AuntiesSky

I do remember

Watching my auntie

Primp and preen

On Friday afternoons

For that nights

Fish-fry and bingo

At the end

And with the

Flourish of witchcraft

Slap slap slap

As powder exploded

Like cosmetic Armageddon

Creating a cloudy

Dust which slowly

Revealed the bluest

Of blue eyes

Blinking and sparkling

While yellowed teeth

Laughed broadly amused

Give a kiss

Right here boy

She would ask

Pulling me into

Her sunny magic

This is what

This mornings sky

Reminds me of

I See Toby (guest post)

This is a speech written by very dear friend of mine, Mary Louise. It’s a long read but brilliantly written and well worth it. Please take the time to read it in its entirety.

GOOD DAY, EVERYONE. I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR READING THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE. THIS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AS A SPEECH, BUT I HAVE PENNED IT INTO A COMPOSITION PIECE. 

FIRST I WANT TO TAKE THIS MOMENT TO SAY I AM SO SORRY FOR THE LOSS THAT THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY HAS SUFFERED. WE ARE GATHERED HERE TODAY, BECAUSE OF A MAN NAMED GEORGE FLOYDWHO WAS MURDERED MAY 25TH 2020 IN MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA. HIS DEATH HAS IGNITED PROTESTS ACROSS THE UNITED STATES. THESE PROTESTS ARE ASKING FOR JUSTICE. THESE PROTESTS ARE ASKING FOR CHANGES. THESE PROTESTS ARE ASKING FOR ALL HUMAN BEINGS TO BE TREATED EQUAL. THESE PROTESTS ARE ASKING TO END RACIAL DIFFERENCES.  THIS IS WHY I AM HERE, BECAUSE I WANT THE SAME THING YOU DO. I WANT AN END TO RACISM.

MY NAME IS MARY LOUISE. MY HOMETOWN IS MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN. I ACTUALLY GREW UP IN WEST ALLIS A LILY WHITE SUBURB OF MILWAUKEE COUNTY. I MENTION LILY WHITE, BECAUSE IN THE SIXTIES AND SEVENTIES WHEN I GREW UP WHITE PEOPLE LIVED IN WEST ALLIS. BLACK PEOPLE LIVED ON THE NORTH SIDE OF MILWAUKEE; BETTER KNOW AS THE INNER CORE. 

WHEN I WAS A SMALL GIRL I DID NOT SEE BLACK PEOPLE WHERE I LIVED. WHEN MY MOTHER’S SISTER CAME TO VISIT WE USUALLY DROVE TO THE NORTH SIDE OF THE CITY. THEY HAD HAD AN AUNT WHO OWNED A BAKERY ON 3RD AND NORTH AVE. THE AUNT HAD PASSED, BUT THEY LIKED TO DRIVE PAST HER OLD VICTORIAN HOME THAT WAS ALSO THE BAKERY. IT WAS THEIR CHILDHOOD MEMORIES THAT TOOK THEM FOR A DRIVE THROUGH THATOLD FAMILIAR NEIGHBORHOOD. I CAN REMEMBER HEARING THEM CHAT ABOUT THE STREET CAR THAT RAN ON NORTH AVENUE, AUNT BELLE’S IMMACULATE HOME AND THE SMELLS COMING FROM THE BAKERY LOCATED TOWARDS THE BACK OF THE HOUSE. I CAN REMEMBER THAT THEY ALSO COMMENTED ON THE CONDITION OF THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD. THINGS WERE IN NEED OF REPAIR. BROKEN WINDOWS WERE BOARDED UP, PAINT WAS PEELING ON THESE HOMES AND TO ME THEY JUST LOOKED VERY DIFFERENT FROM WEST ALLIS. IT WAS DURING THESE RIDES UP TO THE NORTH SIDE OF MILWAUKEE THAT I WOULD SEE BLACK PEOPLE. I SAW CHILDREN OUT PLAYING, BUT SOMETHING WAS DIFFERENT. I WAS TOO YOUNG TO FULLY UNDERSTAND AT THAT TIME, BUT WHAT I SAW WAS POOR LIVING CONDITIONS AND POVERTY. 

IN 1966 I BEGAN FIRST GRADE AT ST RITACATHOLIC GRADE SCHOOL TWO BLOCKS FROM HOME. I HAD NUNS MY FIRST THREE YEARS IN GRADE SCHOOL. IT WAS IN RELIGION CLASS THAT I WAS FIRST TAUGHT ABOUT THE COLOR OF OUR SKIN. I REMEMBER BEING TOLD GOD CREATED US ALL EQUAL. SOME OF US HAD WHITE SKIN AND SOME OF US BLACK SKIN. SHE TOLD THE CLASS GOD LOVES ALL OF US THE SAME AND HE WANTS US TO LOVE EVERYONE REGARDLESS OF SKIN COLOR. I LEARNED WE ARE ALL GODS CHILDREN. WE ARE ALL EQUAL!

