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A Peepable Moment

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I couldn’t resist the chance to combine my love of peeps with the Food Bank if Northern Nevada’s 30th anniversary.

Peeps Contest 5

Feeding the Peeps for 30 Years.

Feeding the Peeps for 30 Years.

Peeps Contest 8

Mo-Peep took pics.

peep

Make Way, Proud Mama Coming Through

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Thunk, thunk, thunk.

That’s the sound of the my full heart.

The sound of my chest beating with pride.

The sound of my love bubbling up from inside.

Other people now see what I’ve known — this child of mine is letting her light shine.

Just about 15 months ago, Momo — as she is affectionately known — our now 13-year-old daughter picked up the camera and began to snap some shots of this and that.  The more photos she took, the more she refined, took note, and used this medium to help her articulate how she feels about and sees her world. Her keen interest and enthusiasm have gotten her up before sunrise, to get shots during the “golden hour.” Her inspirations have her laying on her stomach in the snow, standing on ladders, and having her friends model wherever they go.

 

Gold Key Winner "Jump"

Gold Key Winner “Jump”

Just recently, Marjorie joined the school art club, made new friends and through their and the teacher’s urging, she entered the Scholastic Key Awards.

Yee-ha now– she earned two Gold Keys for two of her photos, plus four Silver Keys and a couple of honorable mentions.

Gold Key Wiiner "Stairs."

Gold Key Winner “Stairs.”

Gallery DebutFriday was her coming out party– all Gold Key works were on display at the Holland Project in Reno, NV. To be on hand for her artistic debut, to see her face shining and her excitement growing — THAT was a Thunk, thunk, thunk.

Gallery Debut

Used to Daydream In That Small Town

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Marjorie, Curtis Sr. and Curtis Jr.

Marjorie, Curtis Sr. and Curtis Jr.

Certain people in the family tree capture my imagination – my husband’s maternal grandmother, Marjorie Barton Townsend Williams is one of those enigmatic people. Born in 1890 in Overbrook, Penn., to prominent blue-blood parents at the cusp of the new century when women were venturing further from Victorian sentiments and sensibilities, she left the enclave of mansions owned by her grandfather, father and uncles to serve as a Red Cross volunteer aid in France during WWI. She arrived as the war ended, tending to those men who were injured and help others transition back to the States. Under these circumstances, Marjorie met her future husband, one-time Minnesota lumberjack, then audacious soldier Curtis G. Williams. Enamored, he followed her back to Philadelphia upon his US Army release to rekindle the romance and finally won her father’s approval to marry her after some months.

From there the newlyweds traveled via train to his natal Minnesota to start their new life. His diary – more a collection of humorous stories than anything – has been passed down to the grandchildren. In it, he describes Marjorie only near the end of these reminisces. Other than this, I can only suppose her reaction to moving half-way across the country to live at first in International Falls (on the boarder to Canada) and later to Duluth.

Main StreetSo when I recently read Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street, Marjorie grew in my mind to be main character Carol Milford Kennicott. Also a new bride, Carol and husband Dr. Will Kennicott arrive via train in Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. She looks out the window at the flat dingy landscape and reacts:

“That one word—home—it terrified her. Had she really bound herself to live, inescapably, in this town called Gopher Prairie? And this thick man beside her, who dared to define her future, he was a stranger! She turned in her seat, stared at him. Who was he? Why was he sitting with her? He wasn’t of her kind! His neck was heavy; his speech was heavy; he was twelve or thirteen years older than she; and about him was none of the magic of shared adventures and eagerness. She could not believe that she had ever slept in his arms. That was one of the dreams which you had but did not officially admit.”

Did Marjorie feel this way?

So much of Lewis’ book deals with Carol’s tilting at windmills – trying to change this town, revolt against what she views as provincialism attempting to bring in culture, refined architecture, educational reforms only to be rebuffed by tradition and complacency.  Carol endeavors by turns to fit into established cliques and then break away to blaze trails of originality and single-minded leadership. Lewis’ social satire about small towns was the first to expose certain narrow attitudes and this bewildered readers who commonly idealized American small towns.

