childhood, Uncategorized

Purple Indians, Red Cow, Golden Friends

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Despite truly meaning it, when we say “we should get together” somehow life gets in the way and the weeks turn into years and the years turn to decades and it just doesn’t happen naturally to fall into place. There has to be some effort. Social media has been both a blessing and a curse to relationships. Some feel there isn’t really a need to gather physically because they “know” what is going on with someone based on occasional posts and photographs. Others feeling that perhaps when their own life somehow measures up to the vacations, grandchildren and celebrations of others, then the time will be right and they will feel worthy. Perhaps when they drop some weight, have a better hairstyle or update their wardrobe, that will be a good time to get together. If we wait until our lives are perfect, it simply will never occur.

Facebook has allowed my generation to locate people from our past in addition to seeing what our own kids, family members and social circle did over the weekend or are having for dinner tonight. One can get lost looking at friend lists of other friends and trying to decipher if that thin red-head was once the chubby brunet cheerleader who was hilarious in your English class; same first name, married, living on the west coast. Could be her, maybe not. It’s like winning the lottery when you locate someone from your past and reconnect, catch up and find yourselves much the same. There are the other scenarios when Facebook suggests that you “might know” someone and “Yes, you do” and you have been avoiding them at all costs because they are toxic and don’t need to know you “might” meet at Bunny’s for Wing Night next week.

 

Facebook has replaced Hallmark as the way to send a birthday greeting and makes a better source than a local paper for birth announcements, engagements and marriages, as well as obituaries. The arc of life, all happening in real-time and available via phone or computer. Though one is never truly alone anymore, the constant connectivity seemingly causes people to interact less with those around them. Lack of eye contact when checking out with a cashier, tapping on a desired menu item while simultaneously talking on the phone with someone not present or being part of an entire table updating their statuses but not really “experiencing” the company of those present or engaging in the event they are attending.

Yesterday I experienced what is the best of what social media can do, gather people for real social interaction. The only thing that could have made the gathering more like the childhoods we’d all shared would have been convening in the rocket at Linden Hills Park or all arriving by bike and leaving them pedals down on their sides on a grassy spot outside the restaurant (Red Cow) we chose to meet at. My use of technology was having this single picture taken before we ordered, others used their phones as photo albums and one table-mate ignored an incoming call but showed her phone because she was filling someone in on her brother and it happened to be him calling. The two-year age gap meant a couple of the older girls couldn’t place the youngest one, so she pulled up a picture from thirty years ago and got “Oh, I know that girl.” to which she responded “That’s me.” Beyond that, everyone present was truly present!

An initial Facebook invitation to neighborhood girls swelled into an unmanageable number of invitees and then settled back into a table-sized gathering that allowed for multiple simultaneous conversations but conveniently allowed for shared laughter as well. To an outsider (or our waitress for that matter) I imagine we looked like a group of ladies who meet monthly for lunch. The reality being that with six of the eight having been 1980 graduates from nearby Minneapolis Southwest (Purple Indians) we had not all been under the same roof since the Carter administration. We used to bike over to each others house and ring the doorbell to see if someone could play or call their house and hope the line wasn’t busy when we wanted to extend an invitation. With a Facebook invite our friend who has lived in Hawaii for three decades received the same information in real time.

As I pulled up, I saw Laurie arriving. I parked down the street and walked up, giving her time to put our name in for a table. The weather being nice we stood outside as the remaining five arrived and a sixth slid in once we were seated. Laurie and I had played on the badminton team together and she had played volleyball in high school as well as in college. Badminton was a spring sport and we often found ourselves walking home together in weather thirty degrees warmer than the temps of our morning walk. Wet sidewalks and muddy ally-ways, our route included a couple of blocks that had formerly been the path of the streetcar line, a mode of transportation abandoned before our births and replaced with MTC buses that shuttled us to Southdale, our suburban mall or downtown which was a grittier urban destination for us to find everything from magazines at Shinders to department stores, restaurants and where all sorts of options for teenage girls to make bad choices were available. Laurie stood in her overalls and dreadlocks and lamented the fact that she had not seen me since she’d graduated and then she simply said it “We’re old!” and we laughed about it, me realizing only later that I had only been sixteen the last time we had seen each other. When a neighbor girl arrived that I had more recently encountered at funerals over the last several years she hugged me, commented that I’d lost weight and looked great and I glanced over at Laurie and laughed again, “Lost weight, gained weight. All depends when you saw me last.” and the two of them laughed harder having seen each other a few years earlier and a few pounds lighter. Same struggles, different decade.

The majority of us had attended Lake Harriet Elementary school, most starting kindergarten in 1967, I started in 1968 and Doreen, the youngest attendee being a 1969 kindergartner who looked exactly like the little girl Buffy from the show Family Affair (with ringlet pigtails) when she started school. Though the school was physically gone by the time we entered high school, one of our lunch friends currently resides in the home she was raised in, located across the street from the massive brick structure my own grandmother had attended. Her renovated childhood home located diagonally from my block, the other two corners being where responsible sixth-graders stood as school safety patrols and lowered their flags to grant me safe passage on a daily basis.