ABOUT THE SAME TIME THAT I WAS LEARING ABOUT RACIAL DIFFERENCES IN GRADE SCHOOL A CATHOLIC PRIEST WAS DOING SOMETHING SIMILAR. IN 1967 FATHER JAMES GROPPI A ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST WAS WORKING AT ST. BONIFACE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN MILWAUKEE’S INNER CORE. THE INNER CORE IS LOCATED ON THE NORTH SIDE OF MILWAUKEE. THE INNER CORE WAS DECAYING. HOMES WERE DILAPITATED. SCHOOLS WERE IN BAD SHAPE. WHITE LANDLORDS WOULD NOT RENT TO BLACK PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF THE INNER CORE. BLACK FAMILES COULD NOT BUY HOMES IN OTHER PARTS OF THE CITY OUTSIDE OF THE INNER CORE, BECAUSE WHITES REFUSED TO SELL TO THEM. MILWAUKEE CITY GOVERNMENT WAS REFUSING TO PAY FOR ROAD REPAIRS IN THE INNER CORE. THE CITY WAS ALSO REFUSING TO REPAIR THE SCHOOLS IN THIS BLACK COMMUNITY. DO YOU ALL SEE THE WHAT I AM SEEING? I SEE A PLACE I DON’T WANT TO LIVE IN. YET AFRICAN AMERICANS HAD NO OTHER OPTION. 

FATHER GROPPI BELIEVED EVERYONE SHOULD BE TREATED FAIRLY. HE DID NOT CARE ABOUT THE COLOR OF SOMEONE’S SKIN. SO WHAT DID FATHER GROPPI DO? HE DECIDED TO PROTEST FOR FAIR HOUSING FOR THE BLACK COMMUNITY AND HE DID. HE LED 200 NIGHTS OF MARCHING. HE MARCHED WITH VEL PHILLIPS AND OTHER CIVIL RIGHTS WORKERS. THEY MARCHED OUT OF THE INNER CITY, ACROSS THE 16TH STREET VIADUCT TO THE SOUTH SIDE OF MILWAUKEE. ONCE THEY CROSSED THE VIADUCT BRIDGE THEY WERE MET BY ANGRY WHITE MEN AND WOMEN. THE WHITES LINED THE STREETS THROWING ROCKS AND BOTTLES WHILE SWEARING AT THE MARCHERS. 

I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD WHEN RACE RIOTS BROKE OUT IN MILWAUKEE IN 1967. IT WAS SUMMER AND I REMEMBER THAT THERE WAS A CURFEW. WE WERE NOT ALLOWED TO GO OUT TO PLAY AFTER SUPPER.  I MIGHT HAVE ONLY BEEN SEVEN, BUT I REMEMBER SEEING THE NEWS ON TELEVISION SHOWING THE CONFLICTS. WHAT I DID NOT KNOW WAS THAT AT THE END OF THESE CONFLICTS FOUR PEOPLE WOULD BE DEAD. I DID NOT KNOW EACTLY WHAT WAS HAPPENING, BUT I KNEW IT HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE BLACK PEOPLE WHO LIVED ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CITY. IN 1968, AS A RESULT OF THESE PROTESTS MILWAUKEE PASSED THE VEL PHILLIPS FAIR HOUSING LAW.

IN 1973 WHILE STILL ATTENDING SAINT RITACATHOLIC GRADE SCHOOL THE 8TH GRADE CLASS WAS GIVEN A BOOK TO READ. I WAS NOT MUCH OF A READER, BUT THIS BOOK I READ. THIS BOOK I COULD NOT PUT DOWN. THIS BOOK FILLED ME WITH SADNESS FOR PEOPLE. THIS BOOK MADE ME CRY. THIS BOOK GAVE ME AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHALLENGES BLACK PEOPLE FACED IN A WHITE AMERICA. THE NAME OF THAT BOOK WAS “BLACK LIKE ME” WRITTEN BY JOHN GRIFFIN. 

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK “BLACK LIKE ME” … I AM ENCORAGING YOU TO READ IT! 

JOHN GRIFFIN THE AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK WAS DEEPLY COMMITED TO THE CAUSE OF RACIAL JUSTICE IN 1959. AT THIS TIME AFRICAN AMERICANS WERE STILL LIVING UNDER RACIAL SEGREGATION. MR. GRIFFIN WAS FUSTRATED, BECAUSE HE WAS UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE BLACK MAN FACED IN SOCIETY. JOHN GRIFFIN DECIDED TO EXPERIENCE THIS. HE UNDERWENT MEDICAL TREATMENT TO CHANGE THE PIGMENT OF HIS SKIN TEMPORAILY. IT WAS IN NEW ORLEANS HE STEPPED OUT INTO SOCIETY TO BEGIN HIS LIFE AS A BLACK MAN. 