But far more than the town and its inhabitants stifling her, Carol feels most misunderstood by her own husband who though he loves her, cannot understand her restless nature.

Was this Marjorie’s experience too?

Or was her life one of isolation – raising three sons while her husband caroused as though still single?

Of note, the book Main Street was published in 1920, the year Marjorie and Curtis married. The book became a modern best seller, with the exception of some small towns in Minnesota because of the book’s genesis from Lewis’ hometown of Sauk Centre, Minn.

Did Marjorie read this book? And if she did, what would she have said? — That she identified with Carol? Or that her life shared nothing with a character living in similar time and place?

We do know that she was not happy. Unlike Carol in Main Street who was able to make a peace, eventually, with Gopher Prairie, Marjorie ended her life at age 47 leaving her sons ages 12 to 16 to cope with the loss.

When researching ancestry, even the lives of those who lived not that long ago, mysteries abound. Through literature it’s interesting and instructive to imagine Marjorie’s life as it might have been, how she felt, what she saw and the choices she faced. Reading something that may have mirrored her life has helped me to understand at least some of the undercurrents in a life that was too short.

Little Things Make Her A Bright, Shining Birthday Beacon

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“It’s a girl!”madeleine infant

Sixteen candles will be on our daughter Madeleine’s dessert – blueberry pie — tonight.

The big moments – her birth, first word, first smile, first day of school, losing that first tooth, first time riding her bike, saying “I Love You,” stand out in time. These rights of passage play over and over in my memory as the playbook of her life.

But it’s the little moments that make her Madeleine.

madeleine painter

  • The time she thought the leprechaun potion had shrunk her
  • The way she sings in the shower with true abandon
  • Her child-like giggle
  • The way she lives out the stories she reads and sees. Go to a movie with her and bring some tissues!
  • Her incredibly kind spirit, especially with children
  • The time she lost her ring and we looked everywhere for such a long time. It was the end of the world until she found it was in her pocket all the time
  • Her new habit of translating everything she thinks, hears and sees from English into Frenchmadeleine snowman
  • The music that explodes from her in song form via guitar, drum, piano and rickety chop sticks
  • Her sudden tempers that melt into tears and really all-too-many “I’m sorries.”
  • Oh so polite and yet suddenly unrefined in just the way teens tend to be
  • The creative touches she has with everything she does – with notes, homework assignments – she’s a cartoonist, poet, doodler, song-writer
  • Imagine this: a flat tire     the very first time she drove with her learner’s permit
  • Nerd to her core, she embraces her Dr. Who, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
  • She loves color – she doesn’t even realize she must own 7 orange shirts and her day-glo orange shoes and backpack help me pick her out in any crowd
  • Dauntingly positive – “We can do it, Mom! Who cares what other people think?”
  • Despite their sibling jabs, she really loves being a big sister and would take on any bully to protect The Mo
  • The way her hugs go on and on
  • How she worries about her friends and is willing to carry their problems for them
  • Her 1000-watt smile that lights up the room

Madeleine’s smarter than most, (I know, I’m her mom, but it’s simply true) she’s got big dreams and though I wish time would slow down because I want to savor every quirk and ancillary anecdote I also am excited to see what she’ll be, do and think as she finishes adolescence and explodes into young adult.montage of photos Madeleine

  Love you my Laney-Loo. Love you all the time!

I Could Tell You Some Stories

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Welcome to Los Angeleeees, Ms. Fink.

Welcome to Los Angeleeees, Ms. Fink.

Suddenly I had the urge to go back to college — to earn some new fangled degree or other that would  only take two semesters to accomplish — but it would be hard work and require me to live apart from home. Once there, I always found myself lost in vacant hallways lumbering up and down stairs lost and chancing that I would get to my dorm room.  That’s right: I said dorm room, after my first night class.

At forty-something years old, here I was back in the dorms, but somehow they were different from the dorms of my youth. To start with, the globes in the hallways had a dingy pink cast and the walls went from narrow to wide very quickly. Every unfamiliar doorway mocked me: “You’re new here. You don’t belong here.” I seemed to be travelling in circles and had to go down two flights before taking an elevator to send me up three flights and then down another half-rounded stair.