There we were; infants of the sixties, school kids of the seventies and all having graduated on the cusp of the eighties. High school graduates before most of us had heard the word “aerobic” and at a time when Ayds was a dietary candy to be taken with a hot beverage, a half hour before meals and AIDS was not yet coined as the name for a sexually transmitted plague. We were a new generation of women with Title IX rights. In addition to Typing (later useful for keyboarding), Clothing (sewing) and Foods (cooking) classes we could take Metals, Woods and Electricity classes, once considered the trades classes for boys. Thirty-five years later all of these basic skills classes that provided one with the capacity to sew on a button and press a shirt before a job interview or prepare a nutritional meal on a budget, even classes that taught one how to simply follow directions to complete a basic task in an office or factory setting are gone. A multi-million-dollar renovation and addition to our 75 year-old Alma mater has added dance studios, put a greater emphasis on the arts and offers computer coding, now considered the skill that one might learn while a high school student that could lead to employment beyond graduation. Most of us did not touch a computer before we graduated, ditto for the majority of our teachers.

Teachers; we reminisced about the ones we loved, the ones we feared and the ones that reminded us that we were in fact skipping class when they encountered us in the hallway. There were the ones whose children were our classmates, the ones who coached us, the ones that encouraged us, the ones who prepared us for college, believed in us and were well suited to their careers. There were the ones who seemed miserable, hated their jobs, likely hated us and took pleasure in tormenting our classmates who really didn’t want to be there in the first place. My childhood neighbor shared an amusing anecdote about being a server at a country club and being invited to a coworkers home for drinks after work, only to realize that her coworkers “boyfriend” was actually a despised teacher.

We were a  mixed-bag of women, many of us the youngest (read “least supervised”) of our families. Some of us were involved in student activities, while others cut class frequently, hung out with older kids, pushed the envelope and took part in risky behavior. None of it mattered, then or now to us, we were kids with friendships forged in youth that treated each other kindly. One girl mentioned that she quit ordering yearbooks because of the unkind remarks other classmates wrote in them. When another asked for an example she tossed out “Titless Wonder” as one of the more repeatable torments, when asked who said that I realized he was the same guy that thought it appropriate to opine on my breast size (too big apparently) like some perverse male Goldilocks looking for “just right”. Neither of us realizing his Napoleon complex, his insecurity that he lost four inches whenever  he took off his Hockey Skates. I’m sad to say that he likely continues to take out his “shortcomings” as a Minneapolis Police Officer.

We discussed relationships; long marriages, divorces, remarriages, children, grandchildren, even Godchildren. We discussed death; former classmates, siblings, parents and God forbid those who had endured the loss of children. We inquired about our friends siblings and learned that not only relationships of choice sometimes end but even those of blood are sometimes severed when maintaining the bond is no longer healthy and amputation of a limb  of the family tree is the best option.  We talked about work, travel, moving, pets, concerts, camping and the ache that comes when children grow up, gain their independence, lead their own exciting lives and leave us with an empty space that we might lack the collagen to have close quickly and naturally and the choices we have about how to manually fill those open spaces. Nothing we said was shocking or judged or remotely evaluated. It simply was. We learned of those battling illness, those who we lost due to lifestyle choices, those who regained their footing after epic challenges, the wild youth who embraced sobriety as adults. We championed the triumphs of our peers and used each other to connect the dots and locate where some of our other lost childhood friends had landed. We confused names, described physical attributes and referenced addresses based on the family names of others who lived nearby. When I mentioned Kennesaw Drug and then said “It became Butler Drug” one of the women nodded “Where I got caught shoplifting.” I laughed recalling that my own dalmatian had entered the store one hot summer day and exited with an 8-pak of Snickers that had been on display in baskets along the lower shelves in the candy aisle. Kids and canines of the neighborhood all had some experience linked to the store. I remember my brother’s friend getting caught for stealing Hot Wheels it’s where shampoos and cosmetics we learned about from Teen magazine could be procured or you could sample perfumes. There was a pharmacy in the back and their delivery car was a Volkswagen beetle with a cartoon image of pharmacist “Herbie” on the side, it was across from the Tom Thumb “superette” where you could purchase milk in returnable jugs or purchase cigarettes with a note from your parents. Hell, it was an era where you pretty much could do anything with a note from your parents. One of the attendees took her little sister to Canada (while in high school) on a Greyhound bus and was reminded to “bring a note from your parents next time.” Hell, we could do nearly anything, including leave the country without a note from our parents.

Long before a TV show made a zip code synonymous with Beverly Hills, we were the women of Minneapolis 55410, we walked the same lake paths that Mary Tyler Moore immortalized during the opening credits of her TV show. We attended Story Hour in the iconic Carnegie-era Linden Hills Library, resplendent with leaded glass windows, built-in  benches and story-book tiled fireplace. We played SWAC sports at Linden Hills or Pershing Park and went to the Tastee Treet for cones afterwards  or the DQ (which we could see from our table) which closed in just the past couple of months, close enough to the high school to grab lunch at during the allotted half an hour, IF you were willing to eat while walking.

