America has watched this battle for control of the Supreme Court for at least the last decade. Every time someone said that the court was in play for Republicans, that they wanted to own the Supreme Court, people with plenty of chops and oodles of historical political perspective disagreed. The Court is not political they would say. Americas have always revered the Supreme Court, although not always the decisions of the high court. We used to at least want to feel that our Supremes were above politics.
However, a number of things have happened to disabuse us of that notion. The confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas with the disrespectful treatment of Anita Hill reminded women that men were firmly in charge. Clarence Thomas’s hearing was contentious and a preview of the incivility in store in our politics. After that things evened out a bit with Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan proving that the rabid movement to turn the court to the right was not yet in full swing. The problem the GOP had was that the full pathway designed to keep a minority party in power had not been finalized. Citizens United (2010) gave away the game. Corporations (like those owned by the Koch brothers) could contribute unlimited money to election candidates without revealing the source of the money. Huge win for Republicans. The drumbeat to move the Court to the right got stronger. In 2016 McConnell blocked Obama’s nomination of Merrick Gardner. But Obama was a popular president and he had added two women to the court during his two terms, both leaning left, but not extreme.
Republicans appear to have gotten desperate since Trump was elected. They know that they are a minority party. They have resorted to tactics that are less than savory and that walk all over Constitutional lines. The Court overturned the preclearance section of the voting rights act. This has allowed many creative attempts to suppress Democratic voters, a clear violation of the intent of the voting rights act as many Democratic voters are African American. These actions have echoed the strategies white slaveowners used on freed slaves to prevent them from voting – poll taxes, making polling places scarce for black folks – requiring literacy tests, except now they tried to require voter ID’s and not allow students to vote from college, and vet fewer, harder to reach polling places, thus stirring up racial tensions. Now Republicans have moved on, with the help of Trump, to undermining the US Mail, inviting Trump fans (including militia members) to become ersatz “poll watchers,” and demonizing mail-in voting.
So, when the Republicans decided to fill the seat on the Supreme Court with a haste that bordered on disrespect for longtime, well-loved Ruth Bader Ginsburg, only 30 days out from an election, they suddenly and brazenly decided to not only nominate a new justice but approve her. They grinned and did this even after telling Obama that they would not put his nominee, Merrick Garland through the system because March was too close to the election in November of 2016. They have held on to the US Senate for way to long. It has given them a ridiculous sense of entitlement and they enjoy flaunting their power. For the most part they have used their power to block everything except stuffing the courts with Conservatives. And they are thrilled with themselves and crowing. They obviously don’t feel that they have had too much winning.
So that brings us to the hearings this week on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. Another woman on the Supreme Court should make women feel like celebrating. But, although she won’t tell us anything about how she will rule on any topic, we can read her body language, we can read the difference between the way she responds when Democrats are interviewing her and when Republicans are apologizing for the way Democrats are interviewing her, and when Republicans are heaping praise on her ability to raise seven children and practice law as a law clerk for Justice Alito and then as a judge (for only 3 years). She makes Republican (and Evangelical) men sigh, so brilliant, so submissive, so much the antithesis of feminism. But, we women who do not wish to move backwards in time, are not convinced that she will be an advocate of the rights of women, which now need to support working women. (She actually seems a bit creepy.)
What led me to say creepy? Barrett refused to answer questions about the Constitution and implied that the entire document was open to interpretation by the Court. To her, nothing counted as settled law except Marbury v Madison and Brown v The Board of Education.
Ever since the pill, and Roe v Wade, women have understood that there was strong opposition and that it was based in religion. We wanted to feel that our hard-won rights, along with that boost from science, were safe, because our nation is supposed to keep religion out of our government, but the opposition has grown more and more powerful. Peaceful protest wouldn’t suffice. Even more violent, terrorizing behaviors did not suffice. Republicans and Evangelicals began to believe that the only way to make America a “moral” nation according to their apprehension of morality, was to organize a coup. And in case they lost the Presidency they would have at least accomplished a coup in the courts where judges have lifetime appointments.
We saw the proliferation of think tanks, institutes, committees, organized into a web of wealthy Americans who agreed with the Koch brothers. We saw the bonding of Catholics and Evangelicals. We saw the push to put prayer back in schools, to post the 10 Commandments in the halls of government, and to teach Creationism instead of evolution. Trump made promises to Evangelicals and he intends to keep them, not because he is a believer, but because he believes helping fill that seat on the court with a Conservative will keep him in office if the election is close enough to be referred to the courts as we saw in Bush v Gore. He thinks that the fix is in and that even if he loses the popular vote he will win the electoral college. Amy Coney Barrett, at the top of the list from the right-wing Federalist Society, is his backup plan. But after watching her careful responses, which offered little or no verbal information but plenty of nonverbal clues, the practically inevitable confirmation of Amy to the Supreme Court is deeply depressing if you are a woman in America, or indeed, if you use the ACA for your health care. If we don’t win this election in 2020 America disappears from the world stage and becomes something that seemed obsolete. America becomes a theocratic autocracy. Men continue to exercise dominance and the glass ceiling turns into another wall.
In case you think this is based on old information you need to read the article from The Washington Post with video from reporters who were in the room where it happened:
I tend to see myself as a proud “libtard” but being the target of such language, meant to wound and belittle, ala Trump’s nicknames (Hillary was nasty; Kamala is a monster), set me to wondering when Liberal became a dirty word. After the Civil War, my reading tells me, southerners wanted to be known as Conservatives. After World War II, all Americans were members of the “liberal world order” bringing Capitalism and free trade to Europe to oppose Communism, which scared everyone almost as much as Nazism should have. Liberals shared a belief in free markets, free trade and limited government, individual rights (both civil and human), capitalism, democracy, secularism, and internationalism.
But at home the liberal/conservative divide was already widening and the words had a whole different meaning at the national level. FDR’s New Deal turned those twin Conservative goals of term limits and balanced budgets on end and the term Liberal started its march towards “hold your nose” territory. Limited government had a huge setback. Conservatives must have thought this would be temporary.
The Great Society put the kibosh on any Conservative dreams that they would be able to cut the size of government any time soon. Then along came that Conservative hero, Ronald Reagan who said, “Government is not the answer to the problem. Government is the problem.” And here is how we got to our pitched battle about whether government should be small, with no social safety net or public schools or public health care; or whether a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” can ignore the way its citizens are affected by the vagaries of the marketplace or the diseases that flesh is heir to.
Clarence Page, writing in the Chicago Tribune quoted his Uncle James who countered Reagan’s words by saying, “Government ought to help people. You got a problem with that?” I don’t have a problem with that.” These two men sort of sum up this one difference between Conservatives and Liberals when it comes to the size of government. I stand with Uncle James. Of course our forefathers were not true champions of the common man, they were designing a government for landowners and educated elites. Still, they said what they said, and today we see that our democracy/republic was a true gift that evolved to speak to all Americans. Will the gift make it to its three hundredth birthday? We’ll see.
So what turned being a Liberal into such a negative, reviled by all, a label intended to injure, like any other epithet? Some lay it at the feet of those rabid right-wing radio talk show hosts and they certainly put a lot of effort and time into demonizing liberals (who are, even as speak, morphing into left-wing extremists). The image of Liberals is being created by the very Conservatives who revile them.
“Relative to polls in the 1990s, Republicans are now much more likely to say poor people have it easy, while Democrats are less likely to say so. Conservatives are also more likely to say that environmental regulations are costing the US too many jobs. Liberals now seem less convinced that peace can be achieved through military strength than they were decades ago.”
“John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, a free-market-loving conservative think tank, wouldn’t mind being called the dreaded L-word — liberal.
But only in the 18th century, Thomas Jefferson sense of this time-worn political label. Back then, liberalism meant embracing laissez-faire economics and free trade; science-based enlightenment; democracy and the supreme rights of the individual; and religion without state sponsorship.
