Is Knowledge Power?

Geez. At some point in the not too far distant past, I was able to keep up with social change. Or rather, I thought I was keeping up but wasn’t, couldn’t. Change is constant, and most of it goes unnoticed until voila, one day, there it is.

I’ve even said something dumb like this to my husband, “You know, I feel sorry for people who haven’t been keeping up with changes, especially demographic, going on in America because I know they must blown away by it.”

“Like what?” he asked.

“Hmmm. Well, like social scientists have been predicting the increased population growth of nonwhite individuals for years. And how that it’s apparent, some are asking When did this happen?

I often think of a moment when some high school friends and I sat in a super cool Mexican restaurant and plunged into the idea of having a 50th high school reunion. As one might expect, such a topic took us all for a stroll down memory lane as we recalled the days of yore. Weren’t our teachers the best? And our parents? They were strict but there, meaning they didn’t shirk their responsibilities, do drugs, or have sexual identity issues…that we knew of. the economy was booming, and so was the birth rate. In fact, everyone at Salud that noon was part of a post-war boom. We were baby boomers.

Truth is, we were ignorant and innocent of how things were in many homes–unaware of the horrors going on even in the most reputable and upright of small towns. We didn’t even know about racism. Not really. Though raised in the South, our world was a white one, separated by unspoken but sure boundaries. I recall being at the doctor’s office waiting for the nurse to come in to give me a penicillin shot when I chanced to look down the hall to see movement in a room I’d never noticed. “I think I saw something in that room,” I told Mama.

‘You might have,” she said. “That’s another waiting room.”

“Huh? Why does Dr. Snipes need two waiting rooms?”

“One’s for colored people,” she replied, as if she’d said, “I like green beans,” something neutral and casual and of little importance in the grand scheme of things.

Stunned, I didn’t respond. Yet decades later as my friends and I looked with fondness at our past, I recalled that day of my young enlightenment.

“It was the best time to grow up,” someone said. Everyone agreed.

“At least for us,” I ventured. Everyone agreed with that too.

Although as youngsters, we didn’t know it, the seeds of social unrest had been growing for years, and our comfortable little worlds were about to change.  We were seven when Emmet Till, a black fourteen-year-old visiting family in Mississippi, was taken from his uncle’s home before being beaten, shot, and thrown in the river with a 75-pound fan around his neck. The all-white jury acquitted the two men accused of his murder. Within recent years (two), a photo of three University of Mississippi brandishing guns in front of the bullet-riddled sign of Till’s memorial sign appeared on Instagram. They were smiling.

I can’t speak for my friends, but I’d be willing to bet none of them heard of Emmet Till in 1955. Embarrassingly, I learned of his torture and death only about fifteen years ago. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. What is wrong with people? I thought. And now a year after the death of George Floyd, I’m wondering the same things.

I’m wondering if it’s better to be protected from ugliness, malice, and mistreatment or to be fully aware. Is knowledge power?


Low Country Getaway

In my next life, I’m thinking of becoming a travel writer or something. I love visiting new places and telling other people about it, not in a bragging sort of way but in an informative way. I want everyone to experience the same wonders that I do and avoid some of the pitfalls. In this blog, I’m going to tell you the best place to visit for a sunset and the hotel to avoid if you’re all about “free” continental breakfasts.

Last year we celebrated our 10th anniversary with a weekend in the Big Apple, and although we LOVED it, this year we wanted to stay a little closer to home. Trying to decide between the coast of SC and the mountains of GA was a difficult decision, and the #1 deciding factor was the price of gas. Gee whiz! It still cost a small fortune to do the little bit of traveling that we did, but it was worth every gallon.

We left Myrtle Beach and headed to McClellanville for the Shrimp Festival and Blessing of the Fleet. I’ve always had a hankering to visit that historic site, and reading about the events of the weekend in Southern Living gave me just the impetus I needed. We finally found a place to park, and as we were wondering about the shortest route to the water, a man who was directing traffic pointed to a short bridge and told us to follow the yellow brick road and that we’d end up in Kansas. Loved that. I saw it as a harbinger of good things to follow.