MR. GRIFFIN KNEW HE WOULD FACE PREJUDICE, OPPRESSION AND HARDSHIP, BUT WAS SHOCKED AT THE EXTENT OF IT. IT IS THE CLOSEST A WHITE MAN HAS COME TO EXPERIENCING WHAT A BLACK MAN ENDURES. HE CAME TO UNDERSTAND THE FEAR, THE ANIXIETY AND THE HUMILATION THAT AFRICAN AMERICANS FELT IN 1959. AFRICAN AMERICANS ARE STILL GOING THROUGH THIS TODAY AND IT IS GETTING OLD. 

JANUARY 1977, I WHEN I WAS A JUNIOR IN HIGH SCHOOL A NEW MINISERIES WAS AIRED ON TELEVISION. IT PORTRAYED AN AMERICAN FAMILY … AN AFRICAN AMERICAN FAMILY. IT WAS BASED ON A BOOK AUTHORED BY ALEX HALEY. MY FAMILY IS WATCHING THIS AND THAT MINI SERIES WAS ROOTS. I REMEMBER WATCHING AND FEELING THE HORROR, THE PAIN AND THE SUFFERING. 

THE MINISERIES ROOTS WAS ABOUT A TEENAGE BOY NAMED KUNTA KINTE WHO WAS CAPTURED IN 1767 AND ABDUCTED FROM HIS HOME IN THE GAMBIA, WEST AFRICA. HE WAS SOLD TO A SLAVE TRADER AND PLACED ON A SLAVE SHIP HEADING TO COLONIAL AMERICA. AFTER ARRIVAL IN AMERICA HE WAS AUCTIONED OFF AND PURCHASED BY A PLANTATION OWNER FROM VIRGINIA. HIS OWNER NAMED HIM TOBY. 

NOW KUNTA KINTE REFUSED TO ACCEPT THE NAME TOBY. THEY WHIPPED HIM UNTIL HE ACCEPTED THE NAME TOBY. TOBY WAS DEFIANT AND RAN AWAY SEVERALS TIMES. HE WAS HUNTED DOWN AND CAPTURED LIKE AN ANIMAL. HE WAS WHIPPED UNTIL HIS WELTED BACK BLED. HE STILL RAN AWAY. THE LAST TIME HE RAN AWAY AND WAS CAPTURED THEY CHOPPED OFF HALF OF HIS FOOT SO HE COULD NO LONGER RUN. 

I REMEMBER PRAYING THAT TOBY WOULD NOT BE CAUGHT. I REMEMBER THINKING RUN TOBYRUN. EVERYTIME HE WAS CAUGHT I FEARED THE PAIN THEY WOULD INFLICT UPON HIM. WHEN THEY CHOPPED OFF HALF OF HIS FOOT I WAS HORRIFIED. I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND HOW A HUMAN COULD DO THIS TO ANOTHER HUMAN BEING!

TOBY NEVER GAVE UP HOPE THAT SOMEDAY HE WOULD BE FREE AGAIN. EVEN AFTER HE COULD NO LONGER RUN HE DREAMED THAT HE WOULD SOMEDAY RETURN HOME TO THE GAMBIA. KUNTA KINTE NEVER DID GET TO GO BACK HOME TO AFRICA. HE MARRIED AND HAD A DAUGHTER HE NAMED KIZZY. KIZZY HAD THE SAME SPIRIT HER DAD DID. 

WHEN I GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL I BEGAN WORKING FOR SAINT LUKES HOSPITAL IN MILWAUKEE AS A NURSES AID. IT WAS HERE I MET HATTIE AND ANNIE. HATTIE ALWAYS SAID, “ANNIE WAS BLACK, I WAS WHITE AND SHE WAS BROWN”. THESE TWO WOMEN WERE MY CO-WORKERS, GOOD FRIENDS, BIG SISTERSAND TWO OF THE BEST PEOPLE I HAVE EVER WORKED WITH. THE CAMARADERIE THAT WE SHARED AT WORK AND FUNCTIONS OUTSIDE OF WORK LEFT YOUR SIDES ACHING FROM LAUGHTER. HATTIE USUALLY INSTIGATED IT TOO! I WORKED WITH HATTIE AND ANNIE FOR ALMOST TEN YEARS BEFORE I RELOCATED UP NORTH. THEY WERE MY FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN FRIENDS. AT THE END OF OUR SHIFTS HATTIE AND ANNIE DROVE HOME OVER THE VIADUCT BRIDGE WHILE I ROAD A BUS WEST ON LINCOLN AVENUE BACK TO WEST ALLIS. I JUST ASSUMED THE THREE OF US ALL LIVED ALIKE. 