For over two hours, there was no lull in conversation, not even when the food came. We were noisy! We spoke loudly, we interrupted, interjected but mostly we laughed. We misheard, asked for clarifications, jumped conversations. We heard about wedding plans, impending grandchildren and retirement ideas. We agreed to not wait so long to get together again.

We were girls of the transistor radio era, we had listened to American Top 40 together while swatting mosquitoes. Later we tanned at Lake Harriet or skated to those same songs at the Roller Gardens in St. Louis Park, a suburb which provided many of my friends with their boyfriends. Sometimes they were older boys whose tastes in alcohol, music and muscle cars made them an appealing option.

We started our school careers as girls who wore dresses and being Minnesotans we wore pants under them to and from school during the coldest months. Our teachers were the edgy women  who marshaled in the revolutionary pantsuit which in the 1970’s did not consist of a jacket and pants at all but rather a dress that came with coordinating pants of the same fabric. Basically, these fashion monstrosities were the grown women rebelling by wearing pants under their dresses, just like the girls did on the the playground. We were exposed to lots of rebellion during our youth, with older siblings returning from Vietnam; boys grew their hair out, marijuana smoke wafted in public venues, music lyrics grew more graphic and the girls of Linden Hills mimicked the culture of our youth. Some of us followed the rules and some of us rebelled against rules, teachers, parents and laws.

We sat and talked about nearly everything but politics. A refreshing change of pace from a year of divisiveness. Some joked about their therapy. One is a full-time seminary student, having raised her kids and having finally found time for herself. While talking about the pro’s and cons of getting another dog, another joked that she hated to be cliche but she (a lesbian) owns two cats. While a divorcee with two adult children talked about her and her partner of three years going out for a birthday celebration another woman inquired “did you know in high school?” and before she could respond I jumped in “I don’t think that was really considered an option then.” to which she agreed. They talked about the other girls we grew up with whom they thought were likely lesbians as well. I marveled a bit that the last time I’d encountered these women the word “partner” had the singular connotation of being the person you were paired with for badminton or tennis.

We are no longer the little girls who went to school together, were antagonized by the same boys, who hung out at the same parks and venues.  We are all grown up and became the women we wanted to become. Not the ones that others had supposed us to be or shamed us into pretending we were. We’re the women who not only don’t wear pants under our dresses, we’re the women who don’t have to wear dresses if we don’t choose to, the women who could choose not to comb our hair if we don’t want to. We grew into the best versions of those sassy, silly, sneaky and snarky little girls and regardless of how different we are, we all have each others backs and appreciate each other for our shared beginnings. We have moved, we have traveled but we have in our DNA the water of Lake Harriet, the appreciation of the Indians who settled on the shores of Lake Calhoun and whom the original students of Southwest selected as their mascot and an abiding thankfulness that our parents opted to raise us in Minneapolis 55410. Hope to see you ladies all again soon (Golden Friends)!

 

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Middle School Behavior – Bad Choices & the Adults Who Support Them

So far not much information has been revealed about the middle school boy who confessed to throwing an object at the presidential motorcade. What information has been provided is that he implicated four others (when I was a kid the terminology would have been “squealed on”). The thrown object being described as a “block of wood”, a “wooden block” and a “2×4”. One had me picturing a scrap from a project, another made me think of the abc/123 wooden cubes my kids had and the final description has me visualizing an entire board. I’ve attached a photograph of the evidence to clarify.

While I’ve only read about the incident via multiple online news and social media sources, I have to say that I am fascinated by how some adults are reacting to the incident. Who are these people who affirm this sort of behavior and what would their knee-jerk reaction be to a middle school kid who was shot by a Secret Service agent as he raised his arm to throw an unknown object? Yet there in my Twitter Feed were responses such as; “too bad the car didn’t flip.”, “For once spare the rod, spoil the child.” and “then a hero comes along.”. It’s as though people don’t realize that around the world children are used to execute the plans of adults. Or perhaps they do realize that and are okay with children being used in this way, as long it supports their political views. I feel like these people may be among the same group who badmouth law enforcement and graphically describe what they would do if confronted by an officer and live to regret it when their own children are in that situation and react as their adult role models taught them to. Those situations don’t typically end well. It’s quite possible the children involved in the motorcade incident were only acting upon what they thought would please their parents. While political conversations and current issues were frequent discussion topics in my home growing up, I can think of no situation where my parents would have condoned any sort of verbal or physical attack to either express ourselves or advance our agenda. I’ve never felt hampered by being taught to be respectful of everyone, despite having differences of opinion.