“Here it is,” I pant to myself after navigating this tortuous maze. I know it’s mine because it’s the only one where the door is wide open. This too, is so different from days gone by. Instead of two single beds with two closets, two desks and a sink, this room is like an Army barracks with row upon row of grey metal bunk beds. At the far end of the chamber are four regular single beds.

A push my way to that end and notice that the music in the room is not bad, mostly something classified as indy-pop, but to my dismay as soon as I could catch onto a tune, the song would change. This seemed the norm, and not some weak game of Music Wars where you would try to name the artist before the other dude, just two or three measures of song followed by another snipet of song.

Perhaps because of my age or maybe because of my charm (ha, ha), I have one of the single beds at the end of the lodging– no one above me and no bed springs to look at. That’s good because beat, I am and I just want to wash my face and lay down. Problem is someone else is at the sink before me and I just have to wait. Fine. I sit for a moment, trying to get the rhythm of the new song and notice twin blonde girls across the way. In an effort to set the stage for the coming year, I begin introductions when suddenly the two morph into four. Best not to stare, they probably get tired of that, especially with the pear-size birthmarks on various parts of their faces that they each seemed to be sporting. Plus, I’m afraid the next time I turn, there will be eight. Tough to get a bed in one of these places these days.

So I turn my attention back to the sink and realize that the person  washing up looks a lot like my old boss, Becky. That couldn’t be. This woman has a kerchief on her head to keep the hair off her forehead while she moisturizes her large Midwestern face. She brays at me, “Em! It’s you! I thought so.”

Let's catch up. Right now.

Let’s catch up. Right now.

What the….

She begins gabbering about her life and her jobs and why she is here and how long it how been, how many hand-knit sweaters she’d bought, and about her sons, the one that is gay and the one that is not, while I wash my own face while watching her eat a gallon of rocky-road ice cream.

“Oh dear. What a nightmare. College is not for me,” I think as I fly out of there like a tiger on fire. “I have to get home! My husband must miss me. It’s dark, but I can make it before midnight, I know. He’ll understand.

I look down and realize I am on a 16-foot-tall Christmas tree clinging to its top branches. I whomp its roller skates to move me down the darkening highway straight home. The powerlines a terrifying at this height, but still less than the Barton Fink atmosphere I had just left at this campus from Elm Street. While still moving at a reckless speed I force myself to leap to the ground as we (the tree and I) are on a collision course with the porte cochere of our vaulted apartment complex straight ahead.

People in the comley common dining room swivel their balloon-like heads around to see where the tree and I will crash, yet I am like Elastagirl from the Incredibles and plant the vault Olympic gymnist-style with barely a hesitation before the sprint to our home while blithely noting that my keys had splintered in the crash. Now at the door of apartment 404 with its walls of what? Pine. What? Rough hewn floors.  My man has already converted this into his Man Cave. I’m barely yesterday’s news.

“Where’s the bed?” I ask racing through our home, “Where the hell is the bed?”

My hubster Vic breezes in with our friend Todd. They were dressed in 49er shirts (not weird, like twin shirts, just fan shirts) and going to see a game or have a beer, or shoot, I don’t know play some pool. “Wait. I’m home,” I let go. “I’m home now. Where is the bed?”

“Silly girl,” Vic teased. “The bed is planted in the parking lot to look at the stars. You lay down out here,” whisking me away to the asphault field.

I implore from the in-the-parking-lot-bed-now, “I do not want this. It’s hot. I’m homeless. Stay. No game. My keys are lost.”

“Now THAT’s a problem,” Todd wisecracks. “That’s a loup-garou.”

Take a look around this dump. You're just a tourist with a typewriter, Barton, I live here.

Take a look around this dump. You’re just a tourist with a typewriter, Barton, I live here.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you don’t want to take Nyquil after eating a banana. Geez.

Atlas Crumpled

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Here I stand – strong, impervious to the elements, meeting life and its challenges head-on – with the world (my world) resting on the tips of my fingers with everything balanced and fully aligned.