WHILE I WAS WORKING WITH HATTIE AND ANNIE A YOUNG BLACK MAN DIED IN POLICE CUSTODAY. ON JULY 9TH, 1981 ERNEST LACY TOOK A WALK TO BUY A SNACK. MEANWHILE POLICE WERE LOOKING FOR A RAPE SUSPECT. THEY SPOTTED ERNEST LACY WALKING THAT NIGHT. MR. LACY WAS BLACK. HE WAS WRESTLED TO THE GROUND BY THREE WHITE POLICE OFFICERS AND PLACED ON HOLD IN A POLICE VAN. LATER THAT NIGHT THEY WOULD ARREST THE PERSON THEY WERE LOOKING FOR. WHEN THEY OPENED THE POLICE VAN ERNEST LACY WAS DEAD. HE DIED IN POLICE CUSTODY. HE WAS AN INNOCENT MAN. THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME I HEARD OF A BLACK MAN DYING, BECAUSE OF POLICE. LITTLE DID I KNOW I WOULD HEAR THE SAME STORY MANY TIMES OVER THE YEARS? THE LAST TIME I HEARD THIS ALL TOO FAMILIAR STORY WAS MAY 25TH 2020. HIS NAME WAS GEORGE FLOYD WHO WAS MURDERED BY POLICE OVER A $20 BILL.

WHAT COMES TO YOUR MIND WHEN I SAY TOBY? KUNTA KINTE?

WHEN I SAY TOBY  I SEE 401 YEARS OF IMPRISSIONMENT, TORTURE, RAPE, FAMILY SEPARATION AND EXTREME SUFFERINGS. WHEN I THINK OF BLACK AMERICA, I SEE TOBY. WHEN I THINK OF SLAVERY, I SEE TOBY. WHEN I SEE AFRICAN AMERICAN PEOPLE, I SEE TOBY.  

WHEN I HEAR THE WORD RACISM, I SEE TOBY. WHEN I THINK OF RACISM IT LOOKS LIKE A HUGE FESTERING INFECTED WOUND. THISINFECTION HAS SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE UNITED STATES. THIS WOUND HAS LAYERS AND LAYERS AND LAYERS OF BANDAIDS OVER IT. THOSE BANDAIDS ARE DESEGREGATIONS LAWS, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTS AND OTHERS TO BETTER THE LIFE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS.

YET UNDER THOSE BANDAIDS THE WOUND HAS NEVER BEEN CLEANED. THIS WOUND OOZES PUS OUT FROM UNDER THESE BANDAIDS. THIS WOUND IS SO INFECTED IT HURTS ME WHEN I SEE IT. THIS WOUND IS EXTREMELY PAINFUL FOR THE BLACK CITIZENS OF THIS COUNTRY. THIS INFECTION HAS A NAME. IT IS CALLED RACISM.

RACISM IS HATE, IGNORANCE, PREJUDICE AND BIGOTRY. RACISM INFLICTS PAIN, SUFFERING, FEAR, SADNESS AND HUMILATION ON ITSVICTIMS. THIS WOUND HAS BEEN OPEN AND GROWING FOR 401 YEARS AND IT KEEPS GROWING DEEPER. IT KEEPS GETTING MORE PAINFUL. THIS WOUND HAS LED TO THE DEATHS OF INNOCENT PEOPLE LIKE GEORGE FLOYD AND ERNEST LACY. 

IT IS TIME TO CLEAN THIS WOUND. IT IS TIME TO CLEAN UP RACISM. IT IS TIME FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS TO BE ACCEPTED FOR WHO THEY ARE. 

IT IS TIME WHITE PEOPLE LISTEN, HEAR AND UNDERSTAND THE LIFE OF A BLACK INDIVIDUAL. NO MAN OR WOMAN SHOULD BE AFRAID TO BE OUT AFTER DARK. NO MAN OR WOMAN SHOULD BE AFRAID TO WALK IN THEIR OWN NEIGHBORHOOD. AFRICAN AMERICANS ARE AFRAID. THEY ARE AFRAID AND TIRED OF DYING.

A CHILD SHOULD NOT BE RAISED IN FEAR. A CHILD SHOULD NOT GROW UP THINKING “IF I GROW UP” OR “IF I GRADUATE” OR “IF MY DAD WILL BE AT MY WEDDING”. BLACK CHILDREN GROW UP THINKING  IFS. THEY SHOULD GROW UP THINKING  WHEN  “WHEN I GROW UP”. 

TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS I UNDERSTAND YOUR FEAR. MY HUSBAND UNDERSTANDS YOUR FEAR. RECENTLY I HAD MY FIRST DISCUSION WITH MY HUSBAND REGARDING OUR GRANDCHILDREN. I EXPLAINED TO JIM THAT THIS COULD HAPPEN TO HIS GRANDSON. MY HUSBAND LOOKED AT ME CONFUSED. I EXPLAINED TO HIM THAT DAVANINT IS A YOUNG BLACK MAN. WHAT HAPPENED TO GEORGE FLOYD COULD HAPPEN TO THE GRANDSON HE LOVES. IT COULD ALSO HAPPEN TO HIM.