I am curious if this fella will receive the same notoriety as Ahmed Mohamed, the boy whose teacher alerted the principal when the clock he had built in a pencil case beeped during class. Despite signs along our highways encouraging citizens to be vigilant if they see something they find suspicious, the English teacher and principal whose jobs involve educating and protecting students, were vilified for their caution. While the clock ultimately was innocuous, were it to have actually been an object that posed a threat they likely would have been heroes for acting or perceived co-conspirators for allowing it to be present. We live in a strange age, where it’s popular to attack authority for doing what is in their job description and  throw caution to the wind and embrace the stranger whose intentions are unknown. Ultimately Ahmed received an educational scholarship, a tweet from the POTUS and visit to the White House. At one time he had a 15-million dollar lawsuit going. The sort of lawsuit that might make future school administrators less cautious and put lives at risk. My guess is this current motorcade incident garners an eventual POTUS Tweet but no White House visit during this administration.

I’m wondering if Dr. Phil is trying to get these kids and their parents booked and if they are competing with late night talk shows doing the same. We have embraced and rewarded bad behavior and made celebrities out of people simply for being rude or contrary, while at the same time we’ve challenged and demonized  others for simply asking questions. I am stupefied by how the basic standard of what being an adult is has changed and I’m concerned for what that means not only for these children but all of the other kids witnessing this decline in basic decorum.

It’s likely attorneys will line up for exposure and perhaps try to spin the impulsive actions of a middle-schooler into some sort of political commentary. Was the boy an environmentalist making a statement about the logging industry or a politically active kid making a donation to be used in the construction of a border wall? Perhaps we will find out the source of the wood was 84 Lumber, a business nobody in the Midwest knew about until they took out a Superbowl ad, which was movie-quality but told nothing about the company or the products they sell. Maybe the whole thing is some marketing scam.

Call me cynical but I tend to question the motivation behind what everyone does and on whose behalf they are actually doing it. Was this just a kid acting on a dare or impulse or is he a patsy being used to see how the Secret Service would respond to an unruly group of children? Simply a test run with a sinister motive for a future attack is a possibility that will be examined. Some might assume I’m paranoid but security can’t be too cautious in a week when Kim Jong-nam, the exiled half brother of the leader of North Korea died in a Malaysian airport attack. The scenario sounds like something out of an American crime drama series that has proverbially “jumped the shark”. The plot twist being an innocent vacationer from Vietnam being duped by thinking she was participating in a prank with his buddies when she sprayed him with a poison mist.

For those finding this wood tossing behavior acceptable, what if it were a kid throwing an object at their vehicle as they drove by? Would they be okay with a child doing the same thing to a police squad, a firetruck or an ambulance? What if it were someone throwing something at their elderly parent’s car or their own child’s school bus? If there is some new rule book about when antisocial behavior is acceptable or even endorsed I am totally out of the loop on that. Are the people in favor of self expression through violence willing to accept it when it’s directed towards themselves?

If this motorcade situation had happened when I was in middle school, chances are it would have been a group of four socially confident boys goading a socially awkward outsider into doing something stupid for their amusement. The boy acting out would do whatever the kids he admired wanted because of the naive anticipation of some implied acceptance. I’m not suggesting the child should not be held accountable, simply pointing out that it’s possible he’s more of a victim here than some mastermind architect of an attack on the president of the United States. My husband, a greater cynic than myself thinks perhaps it is simpler than that “It could be just a little asshole looking to get fame.”.

I long for the good old days when poison mist was found only in James Bond films, most adults didn’t endorse the actions of “little assholes” and kids seeking attention tried out for the school talent show. I wonder if we’ll ever know if his parents are horrified by his action or proud of him.

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The RNC Saved My Life

Elephant

Some people read the title of this blog and instantly formed an opinion, had an immediate reaction, knew they disagreed and never got this far. Others may still be reading but believe the title is hyperbole and wish to challenge me on my rhetoric. Still there are those who are curious, have no preconceived notions about what the contents of this blog will be, accept me at my word and are looking forward to the information I will offer as explanation.

Forty years ago things were both different in this country and much the same. 1976 was a leap year with a summer Olympiad. We were celebrating our nations bicentennial, patriotism abounded but both major political parties were divided. Our Commander-in-Chief was a politician who nobody had elected to the office, an affable man whose frequent clumsy missteps  were immortalized by a single-season cast member on a new show called Saturday Night Live. I imagine Chevy Chase (as family patriarch Clark Griswold from the Vacation movie franchise) is more recognizable to the Millennials than President Gerald Ford.

The summer of ’76 was a hot one! I finished seventh grade that June. I became a teenager that July. I don’t recall every birthday gift I ever received but that year I know I got a metallic blue Raleigh Grand Prix, 10-speed bike. A new bicycle was the equivalent of a car in junior high. In an era before cell phones, laptops, gaming systems and the like, a bike was by far the most valuable thing a child owned. A bike was freedom, transportation and recreation all rolled into one.