Look at me, Super Woman. I tackle new projects with zest in the workplace, relish home life with zeal; I am a paragon of calm under pressure. What, me? No, I haven’t been sick in a couple years – it’s something to do with my age I guess, the germs don’t care for me at all. I’m the Teflon of Moms, I don’t relinquish control of my body to illness.

Getting a whiff of a sore throat, I down Emergen-C ; a headache coming on, here comes plenty of water and sunglass therapy; what? A hint of fatigue — nothing that an extra 15 minutes of sleep can’t cure. It does seem impossible, but I am a rock. When the shit comes down, I’m holding the box of Kleenex for someone else.

See, there I am at church, holding the door for the old ladies, now at work, signing the “Get Well” card for Bob. I am thinking up new ways to share this staggering prosperity with others. “Just drink a lot of liquids, that’s what I do.” “Don’t let the little things stress you out – it’s not worth it.” “Get a grip, just sweat it out.”

Yesterday at work – 8 a.m.: A tickle at the base of my throat – it’s nothing.

10 a.m.: My ears have a soreness I can’t quite describe.

11 a.m.: Peculiar, my stomach isn’t quite settled.

12:15 p.m.: A halo from looking at my computer monitor.

12:30 p.m.: The sneeze of kingdom come to rattle the window.

No worries – just down the concoctions and live on the Nile, otherwise known as de-nial.

12:50 p.m.: Sudden, but slight, fatigue.

1:10 p.m.: Mild body muscle aches.

1:40 p.m.: A cold sweat  — Huh – better take notice now

2:10 p.m.: A crisis in the office, minor really, makes me edgy and off my game

Power through it – get the boxes, the bags, gather it up and get out to the car.

3 p.m.: Driving the car I feel the energy drain from me. Ay caramba.

Well, how did I get here?

3:30 p.m. I’m at the area high school for their party to collect food for homeless children. I find a couple of students who help me get the materials inside. Soon I’ll be on my way heading to the pharmacy, but “No,” the girls and moms say, “Stay. Help us to put the food in packs today.” Don’t they see? I’m dying. Impervious Mom has the sweat – I’m practically bathing in it –if my hair didn’t cover my ears they’d see their crimson color; I’m caught – I can’t leave. Don’t they see my eyes dilated? My skin may not be purple yet, but the pain and aches are causing internal bruising; concentration – I need it – “What is your name again?” they ask – I try to remember, it begins with an E, I think; words come from my mouth but I don’t hear them. They’re packing the food, but they need the boxes I move from one side of the cafeteria to the other and for some reason I keep looking for my purse, or is it the keys? Yes the keys – I need them, the boxes to the car they’re ready to load and can I carry a box? My arms are breaking, my breath is short. They ask me if they can carry the box, I say “Yes,” but I think, “Can’t they see?  I know I must look like sergeant Brody from Homeland stuck in lockdown with the joint chiefs of staff with a radioactive vest strapped on – I am paranoid and weak. I say good-bye and buy pudding and drugs at the store.

At home little Mo-mo has the same thing. I look at her in bed and say, “You poor thing.”

“Mom,” she says. “The sheets, they are burning me and itching me. Can I have new ones?”

Well sure thing – I’m Teflon aren’t I? But where are the sheets? What are sheets? Why are sheets? Somehow, yes I remember how, my husband how, he gets sheets and together we replace hers with clean ones.

Inside our room I peel off clothes, look at our bed all rumpled from last night, I could care less. I would lay on a turd right now if it would put me in a supine position. That’s more like it. Now here come the real aches – did they really beat me repeatedly with a stick? Why do my fingers feel like they’re bleeding? My word, do my eyeballs always ache when I move them to the right? I need my custard, no, I don’t eat custard – where is a hot water bottle?…delirious…I love the sound of Mandy Patinkin’s voice, not his singing, his speaking; will he come to me tell me I don’t have to go through with it. He’s so nice, so thoughtful, he assures me with that voice like butter,

"Now I Lay Me..."