“And that raises the following questions: Do the terms liberal and conservative, in use for centuries in Europe and the Americas, still have much meaning? Or should these polar opposites be thrown into the bone yard of long-dead labels of political doctrine or party, there to join terms such as monarchist, prohibitionist, Federalist, Whig or Know-Nothing?”
“And Saunders isn’t the only Democrat who considers liberal to be a dirty word. Left-wing Democrats are also running away from the label, preferring to call themselves “progressive,” another term from America’s political past.”
From where I sit it is entirely possible that the “liberal world order” did itself in by not having a plan of action in case of success. Once the USSR fell and Russia and Asia became Capitalist dictatorships apparently no one foresaw that our corporations would desert us for cheaper labor and new markets. Conservatives found their scapegoats among the Liberal Democrats and blamed labor unions and environmental regulations and Talk Radio made it stick, ginned up the anger of the displaced workers. But Conservatives definitely had a hand in the Great Migration of our factories.
And now, under Trump’s tender ministrations, Liberals are becoming enemies of the state, antifa extremists, foes of law and order who will turn the suburbs into what our inner cities, according to Trump, seem to have become, as opposed to signs of equal opportunity and upward mobility. Liberals are not the ones with the long guns appearing in a city near you, but Trump loves to make his opponents guilty of the things that are done in his name. Trump has, though, proved to be equally injurious to the Conservative label as to the Liberal label. If Trump is what is now known as a Conservative many traditional Conservatives want no part of it, although they are hoping to come out the other end with their pre-Trump ideology intact. Many of us would be very surprised if they are able to pull that off.
Will these two terms we have tossed about for decades, with their newly evolved connotations, become tarnished beyond use or will they signal a real war beyond the ideological war we are experiencing right now? I have to believe that Americans will not take up arms against each other once again. But things are getting pretty hot up in here.
On September 28. 2014 the Ebola Virus presented a threat to the world and looked like it would be a pandemic but proper steps were taken to expel the virus from America, although Africa has continued to see periodic infections. That was the first time I wrote about Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, written in another time. It seems even more relevant now.
The Ebola virus seemed like a nightmare – a modern nightmare that connected back to a past that we have read about but have never really experienced (although the polio epidemic gave us a taste). The descriptions of Ebola, its symptoms and its deadly effects, its spread, the seeming inevitability that it could spread further and cost more and more lives; the threat that it would decimate families, cities, and even countries brings to mind that awful word “plague” which we relate to the Middle Ages, before people knew about microscopic creatures called germs. Reading about the plague in history books gave us the information, the bare facts, but movies and fiction have given us the true horrors of the plague; of living with the nearly sure knowledge that every day could be your last.
When a family member sickened with plague-like symptoms did you dare care for them as people normally care for people they love when they are ill? If you took the dare, did what you felt was your duty as a human being anyway because your love or your conscience was too strong to walk away, did you resign yourself to death in order to do your sick room tasks properly?
Now we have a much more deeply concerning novel coronavirus which we have labeled COVID19 in case we have to differentiate it from future viruses. This particular virus came out of Asia and subsequently out of Europe. Africa has been spared much of the spread this time around, unlike with Ebola where Africa was hit hard.
I remember reading The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe, whose stories, while beyond dark, always feature some of our most human weaknesses. In this particular story the nobles, upon learning that a plague known as The Red Death (because people died bleeding) was nearing their neighborhood, provisioned a walled castle as if for a siege and they held a continuous masked ball while The Red Death raged around them. Little did they know that The Red Death was already in there with them; one of the masked guests, spreading toxins while they all danced. When the plague passed by and the villagers opened the castle everyone inside was dead.
This hits very close to home. The White House was supposed to be the safe castle to which the rich and powerful retreated. Rather than hold a continuous masked ball, which in this case might have protected everyone, these privileged people decided to forgo the masks that science recommended. These people do not live in medieval times. They live in the age of science and technology, the twenty-first century. But the highest power in the land does not believe science knows more than his own judgement, which is based on, as far as we can tell, nothing. This is not the plague and we assume that all these folks will not end up dead. Will they end up chastened and ready to treat the virus that is still raging by backing the doctors and scientists, or will they still make wearing the best protection, a mask, a protest statement about liberty, the freedom to get sick and possibly die? Ordinary citizens do not have access to the treatments the President of the land has been given. Their health care may not cover all of the treatments they receive if they get really sick. If you can’t hide in the castle, (whoops, the White House) where can you hide?
There is still a message for us in this medieval tale. Isolation could be dangerous although social distancing is helpful. If we turn America into one big castle and we all party away and ignore what happens elsewhere something will zap us and we will not see it coming. In this case our leaders did see it coming but chose to “downplay” it and we see how well that has worked. Heeding our humanitarian good angel might seem counter-intuitive, but it also might be the correct path to take. We obviously wish that three tough objectives could be met immediately 1) get that medicine that seems so promising approved, manufactured, and delivered really fast, 2) bring the rest of the nations on our planet up to modern standards of cleanliness, preparedness, and awareness of ways to combat contagion from any source – plant, insect, animal, or human 3) end poverty (that Global Initiative to End Poverty is looking pretty good right now, isn’t it).
We are certainly a ways from meeting all three of these objectives, but this is probably not yet the “big one”, the global pandemic that could kill off an enormous percentage of the world’s population, although this is a bit too close for comfort. And if you are thinking that “culling the herd” might be a good thing, remember that any one of us, even you, could be in the group that is afflicted and dies.
Hopefully if we can learn to stop epidemics while they are relatively small we can avoid ever having to face the disease that brings the true ‘Global Pandemic’, the threat we thought we had left back in the Middle Ages. Our 45th President, now in the hospital with the virus he pooh-poohed, did not make any of the correct moves that would have lessened the effects of this virus. It affected too many people and brought our whole society to a standstill. We need to do better against this virus. Perhaps we need to take the steps that will help us stop future infections in their tracks out of the hands of those who run the risk of being drunk on power. There needs to be a health agency that can even override a President, although that will also have its risks. Are we so flawed that we contain the true seeds of our own demise?
Joe Scarborough, on Morning Joe this Friday morning, asked some prominent Conservatives what they think will become of Conservative thought once represented by the Republican Party. I have come to have little respect for conservative ideas which are all form and little substance. Conservatives have tried to sell America on limited government, free markets, and on becoming a nation with a growing population that refuses to raise taxes. While these ideas came from the work of Friedrich Hayek who wrote his economic doctrine at the same time as Keynes, we have had opportunities to see how Hayek’s theories have failed to produce the results he claimed we would benefit from.
Hayek’s proposals became Conservative talking points: limited government, free markets, low taxes, policy choices we have been bombarded with for far too long. Scarborough, George Will, David Brooks, David Frum and a long list of Conservatives are in mourning because an uncouth man is accomplishing their policies, a man who does not have their pedigree or even any understanding of conservatism. Interesting how Trump’s nods to fascism have brought America closer to conservatism than all the private schools and religious schools, all the effete academia of our nation’s top Conservatives (thinkers who do not govern). Hayek’s most famous book has the title The Road to Serfdom in which he contends that the reliance of ordinary citizens on assistance from their government will turn them into serfs.
These Conservative arguments brought fascism into our lives along with limited government, free markets, and low taxes. Is fascism an inevitable outcome of conservatism or is this just the aberration of one narcissistic, egomaniacal, paranoid man? The clearest picture I got of fascism I got from Elena Ferrante’s trilogy about Naples, Italy. Fascism hates liberalism, it hates protest, it hates labor unions. Conservatism agrees with fascism in these matters except for the baseball bats. Conservatives prefer to use elitism, money, and power to control bottom-up attempts to compete. They label these attempts by we the people to find our own power base liberalism, and they set Conservatives against a set of humanist policies which they loudly proclaim to be harmful to the government they envision. Their government is a top-down, hopefully beneficent government managed by educated elites which they believe offers the best economic program for America.