The day after I turned 13 began the first of the two political conventions to nominate the candidates for the presidential election that November. The Democrats held their convention first that year and day two of it coincided with what would be the hottest day of the year in Minneapolis. I lived in the Linden Hills neighborhood in a house that was built at the turn of that century. We had lived in the house for twelve years and during that miserably hot summer had hired a painter to repaint every room on the second floor and hang a delicate floral wallpaper in the hallway and down the stairs. This update made the old house look fresh and lovely. The home had rich dark woodwork, beautiful stained glass windows, leaded glass built-in cabinetry, high ceilings and hardwood floors. It also had just one bathroom and during that sultry summer of ’76 there was only one air conditioner, a window unit that was in my parent’s bedroom. My father’s allergies coupled with his occasional need to work nights were the reasons behind this extravagance. My brothers had a box fan in their room and I had an Emerson brand oscillating fan that was more hazardous than it was cooling. Staying up late and watching TV in the living room was an option on only the hottest nights. That is how I ended up watching the first convention ever presided over by a woman and the eventual nomination of a former Georgia Governor and peanut farmer, who added a senator from my state to his ticket.

A week after my birthday, and days after the DNC, the Olympics began in Montreal. The ’76 summer games are likely best remembered for a petite Romanian gymnast named Nadia Comaneci who won numerous gold medals (with seven perfect tens) and Bruce Jenner who earned the gold in the decathlon for the United States.

Nadia     Bruce-Jenner

Two weeks after the Olympic torch was extinguished it was time for the RNC. It was a contentious year, the last time that the delegate count did not determine the candidate prior to the convention. It was the first time I heard Ronald Reagan give a speech and though his was a concession speech, he was a much better orator than President Ford who won the nomination.

1976 RNC

Thursday August 19th was the final day of the convention. My father was at work when mid-morning my mother noticed that there was a strong odor like “airplane glue” in my parent’s bedroom. She unplugged the air conditioner that was in the window above the cedar chest my father had given her while they were dating. Even after dinner the acrid aroma lingered. My parents opted to sleep downstairs on the “hide-a-bed” to avoid the heat of the top floor and the lingering scent. I brought my sleeping bag downstairs to watch the final night of the RNC.  I stayed up through the speeches, the cheering, the adults in the funny hats and the grand finale, the balloon drop. Freshly 13, I am not certain how much I grasped of the political proposals but I loved the spectacle! I dozed off in contentment knowing I had exciting plans for the following day.*

I’m unclear how much time had passed when I awoke, sweaty and a bit disoriented on the living room floor. I heard my mother’s shouts from the second floor and knew if she kept yelling she would wake my father who had to get up in just a few hours. Once I cleared my sleepy head I heard that what she was yelling was “fire” and then I instructed my mom to come downstairs. I woke my dad and calmly asked “should I call the fire department?” Our phone had glow in the dark stickers on them with the seven digit number for both police and fire. 911 was years away from being the norm. My father called and then calmly went to the basement to retrieve some clothing from the dirty laundry and then grabbed the car keys to pull his car from the lawn alongside the house onto the street. He then unreeled the garden hose and shot a stream of water at the small flames licking out of his bedroom window. My mother and I stood on the sidewalk in front of our home, I could see my shiny new bike in silhouette through the open front door and instantly regretted not having wheeled it out with me. Minutes ticked by, which was super annoying because the fire house was on the next block. By the time the trucks rolled up the flames were leaping out the window and licking toward the roofline. More time passed and the firefighters grew frustrated as they could not get water pressure in the hoses. Once they got water flowing they dragged a hose into the house and I watched them run up the steps bracing themselves with their sooty gear against the newly wallpapered staircase. My brother’s room faced the street and we could see nothing through the windows, my parents room was next on the hallway and when the firefighters got into the room they shoved the burning AC unit out the window directly onto the ground where my father’s car had been parked. Next, the cedar chest with all of the sweaters my grandmother had knit for us splintered explosively as it was jettisoned but we were relieved to see the handmade treasures strewn on the lawn, seemingly unharmed. That relief was brief as flaming molten pieces of my parent’s life were tossed out on top of the woolen goods. Further down the hallway and on the opposite side of the house an ax was taken to my window, a questionable choice from my perspective, as the window was already wide open.

Despite it being 2 am I had not seen so many neighbors gathered in front of our home since my parents coordinated a block party. Apparently sirens are as good as a free keg of beer for bringing people together. It was hot, humid, smokey and smelly  and over pretty quickly, despite it feeling like slow motion. The fire itself had been extinguished, having only gutted my parents room. I remember walking up the stairs that night to see the damage. My bike was pristine and unharmed in the front hall, the new wallpaper smudged with glove-prints and there to the left of the top of the stairs a lamp was on in my parents room, only the wire framing of the shade remained, tall thin lotion bottles were short and wide now. Upon further inspection in the daylight we noted the phone handpiece was melted into the cradle, my father’s polyester leisure suit had dripped off the hanger and was a plastic chip on the floor.

A tiny ember in the air conditioner had  glowed enough throughout the day that it ignited something else in the unit and smoldered for hours before bursting into flames and destroying and damaging memories and artifacts, treasures and the mundane.

The chief is the one that told my parents that were I to have been sleeping upstairs it is likely that I would have succumb to the smoke while I slept. That is how the RNC saved my life.

*Because I survived that night I was able to go to Valley Fair the next day with my aunt and cousin, an amusement park that opened that summer and remains a big family attraction in Shakopee Minnesota to this very day.

 

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All the Answers or Just More Questions?