“Now I Lay Me…”

I don’t have to have the electro-shock – the iron lung – the lobotomy. “Remember this,” I whisper, “That’s right, don’t let me forget this – I’m vulnerable –  I’m only human.”

Start with a New Page

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New year, new beginnings, new life.

New year, new beginnings, new life.

The days they do fly and here we stand at the third week of the year. That great post I had all written in my head to greet the baby new year — the one that was the overlay of new beginnings brightened by New Year’s weddings because I finished Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding at the dawn, was to be a remembrance of the two New Year’s weddings — 20 years apart — that we’ve been honored to attend. I got bogged down choosing and sizing the art. Oh what a dandy that blog could have been. Too late.

Too late, too, was the comparison between our lives to Gulliver’s Travels as written by Jonathan Swift. Oh how the Lilliputians could so aptly have been compared to our Congress and lawmakers. It was pithy — or at least how I had blogged in my head on the backs of my eyelids while I drifted off to sleep.

My next  was an open letter to all the NFL bystanders — we patient partners who stand by while our TV rooms turn blue with the slang slung at Jim Nance and Joe Buck to quit blatantly  favoring the ref’s call for their perceived favorites. No need to write that one now — our team, the Niners are going all the way with the help of hometown hero Colin Kaepernick. Fist pump all the way!

A reason to cheer in the new year.

A reason to cheer in the new year.

Oh the riotous post about our small grey kitty who habitually spills unwatched beverages and has killed off two electronic devises in two weeks. And yet, by God, we still love that scamp. The theme boiling up was something about this unconditional animal love while trying to comprehend why we struggle to do the same for our fellow human friends and relations. That one was written as I drove to work, never making it to the tips of my fingers and onto the screen.

My next post was gunna be — am I just too old, too work-worn to go through yet another boss?   It’s me railing against change, against new systems or worrying about what the new expectations shall be. Am I “up” for it mentally to read the tea leaves of exactly what’s in the head of a new boss? What if the term out-sourced comes up? When in life do we ever stop having to justify our existence?  My allegory of the new and the old. The beginnings always and yet beginning again. Yep. That one, too, came in the night, when my mind wouldn’t stop racing the clock.

One for the books 2

New reads, new ideas, new worlds to explore.

But it’s One for the Books by Joe Queenan that has me sleeping through the night again. His newly published book about reading (a personal passion of mine) helped me re-set my thoughts. Writing of the state of reading today after examining his own patterns, interviewing 65 of his friends and relations and maligning everyone from book reviewers to English teachers, to some of the authors themselves, mostly he bemoans the time slipping away. Voracious in his reading (he reads up to 150 books a year), he’s yet to get through Eliot’s Middlemarch even while reading up to 40 books simultaneously and he hasn’t washed his windows in 17 years. And for him, that’s OK.

These January blogs will never see the light of day, never be fleshed out completely, but for me, this has been a most positive month. These blogs: I’ve thought them up, one by one; they’ve entertained me and I am not looking back. No, not I.

Sleep on in Peace Now

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All now is in preparation for our 2nd annual Christmas party. Last year we invited friends near and dear to gather clad in Ugly Sweaters to add to the mirth.

This year the theme is “Fiscal Cliff Be Damned – Let’s Make Merry.”

It’s a fine excuse to whisk away the cobwebs, straighten up the nick-knacks, spiff up the pillows, shine the glass and basically not think about anything — I hope. My plan: “If I break this up room-by-room one each night this week, the place will be in fine shape by the weekend and food prep will rule party day.” The sweep-up keeps my body busy and my mind focused on trivial details before I attempt to sleep.

So I start with the master bedroom – shifting this and that, clearing the raft of clothes piled from the last laundry load, making order of the child-made craft collection we’ve accumulated through the years, adding a beloved photograph to the memory wall, tackling the bookshelf where some disorganized elf has come to play (uh, that’d me me), finally making my way to the reading corner and its comfy chair. Under the ottoman sat a mass of stuff I did not recognize: daughter Marjorie had evidently hefted some items in one night after school or confirmation, I know not which. There I found her Action Bible, some worksheets from a month ago, that library book we had looked for high and low and finally had paid for in desperation so she could attend the school dance. A few other books rounded out the lot, except for one more item — the treasured school photo compilation sheet from her Kindergarten year – 2004-05. I pause. The memento reminds me of what my invented busy-ness was set up to avoid.