I wasn’t disappointed. Right away we fell in love with the little town beside the sea. The trees, the water, the houses, and the people all combined to make the experience a sweet and memorable one.  We particularly liked the booths set up under the trees, and we ended up buying a couple of cool t-shirts as souvenirs. Since jewelry is one of the traditional gifts for the 11th anniversary, my hubby bought me a beautiful bracelet from a woman selling creations of recycled sea glass. I’m wearing it today; it shimmers like the ocean.

Just about everything in life has good and bad, an upside and a downside, and the festival was no exception. The blessing of the fleet was nice, but the microphone wasn’t working, and we couldn’t hear anything that the three speakers said. It was kind of funny because no one told them. Everyone was too mannerly, including us. There seemed to be a reverence in the scene that prohibited anyone from yelling at the speakers who were standing at the end of a long dock. So basically we watched them and the numerous ships that went by.

The food was yummy, but skimpy. Sorry but it’s true. I know they were probably making money for the town, but festival-goers will be more inclined to come back if the food portions are generous. One of the highlights of the afternoon was listening to the band and watching people dance.  I’d expound on this, but it’s time to move on to the next leg of the journey.Suffice it to say that the various dancers reminded me that life is to be relished and LIVED.

We left McClellanville and, following the directions of the GPS, rode through parts of the Francis Marion Forest. At some point, we ended up on 526 and later the Savannah Hwy. The farther south we rode, the more obvious the low country foliage and “feel” became.

I just realized that this blog is getting far too lengthy so you’ll have to stay tuned to read about the hotel without the continental breakfast and the best place to view a fiery orange sunset.I’ll even recommend a lighthouse perfect for climbing.

Denver and Mr. Ron

In my lesson on charity this morning, I included a reference to a recent novel chosen by my book club, Same Kind of Different as Me, and I decided to review the book here. This is actually a revised version of a review I posted at a couple of weeks ago. Truthfully, it took two years and two attempts before I was hooked by this book. When my son-in-law Charlie gave it to me and described it as “wonderful,” I began reading it right away. I stuck it out for two nights, but I couldn’t get into it for some reason.

“Where did the author come up with such a character as Denver?” I wondered. Could anyone have such a poor and miserable life? I knew that poverty, homelessness, and prejudice were serious issues in our society, but I just didn’t want to be reminded of it right before falling asleep. Plus, the dialect annoyed me. Did the author really have to make people from the South sound so illiterate and backwards? Then Ron entered the picture, and while I thought the accounts of life in the 1960s were pretty interesting, I began to get irritated with this character too. Was the reader supposed to believe that someone would wear matching plaid shirts and shorts, black knee socks, and brogans to a college football game in the 1960’s?

When my book club chose it for our March selection, I picked it up again. “Surely there’s something redeeming about this book for so many people to love it,” I thought. I downloaded it on my Kindle and listened to it on the way to and from work. It wasn’t long before I got involved in the lives of these two men, Denver and Ron, wondering when their lives would intersect. Living parallel lives in different parts of the country, their experiences couldn’t have been more different. One was an illiterate black man who, tired of being poor in Louisiana, hopped on a train and ended up homeless in Fort Worth. The other was a white millionaire, a college grad who seemed to live a charmed existence. Married to Miss Debbie, he was a successful art dealer.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that the book was true…not based on truth, but absolutely true and told by the men who lived the stories. I’ll leave it up to you to read where and when and how their friendship began and grew. I’ll just say that the millionaire who set out to be a do-gooder philanthropist and the former sharecropper who later had a front row seat at a presidential inauguration were forever transformed by their shared experiences. Interestingly, the one who set out to give ended up being on the receiving end. He broadened my thinking too; because of Denver, I’m using Micah 6:8 as yet another guide for living my life.

As the book progresses, Denver and Ron take turns telling their life stories and their individual perceptions of the events described in the book. Each of them shares scenes so descriptive that the reader can see them and feel their essence. Whether Rocky Top, rural Louisiana, the “hood,” or the homeless shelter is being described, they all seem real. Denver’s visions of spirits, occasional scripture references, and pithy words of wisdom are as thought provoking and interesting as Ron’s big art deals and spiritual transformation.