Question

There is a common thread that is woven into the fabric of most emotionally motivated demands that appear in social media postings. Typically those demanding that others give something up, are those who would sacrifice nothing to do so. The person who has never owned a firearm that demands that others have their guns “confiscated and destroyed” (lifted directly from a Facebook friend’s page this morning). Those without a uterus wishing to curtail the rights of those who do. Simplistic solutions to complex problems from those with the least amount of knowledge on the topic and with virtually nothing to lose. What could possibly go wrong?

The notion that eliminating gun ownership in this country as a means of preventing mass shootings makes about as much sense as banning car ownership (insert “confiscate and destroy”) as a way to address the very serious and deadly problem of DUI’s or texting while driving. Because a small minority of individuals misuse something, the solution is to eliminate ownership for all? Keep in mind that laws are already in place that are being violated by these individuals. Will people who broke existing laws be suddenly moved to abide by new ones?

It makes little sense to erode the rights of law abiding citizens as a mean to control the behaviors of emotionally disturbed, criminally minded and antisocial fringe elements of society. In many of the highly publicized mass shooting scenarios, we are dealing with people whose intent is to die. Would we not be better served working to address low self esteem and helping those feeling hopeless find a sense of purpose? I think it’s unreasonable to change the lives and rights of those who are not breaking laws or causing problems as some sort of weak gesture to pretend we’re solving what is a real problem.

While I recognize that these situations are intolerable, I have to say that the quick fixes and political posturing (from all sides) has not and will not make much impact until the real issues are addressed. What are the real problems? I believe there are several elements that contribute to the hostile environment that we all live in. When Dr. King talked about not being judged by the color of ones skin but by the content of our character, it was not intended to ignore an individuals background but rather was a call to not value or devalue individuals on attributes that ultimately they had no control over. Simply, it is who you choose to be, how you choose to act and what you strive to become that should dictate what one can achieve. However in the ensuing years ill-conceived (but well-intended) concepts such as labeling some illegal activity as “hate crimes” based upon who the victims are became divisive, as it judged people by the color of their skin (or other characteristics). Being told that is my “white privilege” talking is about as constructive as me (an assumed white woman to someone without knowledge of my DNA) using the N-word at an NAACP meeting. Labels are offensive, period! You don’t remedy a situation by creating a new way to be dismissive of an entire group of people based on a single attribute. Does it help to have white people try to school other white people on what minority people experience in their daily life? While again the gesture is well-meaning, it makes about as much sense as having my husband offer a lecture to a Cub Scout troop on the topic of menstrual cramps. It seems noble but one is not able to appropriately share what one has not experienced.

The “Hate Crime” creates different rules for different segments of society and continuing to divide our population into segregated groupings and then applying different values seems like a  truly backwards means of trying to achieve equality. If a person shoots a black person, a white person and an Asian person, the blood is all going to be red. I saw in a recent post where this biological fact is now considered offensive. Is it ridiculous that people can be offended by the assertion of a scientific fact? I don’t know of a crime victim that felt “loved” by a perpetrator or that somehow considered themselves less of a victim based upon the amount of melanin they possessed.

The horrific massacre that took place at Pulse in Florida surely looked like the scene of what would qualify as a hate crime, an individual targeting a gay nightclub. Were the terrorist to have lived, would that have been tried as a hate crime? Would that have changed once the news of his own gay hook-ups surfaced? Can you be charged with a hate crime against a group you are a member of? Would the victims have been divided among homosexual and heterosexual and would the charges have been greater for the loss of some lives over others? I imagine for the friends and family members, they did not value their loved ones any more or any less based on their differences. It seems the act ultimately was more about self-hatred and it manifested itself horrifically. Having the actions of the insane dictate the rights of all is not the answer. When the objective is equality, is it helpful to place greater value on some individuals over others?

What is the solution? When bantering with Facebook friends whose views differ from my own, I am often asked what I think should be done regarding guns in the United States. I always arrive at the same conclusion. Education. Yet there are many people who choose to shield their children (and themselves) from knowledge about firearms, they fear them and think they are best left unseen and not spoken about. While I am the first to agree that if you are scared of guns and have no interest in them you should not own one (just like there are some people who should not be drivers because of their overwhelming fear behind the wheel). Normally open-minded people who think knowledge is power in most situations for some reason shut down regarding information access when it comes to guns.

How well does ignoring information help in any area of life? Use Sex Education as an example. Insert “guns” in the following sentences instead of “sex”. My kids don’t need to know about sex because they’re kids and aren’t exposed to sex.  I will know when the right time to talk to my son about sex is, before he goes to college. Most kids find out about sex from their peers on the playground. Our religious values don’t allow for sex before marriage, I have plenty of time for the talk. It’s normal for kids to experiment with sex starting in junior high. Why wouldn’t you want to be informed and educated and ensure your kids had safe and accurate information? Sadly, the facts are very clear who are most at risk regarding both topics; those not informed adequately about sex or gun safety are the ones most likely to experience negative outcomes. This goes for drugs, bike safety and power tools too! Ignorance is not bliss.