But the Conservatives married Racism aka White Supremacy. And the Conservatives married Christianity, although our founders, who had close ties with Britain, a nation torn apart by the religious machinations of Henry VIII and the Anglican revolution, wanted freedom of religion. Now Conservatives are reaping the repercussions of these choices and they have attracted the services of a Fascist enforcer. Conservatives married corporations and wealth inequality. Conservatives married fossil fuels and a denial of the damage being done to the planet. Despite all of these bad marriages Conservatives still demand that America accept them as symbols of moral virtue and high ideals.
If a true Conservative like the revered Ronald Reagan had been in charge of the COVID19 pandemic would he have applied the principles of limited government, small government, to tackling this threat to social and economic order in the same ways that Trump has? Would he have had to resort to a national response instead of forcing states with far fewer resources to handle this national emergency in 50 different ways? Would Reagan have worn a mask as an example to the people of the efficacy of adopting this barrier in order to support the health of the nation? Would Ronald Reagan have adhered to policies that seem ridiculous in a nation of millions, or would he have had to set those policies aside to be the leader the moment demanded?
Reagan still knew how to compromise. Trump, Barr, Mitch McConnell are drowning in their purity and so is America. Is it even purity or just greed – greed for power and money, a passionate need to bleed the last dregs of profit from an energy structure that we must change, or we will die with our smoke stacks still releasing deadly CO2 into our fragile atmosphere? America has an addiction that is every bit as damaging as cigarette smoking was to individuals. We are destroying the lungs of the world. Would Reagan have denied science because it did not agree with his dogma? Would Reagan have ended immigration even before the pandemic? I don’t know the answer any more than anyone can, but Reagan was not a purist. He responded to reality. If the principles of Conservatism have to be compromised over and over again in response to actual events wouldn’t that suggest that Conservatism is a philosophical approach to government that is impractical and inflexible, that does not see we the people as real or important, but rather as expendable and interchangeable. Conservatism has shown us where it leads and it is not to a moral high ground; it leads to the moral bankruptcy of 45.
I am always labelled a liberal, and although I do not hate the term I do not define myself that way. I think of myself as a humanist, who believes a society should benefit everyone and not just the wealthy and well-educated. I do not see workers as serfs, although Hayek contended that serfdom would be the end result of liberalism. It appears to me that Conservatism is far more likely to produce a two class society consisting of aristocrats and serfs. Good luck with providing for everyone in a system that takes us back to societies that had no middle class, no merchants. As for my feelings I would like to see an end to the current incarnation of conservatism. Conservatives are doing much more than keeping their eyes on America’s bottom line; they are trying to claw us back to a society that is already obsolete and their policies are hurting America and Americans, not helping. Whether or not we have benefits like subsidized health care or a safety net for workers in a changing market place are no longer options we can keep or discard. These are now just the basics of our society. We need to stabilize these programs and move on to what our new economy will look like and how we will fuel it, how we will shape technology to our advantage as opposed to allowing it to create cyborgs to replace us. ( a nod to Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari).
How do we learn to cooperate globally if we can’t even make decisions that will affect our nation right now? Does there have to be a paradoxical structure to our politics? Does the existence of a “liberal” require the existence of a “conservative”? Will liberals drive the society off a cliff without the guidance of conservatives? If every yin has to have a yang what new duality could we invent that would be more useful than this conservative/liberal split that divides us right now?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg died tonight. She has been the most amazing example for us all on how to work through all life’s obstacles. We have watched her fights with cancer, her surgeries, her refusal to quit. We should at least take a few moments to mourn the passing of this great Supreme Court Justice and humanitarian. After we mourn then we can howl at the fate that took her 46 days from the 2020 election. She tried so hard to make that marker. Rest in peace, RBG. You have the kind of legacy that many will envy.
Mitch McConnell, of course, did not waste a single second on grief. He made it very clear that he intended to appoint someone to the Court before the election. Forty-five days will be a record for picking a new Justice and getting the nominee confirmed. There are no niceties in today’s GOP. They have a goal to steal the US government and they are laser focused on that goal. I guess the grim reaper does not want any mourning, any ceremony. I bet he crowed when he heard the sad news.
Women and children should shed salty tears because they have the most to lose. The ACA will go down. There will be no public health care plan. There will be no protection for preexisting conditions. Many people will go back to being uninsured. This will be a terrible backward move for America. Roe v Wade is very likely to be overturned. Trump seems to have the devil’s own luck and he will be thrilled. We are in such big trouble
Will we allow Mitch McConnell to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg with no muss and no fuss? That would be a betrayal of RBG’s brave fight. At this late hour people are gathering in front of the Supreme Court to mourn. Oh how you will be missed Justice Ginsburg.
Is this a sign? Let’s not go there. Soon we will have Biden and Harris.
Beset as we are by multiple concerns like COVID19 spikes and college students returning, hungry children, businesses opening and schools reconvening, a contentious election, rising violence and division, a sagging economy, it seems impossible to do anything but watch the fires on the west coast which seem to expand every year. What can we do? We can give money but many people don’t have any extra money to give.
Each night on the news we see the personal stories of homes burned, loved ones lost, pets mourned. In Oregon we see whole neighborhoods burned to the ground. People are missing, presumed dead. How much more apocalyptic can our lives get? Is this the big one? Fire, pandemic, hunger, food shortages all presided over by a big bottle-blond man without a clue how to ride to the rescue of anyone, including himself. The only reason we are saddled with this loser is because there are Americans who refuse to see his defects. We have always done so much better than this before we became 50 separate states squabbling over skimpy resources.
Where is FEMA? What is happening to those made homeless by the fires? Are they all wealthy enough to have alternatives? Do they all have family they can go to? Are there shelters? What is all this doing to coronavirus numbers? Are firefighters at risk of the virus as well as the fury of the fires, or does the extreme heat send the virus cowering for an exit?
I want people in California, Oregon, and Washington State to know that, even with all our other concerns, we are paying attention to your plight. We are also worried that this is going to be a regular event. Even areas of America that are often quite wet are pretty dry this summer. Will parts of the west coast become uninhabitable permanently? Will the entire country just spontaneously combust one day like that huge area in Australia. We are sorry for their losses also.
Just can’t help thinking about Robert Frost’s poetic contemplation on the end of the world in his poem, Fire and Ice.
“Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.”
Fire is winning everyone, but it has nothing to do with desire, at least not directly. Perhaps Frost didn’t realize what a fiery emotion hate could be.
We are all becoming the new hunter-gatherers who must roam from store to store hoping to fill our freezers and pantries, refresh our supplies of anti-bacterial soaps, cleaners and paper products. But we still have homes. We can breathe without getting ash in our lungs. We get to sleep, hopefully, in our beds at night unless we are in a hospital. It is not that we stop living. We go to our small gatherings, some of us still go out to eat, we see family and friends a bit more often, many have gone back to work. But I can’t help picturing how our lives would feel if in the midst of a pandemic our homes started burning to the ground all around us. We are profoundly aware of your distress but for once we don’t know what to do. We can’t divide our resources in enough pieces to cover all our current disasters.
And now a new hurricane is bearing down on Louisiana and Mississippi, but Robert Frost did not seem worried about wind and rain. Perhaps he would have added another stanza to his poem if he were alive now.
Protests are the way citizens talk to government when it is not listening. In a situation as we have right now in America where the government is at odds with the majority, and the minority owns the levers of power (the executive with the justice department, the upper house, in this case the Senate), and every agency kowtows to one man we have to consider whether protest is the best strategy. If we want to get everyone’s attention protests do the trick. But once protesters get everyone’s attention, these citizens have demands they need people to listen to, sensible demands that might improve life for everyone. Making the people whose assistance the protesters need fearful is not helpful even if that was never the protesters’ intention. There are opposition forces and just plain criminals working against your peaceful protests.
The American people have never been fond of protests unless the cause was their own. And in this case the head of our government is actually escalating the fears of the people so that he can offer to protect them and win reelection. The point has been made, and it is so logical that it elicits a positive reaction and a smile, that in this case the current president is causing more chaos and then offering to fix it if people reelect him. Trump is the President while these protests are going on. If he can’t fix it now why would we reelect him and expect a different outcome. During this pandemic he has pushed responsibility on to states using a state’s rights argument that pleases Republicans. In that case an actual national emergency would have justified a federal government response However, when he has tried to initiate a federal response to protests in cities and states, state’s rights actually do apply and he must be invited to intervene. Because he has those pugilistic fascist tendencies when he is riled up by the people he governs, his first response is beat them into submission, maim them, lock them up. Peaceful streets at any cost!