The person who served as a catalyst for the book was Miss Debbie. Denver and Ron loved her, and so will you. Even as I type this, I’m wondering if I can persuade my husband to go to Fort Worth during Spring Break. There are some people I want to meet there…and an art gallery I want to visit.

Follow-up to Missing Fathers

As I was cleaning out one of my bookbags yesterday, I came across something I’d clipped from The State newspaper a few months ago. Although I don’t know the exact date of the publication, I know that it was somewhat recent and that the information was borrowed from The Aiken Standard. If anything, the stats mentioned are even worse now…not better. Nothing will get better until people open their hearts and minds and pocketbooks and get involved with this social issue.

According to the newspaper(s), the most recent Kids Count data places SC as as “45th in the nation in the living quality for children…In South Carolina, 31.3 percent of the children live in single parent families and 47.2 percent of children are born to single mothers. It is not shocking from those figures to find that 20.8 percent statewide test not ready for the first grade.”

Will things improve? “With cuts to education budgets as well as those of health and social services, it seems unlikely that South Carolina’s children will fare better in years to come.” Distressing, isn’t it?

What will you do? What will you say? What advice do you have to the state’s parents? To its young people? In the words of Solomon Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Fast Recovery

The human body is remarkable in its many capabilities, including the healing process. Last week, I could hardly walk. Today, there are barely traces left of my injuries. Praise goes to my Creator for the fearful and wonderful way He made our bodies.

Earlier today I read an inspiring blog on the Guideposts website about a woman who was snowed in last week. At the end of  the blog, she asked if anyone had a snow story to tell, so I wrote a few paragraphs describing my fall and its subsequent injuries. When I tried to post it, however, I couldn’t see the Post option. Not to be outdone, I’m going to go ahead and post my snow experience here on myown blog.

My little Southern town  got about six inches of snow last week. After being housebound for a couple of days,  I was determined to go for a three-mile walk despite the protests of my husband. Walking is something I try to fit in everyday, and I was feeling beyond antsy.

“Why do you have to be so stubborn?” he asked. When he got no response, he said, “You’re crazy to go out in this, you know.” I turned a deaf ear and continued dressing for the wintry afternoon.

Bundled up with earmuffs, coat, mittens, and a cool hat, I walked gingerly around the neighborhood, alert to all the tricky places (slick ice). All went well. Then about 2/10 of a mile from our house, I saw a BIG snowball and just couldn’t resist kicking it. Only problem was that it was a BIG iceball, and it was stuck to the road. Immediately, I lost my balance and fell, bloodying both knees and bruising my palms and my ego. My fingertips began to burn, and I realized that they too had been scraped even though I was wearing mittens.

Hoping no one saw me, I got up quickly and trudged home. My sweet husband took one look and couldn’t resist saying, “I told you so.” I gave him a fierce scowl and then went to inspect the damage. My knees needed an antibiotic ointment and huge bandages, and it wasn’t until yesterday, nearly a week later, that I felt comfortable enough to remove them for good.

Today, the tip of my ring finger on the right hand is still a little blue and purple, but it doesn’t hurt to type anymore. There are scabs on my knees but no gashes or signs of bruising. I can walk without limping. Yay! I can’t help but think of the scripture in Psalms 134:14 that reads, “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made….”

The human body is remarkable in its many capabilities, including the healing process. Last week, I could hardly walk. Today, there are barely traces left of my injuries. Praise goes to my Creator for the fearful and wonderful way He made our bodies.

Finding Roots

It’s weird and wonderful to think about how eye color, finger length, musical aptitude, and even life opportunities are influenced by our past.

Who were these people who came before me? Who were the ones who made the sacrifices and contributions that make my life one of more ease and opportunity than what they experienced? I’m pondering these things and much, much more, probably because of some books I’ve recently read.  Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson is one of them. The other is Finding Oprah’s Roots: Finding Your Own by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Both of them have reminded me of the importance of the past in shaping the future.