ON SATURDAY APRIL 18TH I WAS TOLD BY A PROTESTOR WHO OPPOSED WISCONSINS COVID-19 SAFER AT HOME ORDER THAT I WAS A SELFISH AND SHALLOW PERSON IN A FACEBOOK POST. HE TOLD ME THIS, BECAUSE I TOLD HIM HUMAN LIFE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN MONEY. I WAS NOT IN FAVOR OF REOPENING THE STATE. HE ARGUED THAT 4 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION DYING WAS WORTH SAVING OUR ECONOMY. I DISAGREED AND I WENT TO BED. 

THE NEXT DAY I WAS TAGGED BY HIM IN THE SAME POST. HE WAS STILL AT IT TRYING TO CONVINCE THAT WE NEEDED TO GET OUR ECONOMY GOING AGAIN. HE WANTED ME TO AGREE WITH HIM. HE CONTINUED NAME CALLING AND TOLD ME THAT I WAS THE ONLY PERSON WHO SUPPORTED GOVENOR EVERS AND THE SAFER AT HOME ORDER. I CLICKED THE LAUGH ICON. I DECIDED AT THAT MOMENT THAT I WAS GOING TO PROVE HIM WRONG. I LEFT THE POST AND STARTED A GROUP …

SUNDAY APRIL 19TH AROUND NOON I CREATED A FACEBOOK GROUP NAMED “WE SUPPORT GOV. EVERS AND COVID-19 SAFER AT HOME ORDER. I CREATED THIS, BECAUSE I BELIEVE ALL HUMANS BEINGS HAVE THE RIGHT TO LIVE. THIS GROUP NOT ONLY SUPPORTS OUR GOVERNOR IT HAS ALSO, BECOME A PLACE FOR COVID-19 EDUCATION. 

ON THAT FATEFUL DAY MAY 25TH GEORGE FLOYD WAS DENIED THE RIGHT TO LIVE. HE WAS DENIED … AIR TO BREATHE.

ON MAY 30TH, 2020 I CREATED “WISCONSINITES FOR GEORGE FLOYD”. I STARTED THIS GROUP TO GIVE PEOPLE A PLACE TO DISCUSS THE EVENTS SURROUNDING GEORGE FLOYDS DEATH. THIS GROUP IS BECOMING MUCH MORE. AFRICAN AMERICANS AND WHITES ARE DISCUSSING RACISM. AFRICAN AMERICANS ARE SHARING HISTORY AND EDUCATING WHITE PEOPLE LIKE ME.

COMMUNICATION, SHARING EXPERIENCES AND PROBLEM SOLVING TOGETHER IS THE KEY TO CLEANING UP THIS WOUND AND GETTING RID OF THE INFECTION … RACISM.

IF THIS GRANDMA  CAN FORM A GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATION AT MY KITCHEN TABLE ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON THEN WHY CAN’T A COLLECTIVE GROUP OF PEOPLE BRING TOGETHER OUR COMMUNITIES AND END OPPRESSION OF its PEOPLE?

WE SUPPORT GOVERNOR EVERS AND A SAFER WISCONSIN DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC” IS CURRENTLY 21,000 STRONG! THIS GROUP SUPPORTS WISCONSIN’S GOVERNOR EVERS AND IS AN EXCEPETIONAL COVID-19 EDUCATION SITE.

WISCONSINITES FOR GEORGE FLOYD” IS STILL DEVELOPING AND THRIVING. MEMBERS OF THE BOTH THE AFRICAN AMERICAN AND WHITE COMMUNITIES ARE DISCUSSING RACISM. 

REGARDING PROTESTS AND CHANTING:

When they get loud it is loud cries of mourning. This mourning goes much deeper than the death of George Floyd. It is 400 years of pain, suffering, fear and humility! It is the pain of many who have died in slavery. It is the pain of all those who died in police custody.

This is not a celebration. Someday we will celebrate together as friends who have broken the cycle of racism. I won’t be here for that moment in time. I will embrace all you with God’s help when that happens.

THERE IS ONLY ONE RACE AND THAT IS THE HUMAN RACE

I HAVE A POEM TO SHARE. WRITTEN BY, POET HARLAN DIDRICKSON. IT IS CALLED  

HUMAN RACE

AND THE PEOPLE ERUPTED

THEIR HEARTS BLED LAVA

IT POURED FORTH

AND BURNED CITIES

AND HOMES

AND EVEN IN ITS DECIMATION

DOESN’T COMPARE TO 

AGES OF TYRANNY 

AND OPPRESSION

WHAT IT CAN IS

FREE OUR SOULS 

TO UNITE US

AS ONE 

HUMAN RACE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

50,000

Dearest Readers,

My blog struck a milestone yesterday evening.

With Rodrigo at my side I checked the number of hits my blog has received since I started writing it back in 2008.

And there it was: 50,000+.

I turned to Rodrigo and smiled broadly.