In this case most Americans see the cause of racial equality as an important one, one that has been allowed to languish in an America that should not have accepted this situation as long as it has. It is not totally altruistic on the part of white people to want to solve our racism problem. Refusing to accept Americans of African Descent as fellow citizens is destroying our society, pulling it apart. Accepting our neighbors of color should not be something that is left to personal choice. This should not be a matter that is in dispute. But we find ourselves deeply divided and in a cultural war over skin color and over a subculture that includes a few violent individuals, a culture produced by the very inequalities we should be trying to address. This might even be labeled a ‘culture war’. Sadly the white supremacists have the con right now. Additionally, our inability to figure this out is insuring that we lose respect around the globe. The world has its eyes on us.
The culture war is complicated by what looks almost like old-style hunter-gatherer tactics used to hunt people rather than game. On the police forces of America, and in the population there are those who seem to be hunting down black folks, killing them off one at a time or in small groups. They seem to hunt the way early humans hunted, the way animals hunt. Find those who are separated from the rest (the herd), find the loners, those who have wandered out of their tribe or pack and then pick them off. I have thought about this before, but recently there was a story of the three police officers who called the EMTs who administered ketamine to Elijah McClain going back to the scene of their ‘take-down’ to pose for a ‘kill’ shot. Vigilantes in Georgia shot Ahmaud Arbery from their pickup truck because they thought he looked suspicious while jogging. A man is killed when he falls asleep at the wheel in a fast food pickup lane. Someone is pulled over for a broken taillight and ends up dead. We often hear someone say ‘he had a gun’ although that was either not true or there was a permit to carry. The protesters have good reason to rise up and ask their government to stop the madness. Sadly they are asking the wrong government.
The fact that protests are coopted by groups who are not with the protesters complicates matters. There are genuine protesters, there are rioters and looters, there is most likely some crossover (protesters who are also looters), there are militias and Trumpers there to fight against allowing black and brown folks by making the arguments about things like ‘respect for the police’ and ‘patriotism’. And there are most likely some people there who are not so peaceful about their protesting methods, who are there to mix it up with the militias and the Trumpers (white supremacists). If it were possible to get some idea of how many people at a protest identify with each group, it would not be quite so easy for Trump to place blame on the left. The fight may end up being between the right wing and the left wing with the protesters left out completely. I don’t know how sociologists or journalists can get a fairly accurate count of the size of these mostly informal groups but it would be helpful.
There could be an interest group formed of knowledgeable people from the protesters and those who would like the protests to push our culture forward on these issues. Such a group could have a plan ready to address the needs of our neighbors who we have excluded for so long from mainstream economic success and acceptance. In this case the protesters should take the lead and the allies should take the role of facilitators. The plan should also include ways to appoint other agencies to take over some of the responsibilities that have fallen to the police such as domestic violence, mental illness, drug ingestion. These are fraught areas of policing because they involve human emotions and chemical imbalances. Can such a plan expect to succeed while those who like the idea of white supremacy are in charge of our government? Will there be a spontaneous combustion if Trump wins? Will there be a spontaneous combustion if Trump loses? What an election!
It seemed, when Obama took office, even though we were in a great big recessionary slump brought on by some creative cheat who found a loophole in financial regulations, that we were on that TGV (Tay-Jay-Vey) (high speed train) out of Paris, rocketing into a global future. In this global future we were all pitching in to solve the problems we would face now that everyone was ‘woke.’ Bed nets to Africa to rein in malaria. Tablets to purify water. Water faucets that seemed to pull water out of dry land. Microloans so families could earn money for food. Alternative energies to address climate changes by agreeing to phase out fossil fuels and other carbon dioxide sources in a world where too much CO2 was ruining a chemical balancing act that keeps earth livable.
Of course we weren’t doing enough. We had the exodus from Middle Eastern nations ruled by harsh dictators. We were trying to give up our regime change habit, go on a strict diet by sitting on our hands and bringing home troops from the area. The mass migrations of people who were not Christians, who were not Europeans, were bringing with them fears that recent acts of terrorism would escalate, fears that the future would be the demise of the past. Prejudice against people whose lifestyles were different, whose religion told them that our religion was wrong, set up a clash of cultures that we weren’t sure how to deal with – assimilate, isolate – migrations always bring up stress and anger – change is never easy and often disruptive.
Authoritarianism was on the rise in both Eastern and Western Europe, and we still had Russia and China and North Korea, a pretty big chunk of world real estate, not on board to help advance a globally viable future unless they got to run it. And America always believed that we would direct the global future. No one was ready to give up their identity as a separate nation-state. So, there were some pretty serious obstacles in the way of that fast train to the future. It seemed possible that 9 billion people due on the planet would encourage us to be more cooperative but we all know that is not what has happened. It is even possible that now leaders are seeing possibilities in using random or designer pandemics to lower out-of-control population growth in the manner of controlling weeds in the grass.
Instead of that fast train to the future, America elected Donald Trump and took a slow train to the past. Now we live in a permanent Groundhog Day, except we don’t have Bill Murray. For one thing Bill Murray, in his lackadaisical way, is funny and for another, although it took him far too long, he learned lessons from his endless loop, which turned out to be more of a spiral and which eventually delivered him to a life that held more pleasure and less cynicism. Our Groundhog Day has Donald Trump, a man without a drop of humor and a man who learns nothing as each gloomy day on rewind unfolds. Donald Trump is also a real man, not a man in a movie. He takes us along for his ride every day and it always takes us to a destination where we don’t want to go. In Groundhog Day everyone knows what a terrible guy Bill Murray is and they don’t seem aware that they are on a perpetual rewind until he gets things right. In our version of Groundhog Day there are people who actively wish for the endless loop to continue. And although they have an ending in mind it is hardly global and it will take us to some really dystopian places.
Republicans are forever complaining about being asked, shoved, pushed, forced to be more politically correct by those terrible college students who are propagandized by leftie professors every day on our college campuses. They do not think college administrators should coddle students by cancelling conservative speakers when students protest their speaking engagements. Why should young people who want to board that high speed train to the future listen to people who are saying that they don’t want to go to the future; that the entire world is making a mistake? Well, when has that ever stopped us. Look at the mistakes we are making in American as captives of Trump’s version of Groundhog Day. Racism should be a problem from our past. We are educated people. We know that skin color does not determine character. We know that it is a culture that determines character. We know these people are our fellow Americas and that we have built cultural walls to keep them separate. Americans know we are living in a toxic culture. If we got back on the train to the future, even if it was a sort of slow train we might be able to finish dealing with the toxins affecting our environment and the toxins infecting our culture.
We desperately need a new President, a great big attitude adjustment, and the demise of the Republican Party. The future is global and it cannot be cancelled. It will arrive for better or for worse. Build Back Better seems like a perfect mission statement. Voting Democrats into office is our last chance for a while to board that train to the global future and avoid the dark images we are seeing these day out the windows of this train to the past.
Militias, those American vigilante, homegrown, domestic, quasi-military groups that have sprouted in the dark places in our nation like mushrooms may offer some kind of comfort to those Americans who are worried about violence, but they give many of us the heebie-jeebies. We do not know when they will show up with their long guns and their hand guns, and now, apparently, their medical kits, to “protect” Americans and our property. Their presence makes it riskier to support a movement like Black Lives Matter, which many of us see as a necessary response to the senseless ‘picking off’ of black lives. Again and again, despite the nation’s obviously shocked expressions of the wrongness of these deaths of mostly black men and even a few black women, these killings keep happening and they seem to represent a belief that black lives do not matter.
If you want to see a list of militias then just Google “List of Militia Organizations in the United States”. The article this search leads to tells us that three militias have a national presence: The Constitutional Sheriffs, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters. There is also a chart which lists 35 state militia groups and a chart put together by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2018 which lists 47 local militia groups.