Smiling back at me were her 24 classmates and six adults – the principal, two teachers, two aides and the school nurse. I know them all. Bright, fun, curious, serious, squirrely – The Mrs. L&D class had it all. There’s Abby who froze with stage fright during the nursery rhyme play; here’s Austin who farted on my leg while reading aloud one day; Rebecca shared Fruit Loops that one time; Alexia’s art was sublime; Gabby lived up to her name; garrulous Matt was just the same; Madison’s pig tails were her calling card while Reece looked like a boy honor guard. I love and cherish the memories all. Last girl on the keepsake photo montage was our little Mo – tiny in shape, big on personality, showing her 6-year-old shy grin. She’s the girl who continues to steal my heart, test my patience and dash me with her confidence. Eight years later we look at one another eye-to-eye.

fallen petalI think of her classmates growing up too, making their own way in life, gaining friends, learning more day after day, and all that is ahead for them. All week I’ve had the children of Newton, CT in my thoughts – the sadness there is beyond my comprehension. But seeing our daughter’s class brings the suffering closer. A leap of imagination and her class is theirs. My empathy for the people who loved those dear ones deepens. Oh! The children of Newton belong to me, too.

XXXIV

Sleep now, O sleep now,

O you unquiet heart!

A voice crying “Sleep now”

Is heard in my heart.

The voice of the winter

Is heard at the door.

O sleep, for the winter

Is crying “Sleep no more.”

My kiss will give peace now

And quiet to your heart—

Sleep on in peace now,

O you unquiet heart!

— James Joyce (Chamber Music)

I’ve Gotta Make a Dress

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SewingDiaryBatch53_imageIt’s a constant refrain in my brain over and over this time of year – “I’ve Gotta Make a Dress.” Sometimes it’s a suppressed whisper, other times a downright command. I’ve Gotta Make a Dress!!
What’s really weird is that I don’t even sew, at least not since junior high school, and I probably never will learn that vaunted skill.
So, what is this dress business? Carol, a dear co-worker from a couple of jobs ago, taught me this idiosyncratic phrase. Her tale was thus:  she had a million and one things going on one holiday season when a sweet church lady called to tell Carol that in addition to the full-time job, full-time family and full-time Christmas load, Carol would need to make a dress for her daughter, Sarah, to wear in the church play. The Church Lady gave Carol time– a couple of weeks — but Carol kept putting that dress off. In her scurrying and hurrying Carol would remember, “I have to make a dress.” Until the thought was waking her up at night, “I have to make a dress, CRAP!”
In her fun and goofy way, Carol taught me this coping mechanism, this mantra that means in essence, I’ve got a lot to get done in a short amount of time. When stress hit work, she had all of us saying, “I gotta make a dress.”
For a Food Bank marketing person this is truly the time of year when your head is spinning and you run from one event to another, fielding requests, talking to people who want to engage in what you do. It’s also the time of year that your family has more events, more commitments, more church, more life.
I relish this time, I really do! My phone rings near constantly at work; I stick a barrel in my car two or three times a week or wheedle a co-worker to make a delivery to some excited giver. I feel popular! I know I’m part of a customer service team bringing in the much-needed food to feed up to 97,000 people in our service area a month. With about 250 food drives going simultaneously, it’s no wonder that just short of Christmas I dream not of snow falling but of food bank barrels – I’m holding up walls of them, they’re flying overhead, my family can’t move because the house is filled with them.

That's life - a work in progress.

That’s life – a work in progress.

