband chronicling our seven-month courtship. Reading them takes me back to that time where it seemed positively illogical that we get married but also captured the struggle it was for us to be apart. Receiving mail once meant more than bills and advertisements and the occasional greeting card.

I’m thankful for this box of insights from the past and I also appreciate that my children learned to read and write cursive. If the letters I have written and received last another generation or two, I wonder if they will simply look like scraps of paper with scribbles on them or if anyone will be able to decipher the messages we had taken the time to share.


Let Us Be Civil as We Disagree

Getting Along

I am politically, as I am socially. I am fiscally conservative and more liberal regarding social issues. This means I will host a party where I allow my Catholic and Protestant friends to mingle among my atheist and agnostic acquaintances but choose to prepare the food myself and not use a caterer. I’ll buy the beer in cases because it’s cheaper per ounce than 12-paks and stock the bathroom with toilet paper that came in a bale and not a convenient (but costly) 4-pack. It also means my initial preference for President of the United States has been out of the running quite awhile now.

When I say I’m conservative, I am not saying that I am a supporter of the KKK. Which is a current inaccurate notion that frustrated people are sharing. I did however spend a year in a town where the Klan met Tuesday nights out at the levee. It was during that time that I was labeled a “black sympathizer” by some people who had apparently never seen a white woman treat black men and women in the same way as folks she looked like. I had simply always judged people based upon their actions and behavior (things they had control over) and not an arbitrary feature like pigment, shade of hair or eye color. A number of white people in the community did not share my open minded approach to life. I chose my friends wisely that year and no, they did not all look like me.

I raised my children with the belief that they would be better equipped to make choices about how to spend the money they earned than someone else (even their elected officials) could.  We talked about infrastructure, roads, bridges, electricity and plumbing. We would  discuss education and amenities; schools, libraries and parks. Investments that were shared by all, that benefit the population as a whole. I relayed the need for politicians to be good stewards and choose wisely in how funds should be allocated and invested. I also acknowledged the generosity of the wealthiest among us when taking advantage of local theater, museums and galleries. I would point out the names of donors; individuals, families and corporations who chose to contribute financial support or family collections to allow access to all. I reminded my children that those donations went further not going through political channels.

One does not have to be wealthy to support what they believe in. This may be the greatest lessen to come out of the Bernie Sanders campaign. He amassed his funding through the small contributions of a great number of supporters. That’s an excellent example of the power of the individual. At age ten my son grew his hair for an entire year to raise money for St. Baldrick’s (a Cancer research organization that shaves heads in public places to raise funds) and also donated to Locks of Love (which accepts human hair and creates wigs for Cancer patients). He’d witnessed the loss of a family member to Cancer and chose to raise money and awareness as a tribute. Knowing his Godmother had needed multiple blood transfusions (after complications related to childbirth) he chose to run his schools blood drives throughout high school. His sister opts to support wildlife and animal causes that appeal to her. Being fiscally conservative is often mislabeled as lacking compassion. That is not the case at all, it means actually investing of your time and money in the areas that you are passionate about. These are issues many parents simply ignore when raising their children, things they don’t want to take the time for or think about. Topics they would prefer to simply have their government handle.

While I recognize that as taxpayers we don’t get to pick and choose what programs to opt out of due to our personal opinions, I do prefer making my own choices whenever possible. I stood on my deck one summer night with a very liberal Democrat who was telling me how compassionate he and his fellow liberal friends were. After listening to his opinion, I asked him “where are they?”. He was taken aback a little and then began naming neighboring cities and suburbs and then I stopped him. This man was a veteran, his family was from Puerto Rico, he’d lived in New York after his father died during the Vietnam War. He had given up his apartment when he anticipated being deployed with his Reserve unit, which then did not occur. Realistically, he was homeless and unemployed. We had been housing and feeding him for six months while he looked for work. My real question wasn’t about the address of any of his liberal friends but more literally “If your liberal friends are so compassionate, why are you staying with us?”. They didn’t want to help him, they wanted to have a program help him, let the government take care of it. That’s like buying a machine to pet your dog. It was an experience that my children weren’t taught at Sunday school, didn’t read about in a book or discuss in class, they simply lived it.