“It’s at 50,000 isn’t it?” he asked.

“Yes, Rodrigo, it is, thanks to you?”

“Me,” he asked.

“You’ve inspired me like the others. Without inspiration I couldn’t write.

“And without readers I’d never be read. And that’s a writers lifeblood: readers reading.”

Thanks to each and everyone that collaborated to make this milestone a reality.

On to the next milestone, 75,000!

Has Been’s, Could’ve Been’s, Once Was’s, and Children

Note: Like a sliver that’s penetrated the thick skin, it needs to be removed by a sterilized needle and constant squeezing. It will continue to ache until its presence causes you far more anguish than it’s extraction. The parallels are one reason why this post means so much to me.
Me (right) and my brother (left)

My brother got my dad’s physique; I got his mental illness.

Once I assumed the role of cook a couple of years ago, I planned my menu so that every other day I’d prepare a new meal.  The only cookbook I owned was a 1960’s copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook.  This cookbook was my mother’s, and if you saw it, you’d think Betty Crocker herself passed it along to my mother.  It was a solid first-step for me, my hesitation quieted by my mother’s obvious use of the cookbook, evidenced by the incredible number of batter-splattered pages; missing pages; half-pages; and an index at the rear which resembled the color palette of Crayola’s 64-Color box of crayons.  There were highlighted recipes; notations at the margins; and just a few, but oddly significant in an extreme way, an ad infinitum decree by way of thick, heavy lines, one or two eliminated altogether by a formidable, dense marker, applied as determined and repeated coats, forbidding any chance that these recipes might appear on our kitchen table.

My father was already a train wreck when my brain began recording his presence.  Failing at life (mainly due to his undiagnosed mental illness, bipolar), his appearance was infrequent: his social mask was one of humor: albeit acidic sarcasm and shearing, pointed wit composed in the key of tease and enacted before an unending column of untried yet promising second-shift ladies.  His role as a bullying, boorish big shot, whose sole domestic purpose was to reprise the 1963 verbal variety of water boarding. His peacocking drove us  closer and closer to suffocation, as though with each matinée he pressed another thick pillow of despair onto our faces and then, just when our desperation went quiet and we felt that first, foamy wave of disappearance, back we’d go into his second act and the shrill, ingenuous cackle of his subordinate’s callow laughter warned us that he was gaining adoration.  And the louder the laughter, the more lewd, raunchy, and viscous his anecdotes became, and our mention increased proportionally until, by the end, the three of us, his family, descended well past indecency, a good way beyond degenerate, and somewhere between contemptible and worthless.

And as the ladies stood and he, broadcasting his manners, helped them with their coats, those ladies whose saturating attention fueled my father’s mania sending him further and further afield, looked at the three of us, fodder of my father’s insanity, and delicately lifted the corners of their mouths in an effort to produce a symbol of empathy that my father couldn’t decode.

But what those lips produced was that sneer tossed at has been’s, could’ve beens, once was’s, and children who repeatedly witness their father falling apart.

That One Mid-Morning in November, 1963

“I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”   Matthew 5:28

0-vineyards2

I’d admittedly forgotten some vague dots over the years until a tiny ember (resembling my aging mother’s voice) leaped through my firewall. She read to me an obituary of one Ms.
Daisy Polé the sole daughter and heiress of the late Mr. Raleigh (Buck) Polé. Ms. Polé, an unmarried woman and Mr. Polé, a widower since 1941 moved to Gilroy in the Santa Clara Valley in 1964 and accepted administration of the family’s lucrative portfolio of land ownerships including the keystone of Santa Clara, the Sebastiani Vineyard among others. a-1sebastianiIn 1916 his parents, M. Benoît-Pierre Polé of La Rogue Gageac, France, and his fiancé Miss Caroline Agnew of Tippah County, Missouri, entered into a 99-year periodic tenancy of the 4,467 acre vineyard of Mr. Samuele Sebastiani. This agreement allowed Mr. Sebastiani and his heirs to farm the land autonomously for a share of each yield. In a statement issued by family attorneys: “In the margin of the original will Ms. Pole noted in her own handwriting which was witnessed that “Upon my death and by freea-1daisy4 choice, it is my wish that all landownership be dissolved immediately and set free; all the land returned to heirs of Samuele Sebastiani (as well as Banshee, R. Strong, Paradise, and Truett-Hurst).” According to the Santa Clara County Recorder of Deeds Office, Ms. Polé’s gesture is the largest periodic tenant return in Santa Clara County, and is reportedly valued at $110 million.

It was back in 1963, one of a dozen sunny and bitterly cold Mid-November mornings. It was that particular mid-November day in 1963 that Mr. R. Polé and Miss D. Polé, and Mr. B. Bleddstone were exiled from my memory. That was the day my Mother (then a deeply discounted, cash only housekeeper) exploded. Her honesty while certainly noxious was also injurious and fatal to the futures of three adults and one child.