Trap shooting is the fastest growing high school sport in Minnesota and not only is there value in the team camaraderie but learning the proper use and respect for firearms is invaluable. It’s not the members of shooting teams that are participating in drive-by shootings or accidentally killing themselves or a friend because they simply were never taught respect or appropriate use of a firearm. We teach cooking in schools, have shop classes and provide other opportunities for students to learn the proper use of a tool. For many, they may never cook or sew again but they know how to safely use the tools required, should they ever want or need to. They don’t typically have an unwarranted fear of the equipment.

I know I have quickly hit upon a lot of hot topics that touch a raw nerve with many. I recognize that many factors go into each persons values on these issues. I am certain it’s unlikely I have swayed anyone from their preexisting view. I simply ask that you think about the idea of giving something to people (education, information) rather than taking something away. Gun owners don’t “clutch” their guns. Not all gun owners are NRA members. The blanket assertions made about “gun owners” as a population are as insulting as pretending all women think the same way, imagining all members of a church vote for a particular political party or mistakenly believing that people from a specific country of origin all share the same opinion. Gun owners aren’t all hunters, some are vegans and some have shot nothing more than paper targets. Calling people who own guns “gun nuts” is not helpful and is like most derogatory comments, more telling about the person uttering it than the person being spoken about.

When people preach about being tolerant, it doesn’t simply mean tolerating things you already liked and supporting things you already believed, it means sometimes not being intolerant of things you personally have no use for or accepting that people have different beliefs than your own. We know how well Prohibition has worked in this country. Will we prevent the actions of criminals by disarming law abiding citizens? You might think so, I do not. We don’t have to agree, I’m tolerant.

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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.

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Insulting Voters for Political Gain and Other 2016 Strategies

Politics

While it has been nearly two weeks since our caucuses in Minnesota, I find myself still fascinated by the often conflicted interpretation of events surrounding the rallies preceding primaries in other states. For those not from here, a brief tutorial on Minnesota politics; we are the state that had a former pro wrestler elected as an Independent to serve as governor, we are remembered as the only blue state on the map during the 1984 Presidential race and earlier this month we allocated the majority of delegates to Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio for their respective parties. As a fiscally conservative and socially more liberal voter, I find I have to rely upon other states every four years to get my favored candidate their chair in the Oval Office. Currently this method has worked half of the time, November 2016 will be a tie breaker.

I am not trying to convince anyone to get behind a specific individual, my chance to support a candidate in making it to the ballot has passed. I am however asking people to take a step back and evaluate the sources of some of the most illogical reasoning and intelligence insulting media I have ever seen. I have shared with a new generation of voters, that to me this is the most divided I have seen this country since 1968. Issues which I thought had become non-issues, negativity and hatred I had believed were quelled are percolating. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction and that is being used by all sides in an attempt to persuade voters. When Secret Service agents jumped a protestor attempting to get to the candidate at a Trump event in Ohio over the weekend the individual identified himself as a Bernie supporter. When Trump publicly stated that Bernie supporters were part of the problem, Bernie denied it. All one needed to do was look at the Chicago Tribune which posted protestors at Trump’s event in Illinois on Friday, Bernie signs and buttons shown prominently. I find it hard to believe that there were no photographs of supporters for the other Republican candidates (who vocally oppose Trump) who came out or Hillary campaigners who attended. Did the Chicago Tribune opt to only show Bernie supporters or is that truly all who came to protest? Meanwhile MoveoOn.Org wishes to take credit for the Chicago rally being canceled.

One of the angles I find most interesting is that people want to call Trump a bully for his commentary but these same sources wish to goad him by saying he is too scared to stand up to ISIS if he can’t stand up to protestors in Chicago. Is that not considered bullying as well? They want to make him responsible for the actions of an attendee at one of his events (a 78 year old man punching a disruptive protestor who is being removed) but wish to take no claim for the bleeding head of a police officer during their “peaceful” protest. In all honesty, Trump’s insight and desire to not have a full-blown riot represent perhaps the most presidential thing that I have seen him do thus far. I personally don’t think Trump is any more or less responsible for his audience members behavior than Bernie is for his supporter trying to jump Donald. I however am a believer in personal accountability, an old-fashioned notion to many.

Those who went to protest and antagonize might have been disappointed that the event didn’t erupt into something uglier. Disappointingly, candidates from both parties used the situation to try to bolster their own standings. As though somehow a person’s opposition being uncivil should garner support for that opposition. It seems apparent that the protestors failed to give much thought regarding that in addition to  Trump supporters, there were  many others there simply to listen to him prior to making their decision. Just like the kid in the viral video last week, it’s disappointing when you plan to go somewhere and end up somewhere else. While some might not like it, a Trump rally is no broccoli farm but the protestors turned it into a circus! Rally attendees didn’t get to see and listen to Trump and protestors didn’t get to be part of an epic riot. Link to video: http://mashable.com/2016/03/08/broccoli-farm-circus-video/#LH9Z_UTDesqJ

My husband (who did not attend a caucus and has not declared support for any candidate) found himself playing devil’s advocate over the weekend via Facebook with a high school classmate. When she ran out of factual claims to back her opinion she retaliated with “I know of no intelligent people who support Trump.” I asked my husband if she still lived in Le Sueur (the town they attended high school in) which she does. Having been to Le Sueur many times during my marriage I realize that if you were not to leave town (population 4000) you would likely miss out on much of the diversity the world has to offer. Despite whatever your political views regarding him might be, I would be hard pressed to claim that Dr. Ben Carson who endorsed Trump last week is not intelligent. Such is the rhetoric this election cycle.