The militias stepped in during the Cliven Bundy raid. Bundy had been grazing his cattle for free on federal land while other ranchers paid the required fees. When men from the Interior Dept. showed up with guns to take away Bundy’s cattle (who knew before that moment that government agencies had troops) militias began to appear to tell the feds that only the local sheriff had jurisdiction according to posse comitatus rules. It did not make me feel more secure when either set of troops appeared, but when those militia men lay prone on the highway and pointed their long guns between the highway dividers at the federal troops my heart sank. Was this the moment we would go to war with ourselves? Who would be on which side? Fortunately the federal troops did not engage and they left. It appeared though that the militia had won. But no one wanted a war to protect the rights of a rancher who cheated. He could have used the system to fight the fees the feds charged for grazing. Two wrongs were allowed to slide in the interests of peace. Are we reaping the consequences now? If not will we really be in for it in the future. And it doesn’t help that our President loves what these militias do.
The militias again showed up in Michigan to protest Governor Whitmer’s coronavirus stay-at-home and social distancing mandates. The militia members with their long guns entered a state legislative building and stood menacingly on the mezzanine in a sort of American nightmare scenario. They say they were invited to protect an American Patriot Rally. We know that many Americans are not considered patriots by the people who came to this rally. (vox.com, “The private militias providing “security” for anti-lockdown protests explained,” by Jane Coaston, May 11, 2020)
In Kenosha our militia fears became real when Kyle Rittenhouse, only 17 years old used a semi-automatic rifle to kill two people and injure one. Which militia does he belong to and why is a seventeen year old in possession of this type of gun? Seventeen- year-olds have fought in wars, although they had to lie about their age. However they had officers who were in the lead; they had been trained. Where were Kyle’s officers? What kind of training did he have except for hate speech and political right wing rhetoric? This is exactly what informs our fear of militias. They don’t like liberals. They believe that the left is a bunch of socialists and communists. I wonder where they get this from? Why would I not fear groups with guns who are taught to hate everything I stand for? What good can possibly come of this?
A Global News story offers some more details about the actions of the militias in Kenosha as protesters once again confront a suspicious shooting of a black man who was going to a birthday party for his eight year old son where he may or may not have been an invited guest. Violating an order of protection is not generally punishable by death if that is what was happening and that is why this is another senseless shooting with no questions asked and seven bullets in the back. Jacob Blake is not dead, but may be paralyzed for life. For once we may hear a victim speak.
The Global News article has these things to say:
Militia movement in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Gina Barton, Cary Spivak, Bruce Vielmeti
“The heavy involvement of armed militia members among protesters has added an element of volatility to this week’s protests in Kenosha. While small pockets of armed men have gathered at protests in Milwaukee throughout the summer, the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer has drawn more people-with more guns. Combine that with lesser prepared police in a smaller city and national attention that’s drawn demonstrators from out of town and the risk of violence increases.”
“The large presence of armed men Tuesday night in Kenosha has been linked to a local militia group known as the Kenosha Guard, which created a Facebook event called-Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property. The invitation was re-posted by the far right website Infowars.”
“Although such groups claim allegiance with police they are promoting their own agenda, according to Friedfeld (Alex Friedfeld, investigative analyst at the Anti-Defamation League). Their rhetoric often derides the Black Lives Matter Movement, he said.
Another militia group, called the boogaloo, also has attended all three nights of protest in Kenosha so far, according to Justin Mishler, a self-proclaimed member who lives in Belvidere, Illinois.
About a dozen armed boogaloo members were at the protests Sunday, about two dozen Monday and more Tuesday, he said. Their purpose was to provide security and protection for businesses, he said.”
The Kenosha police seemed to welcome the presence of the militia members and did not arrest Rittenhouse until the next day when he had returned to Illinois. This is also a troubling tendency as the police seems to treat militias as legitimate enforcers and protectors. It seems they only protect the right wing from the “awful, terrible” left wing, as Trump labels the left whenever he gets a microphone in front of his face. If you happen to believe that Black Lives do Matter then you are a “leftie” and fair game for the police, the military, and the militias. Pretty scary stuff. Small wonder people worry about a second civil war.
Velma was born on August 25, 1917 to two poor people. But her mother had not been born poor. Her mom’s family felt that Harriet had married badly so they severed all ties. Hattie saw her sisters once in a great while but they made it clear she was an outcast. Velma’s father was a mason who would not join the Masons, so not many jobs came his way. He must have been a kind man and funny though because Velma would never say a word against him, and her mother, Hattie, stayed with him.
In 1930 the Great Depression came along. People like Velma’s family who were poor got even poorer. They basically became destitute. Velma was 13. When her father was hired by the Civilian Conservation Corps to build masonry walls lining streams at a local lake park he had to walk to work, probably at least five miles from where the family lived in what was basically a tenement in the central city. Velma sometimes walked with him and spent the entire day at the park while he was building a wall. When that wall was done he would move on to the next location in the park where a wall was planned. Each time he completed a wall and moved on to the next, the walk got longer, the location farther from their home. Velma did not ever complain about these walks. This must have been in the summer when she was on vacation from school. She loved her father.
The lake park was actually a far more interesting place in the 30’s than it was in later years. There were several piers on the lake and there were venues for entertainment on the piers. One pier had a small amusement park, and another had a gazebo that held a band, where dances were held. Although these entertainments were not happening on the weekdays when Velma’s dad was building his walls (which are still there today) the family sometimes went to the park on weekends to wander around and spend a few pennies.
Eventually the CCC no longer hired workers and Velma’s dad, Irving had to pick up odd jobs to support the family. Summers the family rented a very basic cabin, actually more of a shack, on a nearby river. Velma always says that her mom, Harriet was a great cook; that she could turn even the river carp her husband, Velma’s father, caught in the river into something delightful. Yet Velma never liked fish when she was old enough to choose what to eat on her own. Obviously that muddy old river fish her mom cooked was not quite as delicious as Velma always swore it was. Velma was revealing an aspect of her personality, one that made her very pleasant to be around. She liked to put a positive spin on even the times in her life that sounded really rough to anyone listening.
Velma had a sister, Frances, but I never heard her mention her sister in her childhood memories. But Fran was a good sister to mom when they were grown. Fran was funny and vivacious while Velma was a fairly serious girl who seemed content with simple pleasures. Were they the kind of sisters who hung out together and talked about what was going on in their lives. Velma never gave us a clue. There is one picture of the sisters together when they are young women.
By 1935 Velma was 18 and had graduated from high school. There is a picture of Velma in her graduation dress which looks pretty to her offspring but there must have been a story there. Velma hated that dress. And she tells her children that she was terrible to her parents. That’s all she ever tells of the story behind that dress. It sounds like she was a normal girl who felt her dress would bring ridicule and that she begged for a better dress, which the family could not afford. There may have been tears. Velma kept a lot to herself. She was not a spiller. There was no secret diary just waiting to be found.
When Velma graduated from high school she could type and she knew shorthand so she got an office job with Mr. Larkin who admired her for more than her shorthand. He was too old for Velma and a gentleman but it was nice to be admired. She genuinely liked her boss. She also had a group of young friends who had cheap fun together going on outings – one guy had a car. The car was one of those boxy, black cars like a Model T or a Model A. Knowing someone who owned a car opened up a new world for Velma. Her friends were not drinkers or smokers or wild in any way. They were just chums who went to parks and had picnics. Some of her friends had money and they didn’t exclude Velma because of her poverty. She is likeable and she’s pretty. Five foot two, eyes of blue, 92 lbs. of “nice” person; she is exactly like the girl described in a popular song of the era.
Somewhere, somehow during this short period of singleness Velma meets George who is handsome, reliable, silent, and even poorer than Velma. He has to leave school in eighth grade because of the Great Depression, and he supports his parents. Today George would be known as a nerd; his strengths are the strengths of an engineer. He understands machines, he understands electricity; he can take a car apart and rebuild it. Even without school he’s smart. He reads lots of books. Velma wants what she wants.