When I was five my single-parent Mother whose career as a deeply discounted, cash only personal 0-momnmewinter.jpgHousekeeper was forced to dress me, pack her lunch, pack my lunch, check our bus fare, and one last-minute cross-check of her self supplied and professionally preferred cleaning products deftly loaded into her briefcase (a doubled National Foods, brown paper shopping bag) and haul us to her four daily housekeeping a1-housekeeperandsonjobs. And though she never said it, my waving-hand-hello’s which greeted the Mrs. of the House always – except today elicited the friendliest responses in the form of an angelic smile, pat on the head, brief tickling episode, or my favorite, an invitation to (one of my Mother’s strictly forbidden breakfasts) sandwich cookies and milk!

We never suspected the degree of turmoil Mrs. Daisy Bleddstone had deflected on a weekly basis for my Mother’s tardiness. On this intense and nippy Mid-November morning,  I stood shivering and whispered under my breath, “C’mon, it’s just a ring of keys in a car coat! Jeez!” I paced as I grew impatiently colder watching my Mother plunder her car coat like a determined cop ransacked a suspects coat for contraband. At wits end, she threw the coat to the ground, a-1momstimexchecked her Timex and proclaimed, “Holy Jesus, it’s a quarter past!” then dropped to her knees and began twisting and tearing and rifling through her proudly self-purchased woolen car coat which eventually puddled, ruined and lifeless, before her. Then my Mother in a strained, ironic voice peppered with diabolic laughter quietly confessed, “They’re on the kitchen counter!” (Again we were rushed, determined to avoid another condescending explanation of the value of her employer’s time, which is, by the way, priceless!)  “And fifteen lousy minutes to someone with all the time in the world cost me the only coat I’ve bought for myself in six years.” And as we knelt there staring at the woolen carcass, the immense front door (resembling the Wizard of Oz’s deterring, massive and inadmissible portico) opened and Mrs. Bleddstone stood there like an over starched shirt. She said in hushed tones,a-1thief her voice quivering unnaturally, as though a crook was poking her ribs with a cold snub-nosed .38 ordering, “Get rid of them or I will for permanent!”

Mrs. Bleddstone, in a breathy, desperate whisper said, “Buddy’s looking for his shirts!” “Oh Holy Jesus,” my Mother blurted flying past Mrs. Bleddstone and beelining it for the kitchen. saying over her shoulder to the Mrs.,, “They’re in the fridge staying cold and damp ready for me to iron them.” When my Mother finally emptied the Fridgedaire, the door slammed shut unexpectantly and barely missed my Mother. On the other side of the door stood Mr. Bleddstone, dressed for work except for a shirt. Mr. Bleddstone chortled, “Do you expect me to wear a wet shirt to work?” Then he buddys take-offbegan to mumble, inaudibly at first, then tightly restrained; a “can’t two damned women figure out how to iron . . . someone’s to blame and she’s going to pay, Christ! She’s going to  “Daisy,” Buddy asked casually (while he studied, carefully recalling this whole fucking debacle: ‘Which one’s really to blame? Which of the two bitches made a patsy of me? And in front of the god-damn kid!), “At what time do we begin paying our laundress and her little thimble?” “Eight o’clock Buddy, but . . . today’s an exception . . .” My Mother, hopeful that after watching eighteen months of Daisy’s acceptance of denigrating sexism and impolitic adultery, Daisy would finally go chin to chin with him.

Then Wham! Down came his fist like a butcher’s cleaver!

And again; Wham! But this time the noise and crushing impact caused Daisy to retreat to the nook next to the broom closet; as though she’d learned to protect some of her body. a1-buddy angryBuddy, without breaking his stare at Daisy, whipped his hand to within inches of my Mother’s face; yet she didn’t flinch (having been a “Daisy” years before). Buddy yelled at Daisy, “Those folk don’t get exceptions, they are exceptions! Damaged, cracked, and “hopeful’s” waiting on a dusty shelf, propped between bookends; on one side alimony and child support and on the other side a line of suitors waiting their turn . . . that is until they spot her little anchor. The kid is competition for privacy, intimacy, and affection. He’s a nuisance; one more rain-check, yet another rain-delay; stood-up because of a kid’s runny nose. Finally he gets it: Every suitor is enchanted by the promises of a lonesome blonde with ripe, plump strawberry lips. Eventually every suitor becomes disenchanted by ignored or forgotten promises of afa-1soldiersfection and boundless hours of sex. Every suitor was embarrassed that a few well-placed promises led to her mockery of the suitors understanding, forgiveness, and patience. Eventually it became clear that her primary attention and affection was toward the kid and every suitor had the leftovers. This was her way of giving the kid a daddy ’cause she knew nobody wanted to be daddy to some little bastard!”