Over the past few years I have noticed methods of trying to garner political support that I don’t recall while growing up. I think that this approach is actually a contributing factor to the divisiveness which seems more apparent in our current race. It began with the vilifying of “The one percent”. Those who were raised trying to win with a roll of the dice in Monopoly were being told that people who achieved what was once referred to as the “American Dream” are somehow inherently evil. Mathematically you can at least understand why a party or candidate might choose this particular tactic, an “us” against “them” with the risk of only alienating 1% of the population and perhaps gaining new ground with the other 99%. Take a look at the German census in 1933 and you will see that is the approximate percentage of people identifying as Jewish that year. So despite my personally not being accustomed to this sort of political practice, it’s not a new one. Blame a small minority.

The most recent version of this which I find even more bizarre is the polls showing that Donald Trump is leading among the “uneducated”. This is likely the talking point my husband’s classmate was attempting to utilize. One news source reporting the poll results with the dire statement “Donald Trump supporters did not have a very flattering picture painted of them by a new poll”. The qualification for “educated” was actually college and in a numbers game using that criteria, 68% of Americans are “uneducated”, that’s enough to win any election. What people were attempting to elude to is that the supporters lacked intelligence. Those reporting either lacked the education or intelligence to recognize those aren’t the same thing. At the same time we have candidates running on the promise of providing free public education, this holds less value to the already educated and it would seem obvious that insulting those who have not chosen or been given the opportunity for higher education is a bad campaign strategy.

While I have a bachelor’s degree I know many highly intelligent people who do not. Having worked among college students for over twenty-five years I also know many people who are not the most intelligent who do have degrees. I am the grandchild of an Irish immigrant whose formal education ended at the eighth grade, he arrived in the United States at nineteen. By the time he retired he was the Vice President of Foreign Marketing for Pillsbury. My recently deceased father in law also dropped out of school to assist his father in running the family farm. Only after a brother who remained in school got TB (forcing him to remain home) did he ask his father if he could return to school. He graduated from high school, went to college, had a career in the Air Force and returned to school for another degree upon retirement. While his opportunity for an education made him more educated, he was no more intelligent than he would have been if he had stayed on the farm. Walt Disney did alright despite leaving school at 16, Wolfgang Puck left school in Austria at 14, Milton Hershey had a fourth grade education and Henry Ford didn’t go to college. John D. Rockefeller Sr. dropped out of high school  and Andrew Carnegie’s formal education ended in elementary school but access to reading materials to self-educate himself led to him contributing to the construction of 2509 libraries throughout the world. Some of our best known fast food and franchise developers either did not finish high school or attend college; Colonel Sanders (KFC), Ray Kroc (McDonalds), Dave Thomas (Wendy’s), Debbi Fields (Mrs. Fields Cookies) and many others. I write this across the room from a framed Ansel Adams poster and the beauty of the photograph is not sullied by him being a high school dropout. When I stay at a Holiday Inn, I am not negatively impacted by the founders lack of a high school diploma. Next time you see a Frank Lloyd Wright designed building perhaps you will recall that it was designed by someone who never attended high school. Locally, the founder of Best Buy did not go to college. For a truly inspiring read I encourage you to look into Rob Kalin the founder of Etsy and his educational path after flunking out of high school, too much good stuff to summarize here. Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson also fall into the “uneducated” classification; intelligent enough to be president, just not educated enough to choose one, some imply.

I’m not suggesting that all of these “uneducated” people I’ve profiled are Trump supporters, typically the Democrats garner more of the deceased votes (that’s sarcasm, for those who don’t know me well). I am simply pointing out that the implication that education somehow makes a person superior or that lack of education should be something to be ashamed of is just as demeaning as being dismissive of an individual based upon their faith, where they live, their skin color or any other identifying characteristic of birth or personal choice.

So for those of you who are still in a position to make a decision, I encourage you to do what you believe is right for your country and not simply your current situation. Sometimes it is tempting to find a quick-fix appealing and not think about the long range impact. When the media is telling you loudly who is being a bully, step back and question if their very method of reporting isn’t bullying itself. If you are being instructed to be against a percentage of the population, take time to evaluate if that is a construct you are comfortable with. If you are being told that you are better than some other group of voters based on some arbitrary criteria, it’s a good idea to to take stock of your values and also the values of the candidate or media source who is trying to win over voters by telling them they are superior. Really? When it comes down to it we each get one vote in November. Why is that?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” -Declaration of Independence

 

 

 

 

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