George is cautious. His domineering mother, who dotes on him, sees that Velma wants to take her handsome, hard-working son away from her. Perhaps she thinks Velma is not good enough. She is suspicious and she communicates this suspicion to her son. She suggests that he be careful not to put anything in writing, that he not make any promises, that he not give any gifts. He could be sued for ‘breach of contract’. This was a common way girls lured men into marriage. Maybe Winnie just thought that George was so smart that he would be going places. She certainly couldn’t have thought Velma was a gold digger. Neither family had ‘two pennies to rub together’. George writes Velma a note breaking off the budding relationship. And yet somehow they end up married in 1942. George is five years older than Velma. Around this time Velma losses her mom, Hattie.
George has a job at a factory called Easy Washer. They make washing machines. Velma has her secretarial job. They get a nice two bedroom apartment in an immigrant neighborhood with neighbors who are Italian and Polish. Velma gets a wringer washing machine. No car. They ride the bus. Hitler is doing his hate speeches all over Europe and taking over one neighboring country after another. People are nervous. Japan bombs the ships, airplanes and bases in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Great Depression turns into World War II. Boom times. Times full of fear and grief. There is more money around and more jobs. Velma works days, George works nights; they wave to each other as their buses pass in the morning. It is two years before they start a family. George is turned down for military service because he has flat feet and is in an essential war industry. Easy Washer no longer produces washing machines. People look askance at a man who is not fighting in the war. Velma ignores them.
Velma has a baby girl, a tiny girl born prematurely, only 3 lbs. 10 oz. – it’s 1944, the baby almost dies. A nurse tells Velma as she is leaving the hospital that if she picks Georgia up too often it will kill her. Who says something like this to a first time mother. Velma is 27, a bit old for a first baby in those days. First George had vacillated about getting married at all, then they barely saw each other. After that though it is a baby a year for four years, then a break and another baby. Three girls, two boys. Five babies and one mom, who no longer works, in a two bedroom apartment which she keeps spotless because so many relatives and friends are watching.
She did not know how to boil water when she got married. Why didn’t her mother, the great cook, teach her daughter to cook? Perhaps Velma was the spoiled brat she claimed to have been. When she uses the pressure cooker it explodes and the potatoes end up on the ceiling. Pretty soon she gets the hang of it and even puts freshly ironed clothing on the children every day. Still, she is getting a bit frazzled. A child falls down the steep front stairs, a neighbor child hits Georgia in the head with a tin can. The children are playing air raid. They have to walk several city blocks and cross a busy street to get to school.
George comes home to the crowded apartment one fine day and announces that he has bought a house, outside the city near the airbase in a small town that still has many vacant lots. Velma is happy to have a house but it is not exactly the Ritz. It has fake brick siding. And it only has two bedrooms that are heated and two that are not. But it has a big front yard and an even bigger back yard. There are plenty of school-aged children on their street and no traffic lights between the house and the school. There are school buses. The house comes with clotheslines over grass instead of in a cinder driveway. It has a basement for the wringer washer and a door that opens onto the back yard. It grows on Velma. It grows on the whole family. Around this time Velma loses her Dad, Irving.
Pretty soon it is the most popular house in the neighborhood. There is always something going on. There is a baseball diamond in the front yard, a basketball court in the backyard, a backyard ice rink in the winter and basically no rules. These are all nice kids and they love that Velma doesn’t yell and insist on perfection. It’s 1952 and George’s job at Easy Washer has turned into a job at General Electric. All the neighbors bring him their TV’s to fix. He buys a camera and takes lots of pictures. He rewires the old house. He takes a calculus course and passes it. George is always trying to bring in extra money. Does he mind that he is not best pals with the other neighborhood fathers who are vets? No one speaks of it and George is after all kind of a loner. Velma and George visit with relatives, who are always nice but sometimes overwhelmed by the chaos.
Science projects abound with kids using George’s tools to open rocks, and focusing the sun through magnifying glasses onto burning ants, the sad victims of scientific investigation and childish cruelty. Tadpoles in muddy water line the back hall. Lightning bugs twinkle in jars. In the basement there is a wall of the newspapers that George collects and there the boys can shoot their BB guns until Sandy gets hit in the leg. First son, Hugh, likes to hunt and fish. There is a day when Velma has to clean fresh tar off five sets of bare feet with Vasoline Petroleum Jelly and harsher things. She does this patiently but forbids them to go back out on the wet tar. They obey.
Velma wants to go downtown, to the shops she remembers from her single days. She gets everyone dressed up, girls in freshly ironed dresses, Hugh in freshly pressed pants and shirt, Ron in the stroller. They take the bus. Velma has done this a few times. She likes to go to the restaurant in the basement of Dey Brothers. She always orders lemon meringue pie and tea. There was one department store that had a little monorail that ran around the ceiling in the bargain basement so we went for a ride while Velma shopped for bargains. My brother wandered off when we left the ride and for a while it was really scary for all of us until we were reunited. We never went downtown with Velma again. Five young children is a lot to keep track of.
Velma’s sister Aunt Fran is everyone’s favorite aunt. She says unexpectedly funny things and she leaves behind cigarette butts that have red lipstick on them. Very exotic. Uncle Gil, her husband also has a sense of humor. One day we all ride our bikes across town to swim in the city pool near their house. We sit around Aunt Fran’s picnic table and she gives us lemonade. Aunt Fran’s kidneys stop working when she is still quite young and we lose her. She is missed. Velma doesn’t talk about it. She mistrusts hospitals and doctors.
In a year there is a new baby. And then two more. A family of ten, eight healthy children. It’s a miracle and overwhelming. Velma is busy every minute. She lines up the bread on the countertop in the kitchen to make everyone sandwiches to take to school and work. She does this with a baby on her hip and a toddler on the floor holding on to her skirt. She is now a cliché – barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Her hair is in pin curls and hidden by a bandana which she plans to remove when her guy comes home from work. She is still pretty, and she still weighs only 92 lbs. But she has a wicked inferiority complex. She makes it a point to insult herself before anyone else can get around to it. Then we all have to reassure her. It’s a flaw we can accept. We all have flaws.
The house is clean but it is loaded with clothing in baskets and boxes waiting to be ironed. The floors are bare and sweeping up Cheerios is a constant chore. Because George works at GE there is a real washer and dryer now, a dishwasher, a freezer, a TV, a big console record player/radio in front of the dirty radiator which refuses to come clean. The freezer comes preloaded with meat. For a while we dine on roasts and steaks, although even a good sized chuck roast divided by ten offers up fairly small servings. There is plenty of ground beef for sloppy joes, and chili, and spaghetti. When the meat runs out Velma and George buy bushels of corn on the cob and have a corn roast to get all that corn shucked and ready for the freezer. George grows tomatoes and Velma starts doing some canning – spaghetti sauce and chili sauce. She also makes some jellies. George buys day old bread and goes to the dairy to stock up on milk. We always have enough to eat.
There is a long dining table with ten chairs and a “buffet” which is always piled with papers and books. Winters are hard. Just when Velma gets all the snow suits on someone has to use the bathroom. The kitchen floor has to be cleared of mud and slush all day long. But on summer days everyone goes outside and Velma washes and irons all the curtains and they blow freshly in the breezes from the opened windows. Fortunately there are young teenaged girls now and teenaged girls love new babies. Velma’s daughters learn to cook early. They learn to cook with a baby on one hip.
Velma doesn’t eat dinner with her family. She is out in the kitchen making sure picky eaters get on-demand meals. George doesn’t agree with these permissive parenting habits but he no longer says anything about it. He gives everyone the silent treatment when he is angry. It isn’t pleasant so people try to tempt him out of his mood. Velma eats whatever good food is left on our plates. She likes to eat the fat from our meat, probably a taste leftover from the Depression years.