I heard it but never saw it. The sound resembled a bat cracked during a ballgame on the a1-woman slapsmanradio. And Buddy stood there stupefied by the burning sting of a Housekeeper’s hand (a fucking Housekeeper’s hand) which hung, opening and closing quickly like the mouths of caught fish. Slowly Buddy shook off the shock, steadied himself off the ropes, his chest began to swell signaling an apoplectic eruption.

But before Buddy had the chance, my Mother, with years of staggering physical abuse; years of self-denial, of crushed hope, of denigration, of inhumanity, and the pestilence of rotting promises; finally, Catholicism’s orthodoxy of eternal damnation if she divorced a cruel and punishing bigot; and her character decaying as she endured (out of fear) the self-important icy hands (also fists) which stripped then roughly rummaged  beneath  her clothing. My Mother, her eyes locked on Buddy said, “Well, a damp shirt is more dignified than one streaked with cheap lipstick. It’s so cheap in fact, that one day one of us “Housekeepers,” will climb the basement stairs where we’ve been scrubbing lipstick longer and with more determination than I scrub the grass stains from my boy’s dungarees. All that effort so your wife (and all the other wives that I’ve worked for) won’t face the humiliation of infidelity and worse, your cruel and bemused recklessness knowing she’ll notice it, deny it, admit it just as the last drop of dignity rolls down her cheek. Daisy’s fear of life alone and the weight of the word divorcee keeps you here to be beaten like a farmyard dog; beaten when it’s convenient for him!

“Good luck, Daisy,” my mother said in whispered tones; “I hope that one day you’ll have the courage to stand-up to this cowardly bastard!”

a-1buddyyellingBuddy spun around as quickly as a toy top, his fists clenched tightly and stood inches from my Mother’s face. His fists shook and clenched tightly like a school boy’s first after school fight. Daisy reached out to Buddy’s shoulder hoping to detour his anger. Which it sure did! The interruption lit Buddy’s fuse and subsequent explosion! First was a painful back-handed slap which spun Daisy around; then bare-knuckled fists which accurately landed painfully and repeatedly at Daisy. It was then, right then as Buddy was preoccupied with torturing his wife that Buddy yelled, “you’re fired so get the fuck out of my house!

My Mother grabbed our coats and mittens and never looking back, led us quickly to the back door.  Upon opening the door my Mother and I ran smack-dab into Buck holding a plate of Danish. “Isn’t it a bit early for you and your boy to be leaving?” Buck asked. My Mother replied, “Today’s not a good day for us and it’s probably not a good day for you.” She practically ran down the sidewalk dragging me behind and didn’t slow until the Bleddstone house disappeared behind a wall of Junipers. She kneeled a-1anger and looked deeply into my eyes as though she wanted to bury something deep inside of me; something that I’d likely to forget, yet it would somehow be something that would shape my life: “Bruises aren’t tokens of love. And that first yellow and green and blue and nobility purple resemble badly applied make-up and doesn’t streak down your cheek with the tears. But, you realize, the bruise is deeper, a place that can’t be wiped away but is absorbed like the deep pile carpeting of your marriage. And as your shivering fingers deftly touch it you hear his voice, “Want one more? Another helping?” And the next morning you awaken early and study your portrait in the bathroom mirror: the accolades about your beauty just a few years ago: “Priceless, gorgeous, the face of perfection!” But this morning you realize the beauty is counterfeit. And while closing the bathroom door so he doesn’t stir, out they come sob after sob after sob after sob all fueled by unutterable recollections.

The moment Buck stepped threw the door he saw Buddy slap Daisy so hard that she’d spun, landing face down and splayed across the kitchen table. When the plate of Danish shattered as it struck the kitchen floor its sound broke through Buddy’s madness, leaving him out of breath and surprised by his degree of destruction. Buck calmly walked to Daisy, scooped her into his arms and began to walk out of the kitchen, when he suddenly turned to Buddy, “I assume you’ll be here after Daisy’s packed a few things and is sitting in my car. I think we’ve got a thing or two that requires immediate intervention. Don’t you?” Buddy stood motionless then began crying. “You know,” Buck said, “In twenty-eight years I never, not once, laid a hand on her.” Then Buck climbed the stairs with Daisy cradled in his arms.

“She wrote to you, didn’t she?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “Right after Buck passed away. She said they never talked about it. Not once for all those years.”

“Never?” I asked.

“Just once,” she said sadly, “When Buck knew time was running out.”

“So?” I asked quickly.

“She asked me not to discuss it with anyone, any-one, until she passed away,” my Mother answered.

“And?” my curiosity leaped ahead of my manners.

My Mother paused, then answered, “She mentioned only two things: She said that while sitting in Buck’s car she swore a wrecking ball was demolishing the kitchen.” Then my Mother paused and in that silence I knew she was fighting back very painful memories and the tears which soon follow. Continuing, she spoke quietly, “She said while sitting in Buck’s car and for the rest of her life, that she never found an answer to this question: ‘How can love as deep as mine look like this?”

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