I had caught the evening news last night regarding Ted Cruz dropping out of the presidential race after Trump’s victory in the Indiana primary. I was interested in seeing what social media might look like this morning and the diverse opinions did not disappoint. This entire election cycle has been unlike any in my recollection and again today I see the threats to move to Canada, by the same people who made that empty promise when GWB  was elected. That may seem harsh, as it may be they did not qualify due to lack of language, employable skills or family sponsors. It may be that they simply don’t understand that the United States is not the only country that wishes to guard their borders and have policies in place designed to protect their citizens. These laws are not designed to be mean or punitive, they are established criteria to help ensure safety and well being of all, a bureaucratic necessity. Typically these are the same people that don’t realize that Americans with the desire to move to Mexico have to provide similar proof of employment and ability to be a contributing member of society if selected for admission.

The banter will go on until the November election and regardless of the outcome will continue for years beyond that. It looks like the candidates will likely be a non-politician businessman vs. a candidate whose own party identified eight years ago why she was not worthy of the candidacy. I have lived half of my adult life with someone in the Oval Office who was not of my choosing. I have survived.  On some occasions I have felt the impact of poor leadership more than others. Yet, this is my country and I choose to remain. I think this election cycle we have seen greater disrespect from our news media, from the political leadership, even from the candidates. We have a process, the people are participating and as we have done for a couple of hundred years, we will choose a new POTUS.

I believe what we have witnessed during this last year is the American People saying that we desperately need a change from what we have had. Though I will acknowledge that there are some among my circle of friends who have relished in the workings of the government these past seven years. Most of them not experiencing the un(der)employment status I have endured during the last forty months. Many more among my friends valuing the symbolism of our current president but owning their disappointment in his meeting of their expectations.  What has surprised me is those I know who have supported  Bernie but  have never spoken with someone from a Socialist country.  They tell me “not that kind of Socialism”. As the result of having opened our home for Thanksgiving one year to a family that was raised under a Socialist regime, I know they appreciated the ability to have a discussion over dessert about politics that they were unable to have in their home country (due to the possibility of family turning on family under fear of their government). If they wanted to live under Socialism, they would not have made sacrifices to leave their country of origin for the freedom of the US. I wish more Americans would take the initiative to engage with people who can share this sort of firsthand insight, instead of simply relying on their computer screen and television to gain information.

I was reminded in a posting today regarding the opinions of individuals around the world (regarding our candidates) that all eyes are on us. Internationally people have opinions about our politics and often it is because of the financial support we offer, military security we provide and humanitarian involvements we have. While our nation is built on our willingness to be tolerant of discourse, I am embarrassed by the increasing level of violence by protestors who are apparently too inarticulate to express their opinions peacefully. I’d like to think we are still a country whose majority can’t be swayed to come over to the views of the violent out of fear of more violence.

There has been a lot of commentary during the primaries over the “educated” choices and insights from political “experts”. Their predictions have been mostly inaccurate. If you are a citizen over the age of 18 in this country you can vote. Period. The vote of a person with a Doctorate carries no more weight than that of a drop-out. The Most Likely to Succeed from your graduating class has a vote equal to the one of your class bully. Your religion, skin color or how long you have been a citizen do not impact the strength of your vote. So callous commentary about any voter isn’t particularly valid because the neighbor who you love and agree with on everything, has a vote worth exactly the same as the KKK member who you despise has. Tolerance is not about acceptance of people who you approve of, it is actually a lot more about accepting those who are nothing like you; those who you oppose, the people you don’t understand and ultimately the ones you can’t stand.

We are a country where our neighbors can put a sign in their yard stating their political views, put a sticker on their car letting others know who they worship, all without concern over their home being torched, their car being bombed or experiencing some other act of reprisal. We share communal meals at block parties without fear we will be poisoned so our neighbors can obtain our land. We don’t all have to agree but it is sure nice when we can all be civil.