We all love being at the dinner table but it is crazy time with everyone talking at once and several small children to help, one at the spoon stage, one gets a bottle and baby food, one just a bottle. George wants it quiet at the dinner table. He wants his children to have manners and speak one at a time. This never happens. Dishes are a point of contention. Who’s turn is it? If you don’t hustle George will go do the dishes, but with attitude. Sometimes George helps with the dishes because he’s in a good mood and then he yodels and the children groan, but it is a happy groan. George does all the grocery shopping.
Teenagers spend a long time in the bathroom when showering. There is only one bathroom for ten people. Velma deals with the small children and the babies after dinner. Everyone who isn’t the winner in the bathroom race lines up in front of the TV or grabs a seat at the dining table to do homework. There are five school age children. George helps with the math, but Velma knows her words, so she helps with reading and writing, spelling and grammar. There is no bathroom plan. Whoever gets in the shower first has exclusive rights until they are done. Sometimes when George comes home from work he has to take us all down to the end of our road to watch the blue lights that line the runways and to watch the planes take off so Velma can take a breather.
Velma has three girls headed for womanhood. She starts leaving out True Confessionsmagazines to warn her daughters about the dangers that await loose women or girls who go wild. She starts introducing us to the Charles Chips man and the pots-and-pans salesman mentioning that we are single. Of course we’re single, we’re still in high school. Boys are starting to hang out. The girls are collecting records. Bobby Darin, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers. We are good girls. Movies are fifty cents. We sing in the church choir. We go to Youth Fellowship meetings. These are coed activities which proves that some of Velma’s children have left childhood behind. There are dances. There are sorority meetings which lead to social activities. George is in his taxi years. Driving children too young to drive here and there, even picking up their friends and also driving them.
Velma folds basket after basket of clean clothing. She tries to keep up with the ironing and finally pay us a penny a piece to iron things that require pressing, which was everything in the 1950’s. There is a family picture of an exhausted Velma, hair pins covered by that bandana which she no longer manages to get off before George gets home. She is in a chintz covered chair with a baby on her shoulder and they are both fast asleep. Her mouth is ever-so-delicately open. Her children are quiet so she can sleep. One day when all the teens are home taking care of the smaller ones Velma decides to take a walk to the new Kmart across the highway. She sneaks out without telling us where she is going. We all puzzle out where she went and have her paged. She hates being embarrassed so she lets us know she’s unhappy. A rare event.
On nice evenings we all go outside and all the neighborhood teens show up and we play Hide and Seek. The house is always busy inside and out. The only time we see Velma dressed up is for a funeral, a school ceremony or an occasional visit to a relative or old friend. She’s still pretty. Some days all the neighborhood moms come and sit around our dining room table and compare delivery horror stories, but Velma’s babies popped out so fast she almost didn’t make it to the hospital. She was a good listener though. They had a cocktail which they brought with them because Velma did not drink in the daytime, or hardly ever.
It’s the late 50’s, early 60’s. John F. Kennedy and Jackie are in the White House. Velma’s children do well in school. Everyone gets good grades. Everyone graduates. First daughter goes to a two-year college. Second daughter goes to a four-year college, first son goes in the Air Force. Then the weddings start. There are still preschoolers when the weddings start. The family doesn’t get smaller; it gets bigger. Everyone still hangs out with Velma and George. They have Sunday dinners. They put a swimming pool in the backyard – above ground. There are picnics at the family home and at parks. Babies begin to arrive. There are grandchildren, eventually a new set of toddlers.
The 60’s go by quickly with a few glitches. Velma is in her forties. Velma and George take the three youngest girls on trips to explore natural beauties in the area. The second son has a group of friends who like to smoke and drink, neither of which George approves of. But George has been put on nights at work. So he leaves around 3 pm and doesn’t get back until around 11:30. Velma likes these boys. They like her. But she has no control over them. They’re not bad boys but they dominate the home without George there.
The first time and last time a police car ever appears in Velma’s driveway is because Ron has given into peer pressure and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is given a warning. Velma develops an allergy to police cars. Ron’s bedroom becomes “the sin den” and loud rock music blares all day in the summers, all evening in winter – it’s the summers of In a-gadda-da-Vida -Iron Butterfly rules. Velma is not a music lover but she learns this song by heart. Does she love it? Is familiarity love? Not always.
Velma is in her 50’s and it is now the 70’s. The three youngest girls are almost finished with high school. Velma will soon have an almost empty nest. She decides that now she can have a job besides babysitting neighborhood children. She decides to sell Tupperware. She takes the training and buys some products and they load up whatever used car George is driving and go host Tupperware parties. Georgia, now married with two toddlers decides to sell Tupperware too. Second daughter Nancy left teaching after her first year and eventually, several jobs and hippie adventures later gets arrested for possession of a controlled substance (LSD). In fact Nancy has several expensive issues that her poor parents can ill afford. At least she finally has a new teaching job and is beginning to straighten out. Velma fights for all her children like a lioness. She did it when they needed shoes to go to school and she remains supportive and saves her children’s lives more than once.
Now grief comes to Velma and to the entire family. Georgia sets out to drive just a short distance but the snow becomes a blizzard, visibility becomes zero. She has her two toddler daughters in child seats in the back, which was not really even a law yet. She does not see the truck parked by the side of the road at the plant nursery. She has a seat belt, but no shoulder harness, no airbags. They don’t exist yet. Georgia dies, the girls live and Velma deals with a sorrow deeper than any she has ever known. She keeps herself together because the husband and father goes off the rails and she needs to care for the children.
Eventually the two little bereft girls go to live with Sandy, daughter number three who is married and has two children of her own. Tupperware ends, joy ends, Velma takes to the sofa and doesn’t get up except when someone needs her and on Sundays when everyone still comes by and spends the day. She sometimes doesn’t even get up on Sundays. There is a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis but the doctor is not sure that is what is happening. Menopause is probably also going on with all this other stuff. What keeps Velma on the sofa, what turns her into a person who has lost all her starch and her stamina, is most likely sadness and the loss of a child who made it to twenty-nine years old, who made it through a premature birth, who should still be here to raise her daughters. These things take time and since no one is feeling any better she doesn’t get a lot of cheering up. Hard times the 70’s.
While Velma is on the sofa she begins to sew. She begins to make crafty things. She makes clothespin grandmas with gray hair and little caps. She dresses some up for holidays and others are just left in their mini-print cotton dresses, holding a basket of flowers in their pipe cleaner arms. She makes stuffed rabbits, small and large, whole families of rabbits. She lines baskets with gingham and put doll babies in them. She makes crib sets for doll cribs. She sews everything by hand. Pretty soon she has quite a collection and has spent lots of money on fabric and lace. She begins to feel guilty again about not making any money. Velma and George start hitting the craft show circuit. We all go shopping and we keep our parents company. This takes Velma through her 60’s. It is good for both of them. They travel, they meet people. Velma makes some money and it lifts her spirits.
Velma in her 60’s is not always happy with her appearance. She has added some menopause weight. To her children and to George she is still pretty but she no longer fits in her wedding dress. Georgia’s husband remarries eight years after her loss. His new wife loves Velma and she becomes a member of the clan. She had two handsome sons and he has those two sweet motherless daughters. It works. By then it’s the 80’s already and everyone has left the nest. But Velma’s children stay close and visit often.
Velma and George go to Florida. Sandy, third daughter, gets divorced and is in shock because it was unexpected. Several children in transition move into the family home while Velma and George visit child number six, Connie, who is married and living in Fort Lauderdale. Velma and George get a cheap studio apartment for the summer and all the young people who are their neighbors fall in love with them. They can’t have them; they are ours.
A cranky gall bladder brings Velma and George back to Syracuse where she has a surgery to remove her gall gladder. Everyone finds a new place to live after a while. Sandy’s husband accuses Velma and George of abusing his sons in a custody fight. He was unfaithful; he is unlikely to win and he doesn’t. When Child Services investigates, every single neighbor and friend says “impossible” when asked about the child abuse. The 80’s turn into the 90’s. Velma is 73. George is 78.