No matter where we are in life, we’re the embodiment of all that’s come before.  The talents, aptitudes, noses, eye color, finger length, personality quirks, predispositions to certain diseases and disorders, and even longevity are influenced by DNA. We’re influenced by the past, and we of today will influence the future. My daughter Elizabeth says she can see her own father looking at her from her niece Emma’s blue eyes. Two-month old Olivia has an easy disposition like both of her parents. I hope she’ll be as sunny as Amanda, her mom.

Who are/were my people? Where did they come from, and how did they end up in the American South? Were my grandmothers and great grandmothers happy, morose, flighty, musical, well-adjusted, beautiful, or what?  How did they spend their days? Were they good cooks? My father’s mother, Beatrice, lost a child to scarlet fever when he was about 3 years old, and although I heard this alluded to, it was never really discussed. I know her heart must have been broken, and that although she lived well into her 80’s, she never forgot little Neil. Neither, I suspect, did my grandfather. In fact, I feel certain that his untimely death (an overused phrase but perfect in this situation) affected my father and his sister Polly too. What would it be like to live in the shadow of such a loss?

One of my grandfathers managed a store, sort of a small grocery story, in an area known as Dusty Bend. It’s at the north end of Camden. I’m currently remembering the big glass jars of candy and the cold chest where ice cream sandwiches were kept. My paternal grandfather worked for the railroad although I don’t know in what capacity…or even what that means (working for the railroad). I do know that the family moved a lot and that my father seldom finished a year at one school before being uprooted and moved to another town and another school. Is that why he was so quiet, so taciturn?

My maternal grandmother was somewhat of an enigma to me. She loved us all, and yet she made no bones about it: my brother Mike was her favorite. I don’t remember any of us feeling slighted or hurt by this. I knew she was partial to little boys because she often said so. Her preference for male children must have been a family thing since her own parents named her Mary John. They wanted another boy, pure and simple.

I’ve spent 30 minutes scratching the surface of what’s there (in my mind), and I’m looking forward to retrieving more memories in my quest to better link the past to the present. Realizing my limitations, I’m going to visit my aunt Polly in a little while. My father’s sister, she tells great stories and is a treasure trove of information.

Sunshine and Shadow

There’ll always be elements of sunshine and shadow in our lives, and it’s our perceptions of each that make us happy or miserable.

This morning while walking a few miles at Scott Park, I was again struck with the contrast of sunshine and shadow, just like our lives. Even when you’re walking in the light, there are some things going on that you could notice and complain about. Some people do, loudly and frequently. “It’s hot as heck,” they say, “and my eyes hurt.”  Then you’re in the shadow. It’s good too, but sometimes you’re so busy feeling sorry for yourself that you don’t notice the slight temperature change or the slight breeze that cools your skin.   

Have you got anything good going on right now? Can you walk? Can you see? Did you sleep in a bed last night instead of on the street somewhere? Will you have lunch later today? Sunday morning before going to church, I spent some time watering my plants and flowers. I was lamenting the fact that I’d spent a small fortune on them, and despite my frequent attention, many were dying. Plus, it was almost unbearably hot, and I just wanted to get it over with and scoot inside to the air conditioned comfort. I was also thinking about a lesson I had to teach in a couple of hours, one that I felt a little anxious about. Although I’d spent hours reading and preparing, I still felt inadequate to adequately cover the topic.

Did you see a few good things going on in the above paragraph? There were several. I have an air conditioned home that has some pretty flowers and plants around it. I have running water that enables me to stand and water the petunias and ferns.  I don’t have to go to a well to get it. I have eyes to see not only my yard but all of Mother Nature’s handiwork. I have the opportunity to worship at a church of my choice…and to teach. I don’t live in a country where women’s voices are stifled. Here’s what happened to wake me up from my pouty, self-centeredness. I looked up. That’s it. I looked up and saw the treetops gently moving with the breeze, and beyond them was the bluest sky I’d seen lately…or at least that I’d taken note of. I gulped at the magnificence of the sight and wondered how many just like it I’d missed because I’d been too busy grumbling or looking down.

Hours later and several degrees hotter, I remind myself that I live in the American South, the land of magnolia trees, grits, and beautiful beaches. Hmmm. Makes me want to reread To Kill a Mockingbird.