It’s my fourth Food Drive Season and each year I learn more, do more, talk more, drive more and sometimes, sew more. The difference this year is some temporary help has come our way to make it so I can help market more. What use is a barrel sitting in some corner with no food in it? Let’s get the word out, tell the world FOOD DRIVE SEASON!
Just because it’s our food bank’s busy time, doesn’t mean the personal commitments of the Christmas season and let’s be honest, everyday life will cease. We’ve got meals and desserts to make and share; laundry to do; ugly sweater parties to grace with just the right ensemble; Advent skits to learn; lessons to plan; crafts to make; rehearsals and concerts to attend; people shuttle to and fro; a house to decorate; presents to find and wrap and give; secrets to keep; house to clean; letters to write and meetings (all kinds) to attend. Thank the Lord for a husband and partner who picks up my utter slack, or Christmas at our home would be a pathetic mess.

Always good advice.

Always good advice.

Then there’s the second job I have that has a deadline each December 31 that brings more flurry to my mailbox and to my door. That brings scores more people to interact with, emails to write, explanations to be made and more tasks for me to remember.
This all to explain the dress is not quite made and my blog has quite sad, too, having had no attention from me for the past month or two.
I’m not complaining or ranting or moaning, you see. No, no, not me! I just can hardly wait to see how pretty that dress will be.

Ignorance is a Cure for Nothing

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I cried in my car today. I was alone, tears streaming down my cheeks creating rivers in my morning makeup.

No, the cause was not familial – the kids, husband, home and hearth are fine. I am still employed – all is well on that front. I am in good health.

So what caused said downpour? It stemmed from The Souls of White Folk, by scholar-activist W.E.B. Du Bois. The Souls ...is a collection of essays written in-part from an academic point of view on race and being African American in America at the turn of the 20thcentury.

I say in-part because of Du Bois’ personal story in Chapter 11.  The previous ten chapters lay the foundation of his thesis that Negros, as they were called then, of the South need the right to vote, education, and to be treated as equals in order to strengthen the people and the nation. Du Bois uses the metaphor of the veil. He shows the reader how all African-Americans wear it because their view of the world and its potential economic, political, and social opportunities is so vastly different from that of white people. The veil is a visual manifestation of the color line.

A white woman in the West, 110 years after it was first published, I understand the premise, hear the history, value the heritage, and enjoy the research and approach. I’m cognizant that time, strife, determination and sheer will have brought about changes in our culture. Things are different – many things better – but race relations still evolve. Prejudice is pervasive.

Through the Libravox audiobooks app I eagerly paced through Du Bois’ seminal work the past week or so. The writing style is both descriptive and didactic. Due to his narrative I see the red earth of Georgia, the sweat of the sharecropper, the expanse of the color line. Each chapter begins with a classical quotation followed by several measures of an African American spiritual or tune to lay the foundation of the them of the chapter.

So Chapter 11 begins (you can listen here, and I recommend it because the narration is very good):

O sister, sister, thy first–begotten, The hands that cling and the feet that follow, The voice of the child’s blood crying yet, WHO HATH REMEMBERED ME? WHO HATH FORGOTTEN? Thou hast forgotten, O summer swallow, But the world shall end when I forget.” (Poem by Swinburne)

The song is the spiritual:  “I Hope My Mother Will Be There.”

Until this point, Du Bois is narrator and traveler through the south telling the reader what he has witnessed and solutions he recommends, but here he bears his soul.

Unto you a child is born,” sang the bit of yellow paper that fluttered into my room one brown October morning. Then the fear of fatherhood mingled wildly with the joy of creation; I wondered how it looked and how it felt–what were its eyes, and how its hair curled and crumpled itself.

This beautifully written soliloquy to his son, Burghardt, so personal, so filled with wonder, disappointment and heartbreak. He shares feelings for his own life, the south, a futile life of being born under the veil of racism in a crescendo of sorrow after losing his firstborn. I felt his sadness and rage as he plead to God for just this one bit of happiness in this life. He asked to save this one innocent human being, his son.

I am not any of the things that Du Bois was: sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan Africanist, author and editor. But a thing we do share lo these years apart is the love of a child. It’s universal. It’s colorblind.

Ignorance is a cure for nothing, says Du Bois. This is why he wrote and why we read. Books – be they non-fiction or fiction – when written with humanity, help us to have a shared experience. Thank you W.E.B. Du Bois for teaching me today.

Care to read other books by African Americans? Here is a list of 50 to get you started.

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