George is having some health problems. He is upset about it. He feels that he lived a healthy life. He never drank. He didn’t smoke. But he has had a lot of pressures to contend with, some self-imposed, some not (people don’t really have eight children totally by accident). Velma loves George and is very worried about him. Turns out that George has geriatric diabetes and a bad doctor. One day when George’s sugar level hits 450 the doctor yells at him for not going to a specialist that he, the doctor, never told him he needed to go to. By then he has neuropathy in his feet. His nerves no longer tell his brain that his feet are touching the ground. Velma learns to give insulin shots.
George has prostate cancer and has to have a surgery that makes him feel emasculated. Velma can’t seem to find any way to lift his spirits. He has a small fender bender at the grocery store. He stops at a stop sign in his neighborhood and an angry driver knocks on his car window. When he rolls it down the guy punches him in the face. Bad becomes worse. George has to give up his driver’s license. No one knows how to comfort him. Velma doesn’t know how to comfort him. He was the strong one, the one who negotiated the world for Velma. The one she fought with and made love to, the one who, until recently, still looked down her blouse.
George hits bottom when he loses his mobility. He is despondent. He has a wheel chair but he cannot rise under his own power and he has grown heavy. Velma can’t lift him. The family rallies, daughters are caregivers, not usually sons. Life becomes a day-to-day waiting game. There are good days and bad days. No more normal days. George fails slowly. When he is 86 he dies with the help of hospice. The love of Velma’s life is gone and she is no longer young herself. She comes back to her own now single life slowly. But caregiving had taken a toll, although there was a certain relief in having it done and knowing that George is at peace. Those were difficult years, sad years, years spent living with dying.
Velma is in her eighties. Terrorists fly jets into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and for a while the world holds its breath. But, something is always happening in a big family. Velma has thirteen grandchildren now and they have their successes and sorrows. Sandy remarries and is happy in her marriage. Connie, Velma’s sixth child gets divorced, remarries, has two daughters, gets divorced again. The girls have trouble adjusting to life without their larger-than-life pilot father. Velma’s seventh child, Dawn, has colon cancer and she is living alone in North Carolina. When she comes home she gets very sick, her brain is not functioning properly. It turns out she is allergic to one of her chemo meds. Steroids finally mend her brain although she says her recovered self is not the same as her original self. Velma is just happy that Dawn is alive and functioning. We are all happy about Dawn’s recovery.
Not everyone lives close by now so the weekend family circles are sometimes smaller, although with the grandchildren they are sometimes bigger. Velma continues to have every Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas dinner at her house. Sometimes there are forty people. Even Bonnie, her youngest is married and has two daughters. She is a mail carrier, one of the first female carriers. Mail is heavy, you start out in scary neighborhoods, all that walking takes some getting used to. After some difficulty adjusting Bonnie becomes a very reliable and very short mail carrier. Being short when the snow is deep was a challenge she adapted to.
Velma is driven to doctors by second child Nancy but she keeps wishing she had learned to drive. Depending on anyone but George makes her feel guilty. Apologies and reassurances are common items of conversation. Velma stops wanting food and has some odd growths along her hairline. She, it turns out, has a rather rare geriatric condition called temporal arteritis. You start to manufacture giant red blood cells in the arteries in your brain. It can be fatal, but her doctor was a better diagnostician than the one George and she used to share. The cure, massive does of steroids. Velma gets a moon face for a few years and is not a happy camper. But she’s alive.
When Velma turns 90 in 2007 there is a party. Over 100 people attend. She has lost her moon face. She is a tiny thing again, dressed in her white capris and a black shirt. She is so happy to see everyone. Hugh made her a movie. Someone had buttons made for the guests with nice pictures of Velma on them. It’s a wonderful celebration with everyone there to wish her a happy birthday, even those from out-of-town.
But Velma is starting to experience more health difficulties in her nineties. One day before Dawn and Nancy meet at mom’s to go for a walk, Velma’s heart rate is at 25. They end their walk very early, consult with Sandy who lives in Florida now and works for a doctor. They call the fire department. Velma is charming. She has fifteen firemen in her living room. Dawn and Nancy are worried. They sit in the emergency room forever. Are they waiting to see if Velma is going to die? Finally she gets a room. She acts like she is at a sorority party. She gets a pace maker.
Velma has a mini stroke, a TIA which weakens her right side but she basically recovers from this. Dawn lives with Velma and she is well looked after but she rarely gets dressed anymore except to go to the doctor. She has lost her hearing and her hearing aids no longer work. Dawn buys an amplifier and a microphone so we can communicate with her. She is having problems with her false teeth and so problems eating. We all tempt her with delicacies. Family members stop by to visit. This lifts Velma’s spirits. She gets dressed and goes out to the back deck to visit. She has a cat, a semi-feral cat that actually was adopted by Dawn. The cat figures hugely in Velma’s day. She has to be able to nurture someone. Velma has another mini stroke. Her mobility suffers. She will not give up. She gets up every day and walks back and forth to the bathroom and the kitchen, but life is becoming something which lacks quality. Everyone is loving and waiting. Daughters take turns getting Velma going in the morning. Although it is a duty, spending time with Velma is still a sweet duty. This is one strong and charismatic lady.
We plan Velma’s one hundredth birthday party but we’re not sure that she will make it. Her pacemaker is failing and the doctor insists that it must get a new battery because Velma cannot miss her 100 th birthday. It will be a backyard party, August 25, 2017, with all Velma’s friends, family and neighbors. There is a canopy and tables with white paper table cloths and vases with hydrangeas. Sandy, Barbara, Dawn and Bonnie have poured their hearts into the planning. Nancy thought of the canopy and the flowers. Dawn figures out the parking. Cakes are ordered. Everyone cooks for the big buffet. It’s a beautiful day, sunny and not too hot. Velma looks good, although she can’t really hear a thing. She has a new pale green blouse with wide sleeves and embroidery. She has on her favorite white capris. The day is a great success.
After her one hundredth birthday Velma begins to fail. She seems to have a series of strokes. She is having hallucinations common in geriatric dementia, although she is still lucid. She is having more difficulty getting out of bed. Her walking gets painful to watch. She doesn’t want us to help. She stops wanting food. Eventually she loses her mobility. The end is near.
Velma dies on November 26, 2017. She left a legacy of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren all affected by her graciousness and her loving support. She may have died regretting that she never drove a car that she never “worked out” like other mothers with big families managed to do. None of us who remain regretted those or any other things about Velma. She was never famous, but she was a great woman.
Velma died with enough money to give herself the funeral she had always wished to have. It was at one of the best funeral parlors and had even more people in attendance than she had for her 100 th birthday party. She was so small and looked as elegant as she always wished she would look with her gray little haircut and her black sweater and dress. The funeral parlor was in the town where Velma lived for sixty-five years. This funeral parlor would form the funeral cortege and then wind the whole sad parade past the home of the deceased which was one reason Velma loved that funeral parlor. Velma was driven one more time past the home where so many family years were passed and it was perfect because home was where Velma’s heart always was. She said that George would not know her now because she was so much older than him, but I bet she got a warm welcome if there is such a place as heaven. We all hope that there is. This is the story of Velma’s Century.
When we decided to sell Velma’s house we had to go through all the things she had saved. We learned a few more things about Velma as we cataloged the things she saved and the things she loved. Velma always hoped to strike it rich so she could give money to all her children, so she used to imagine that something she had collected would turn out to be worth millions. She had plenty of depression glass and tea pots and lots of costume jewelry, but no secret treasures that were worth big money. Children and grandchildren got to claim the family pieces they remembered best.
We also learned that if Velma did not choose parenting she might have been a CEO. She was very organized in her way. She saved every card she ever received. She made a scrapbook for each child. She wrote the gifts she received in each of the cards to herself or George or to both. She made a list of every thoughtful thing done for them, by year and she enclosed the cards within the lists. She held them together with a rubber band. How does someone as busy as Velma accomplish something as efficient and heartwarming as this. We’re lucky she chose parenting as her career, because clearly she could have found success in business but if she did we might never have been born. Velma’s legacy is her family who loved her well. We still do.